Ambushing Politically

The art of ambush marketing seeks to ride on the publicity value of major events without “officially” contributing or sponsoring such events. Ambushing is prevalent and known in the business world. Most of such instances revolve around major sporting events like the Olympics or World Cups of various games, etc. Who's who of the brands have been involved in ambushing to steal the limelight without having the “official” tag.

Nike pulled off a brilliant ambush against Adidas in the 2012 Olympics. Although Adidas was the official sponsor of the world’s biggest sporting event, Nike managed to steal the show with its yellow-green neon shoes, which colors according to Nike are the most visible to the human eye. In 2011, Samsung ambushed the launch of iPhone 4S by setting up a pop-up store near the Apple store and selling its flagship Galaxy SII at AUD $2 to the first 10 people in line, daily. In India, during the 1996 cricket world cup, while Coca-Cola was the official sponsor, Pepsi ambushed the campaign with their advertising tagline “nothing official about it”.

Titled as innovative and intelligent, ambush marketing has become an important tool in the ad-world, created with the sole purpose of out-beating rivals and/or gaining publicity without an “official” association. However, recently I was fascinated to see how such practice has also made its mark in the political arena.

In October 2013 a Congress leader wrote to the Election Commission (EC) accusing its arch-rival BJP of deliberating planting lotus flowers (party symbol of BJP) during election time in Madhya Pradesh and therefore asked the EC to hide all lotus ponds from public view. According to the Congress, the flowers were planted by BJP to influence voters and to get political benefit. EC refused to entertain the said demand terming it as ‘insult to the intelligence of voter’. In another instance occurring earlier in January 2012, the EC ordered to cover the statues of elephants (party symbol of BSP) in Uttar Pradesh to ensure level playing field during elections with the object of having free and fair polls.

Personally, the first instance seems superficially absurd, while the second one was driven to get the party symbol etched in the minds of public. Albeit from marketing perspective, both instances show that though “officially” not permitted, party symbols were intended to ambush in order to gain publicity/ remain in public eyes.

What excited me the most was the news coverage of the recent visit of BJP's prime ministerial candidate Mr. Narendra Modi to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), where a huge hoarding of the National Congress President and J&K Chief Minister, Mr. Omar Abdullah was erected near the venue where Mr. Modi was scheduled to address the gathering. The hoarding space, which until two days before Mr. Modi's visit had a telecom company's advertisement, was replaced with the portrait of Mr. Abdullah with a message “my hand holding of youth is above political motives”. Although Mr. Abdullah said there is nothing wrong in erecting the hoarding of his portrait in Jammu, political observers felt the same was a publicity move to take advantage of general public's attention who were visiting the venue. The setting up of such promotional presence near the rival’s event was purely intended to “anchor” general public and individual attention.

Although comparing ambush in business to ambush in politics would be unequal, the commonality remains that both such practices aim at grabbing attention/ publicity at the expense of others. While the business world has learnt its lessons and has instigated legal framework to prevent ambushing, it would be interesting to see how the law makers create a framework to prevent their own “official” acts!!




Deepak Vaid
Senior Associate
Surana and Surana International Attorneys

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