For U.S. marketers, ambush marketing's greatest annual opportunity is the Super Bowl, which provides advertisers with limitless ways to leverage the big game through digital marketing without having to pay licensing fees or buy airtime. As long as savvy marketers don't use any copyrighted terms or images, they're free to utilize a game-day theme as an attention-grabbing tie-in to their products in advertising.
Here are five top-notch examples of ambush marketing from recent Super Bowls.
Oreo: "Dunk in the Dark"
Football fans remember the notorious power outage during Super Bowl XLVII in January 2013, which gave the San Francisco 49ers a chance to catch a second wind (although they still lost to the Baltimore Ravens). Oreo won as well, by reaching out to fans on Twitter while the game was going on. Simplicity itself, the ad consisted of a black-and-white shot of an Oreo cookie with the words "You can still dunk in the dark" projected over the tweet: "Power out? No problem."
Created during the 34-minute blackout and company-approved within minutes, the ad was retweeted 10,000 times within the hour, and, according to some ad executives, generated more of an impact than Oreo's planned multi-million-dollar game-day ad.
Newcastle Brown Ale: "Chores"
For several years, Doritos launched a "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, during which they asked fans to submit amateur videos touting Doritos, with the winner garnering a game-day spot. During Super Bowl LII, the most notorious "entry" came from advertiser Newcastle Brown Ale, which, in lieu of spending millions on a TV ad, crashed the Doritos contest with its own mock entry on YouTube. Created by ad agency Droga5 NY, each frame of "Chores" features Newcastle Brown Ale in some type of outrageously blatant product placement while the characters talk about Doritos (with the word "Dorito" bleeped out at every mention). The video quickly reached tens of thousands of views--and garnered headlines for its creativity and humor.
Newcastle Brown Ale: "If We Made It"
Its 2016 prank wasn't the first time on the field for Newcastle Brown Ale, a company with a reputation for marketing cheekiness. In 2014, the company featured Anna Kendrick in a parody YouTube ad, "Behind the Scenes of the Mega Huge Football Game Ad Newcastle Brown Ale Almost Made." During the video, the actress fake-rages for several minutes because the company's Super Bowl XLVIII ad (in which she was hired to star) is canceled due to lack of funds. Within a week, the video received 3.2 million views. Newcastle kept the joke going with follow-up videos, but the Kendrick one is a fan favorite.
Volvo: "Greatest Interception Ever"
Following the lead of Newcastle and other companies eschewing the lure of paying millions for a TV ad, during Super Bowl XLIX, Volvo ambushed Twitter with its "Greatest Interception Ever" campaign, encouraging fans to tweet the hashtag #VolvoContest to win a Volvo XC60. The hook? The 2015 contest took place specifically during rival automakers' Super Bowl ads. The Twitter campaign generated 55,000 tweets and garnered 114,000 mentions. Better yet, the campaign resulted in a 70.7 percent increase over past-year Volvo XC60 sales.
Adobe: "The Gambler"
Airing the Monday after Super Bowl LII, Adobe's 2015 YouTube video ad "The Gambler" features a remorseful CMO whose $4 million game-day ad is crashing before his eyes. With its obvious push of Adobe's cloud and ecommerce solutions, the ad serves as a warning to marketers that if you want a successful campaign, you can no longer afford to ignore digital marketing and the metrics that result from effective e-commerce platforms.
With last year's Super Bowl advertisers paying $5 million for a 30-second TV spot, smart marketers are clamoring for ways to get a piece of the Super Bowl revenue pie without paying sponsorship fees or buying airtime. Thanks to digital marketing and social media, today's brands can create viral ambush ads that will be talked about for weeks, months and years to come.