Abid Hussain Barlaskar
Points of View

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Many recent ads unabashedly take digs at their rivals. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Is digital making it popular again?

Many of the recent ads we came across were not on the 'good guy' side of the line and the brands seemed to step across that line (in some cases) to strike out at their rivals. From taking advantage of a rival's flaw to featuring a similar looking (and sounding) character from a rival brand's ad or even a packaged juice brand going all daggers drawn at the competitors, the ad-game seems to have gotten a tad shady of late.

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

L to R: Still from Voltas' TVC and Haier's TVC

The recent Haier ad starts with a man who is dressed and sounds like the character 'Murthy' from rival Voltas' ad. Of course, he's just a similar character depicted in an ad that propagates the message that the AC does the cooling alright (like others) but also cleans itself.

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Resiquick's 'Sirf chipkao nahi, jodo' featuring the twins

Similarly, Astral's ResiQuick takes a dig at a flaw in the glue delivery system of rival brands. In this case it's Fevikwik's application "flaw" (based on the name and the tagline in the film) that comes to mind. Astral uses the technicality to showcase that its brand ResiQuick, does not overflow like others but delivers a drop at a time.

Previously, the intended advertising puns could be spotted mostly on mediums like OOH and TV and at times, the fight would escalate and lead to a face-off. With the coming of digital as a new medium for content propagation, advertising, along with ambush marketing, has gained access to swift strokes, faster delivery, larger reach, and easier escapes.

But is there a new trend/shift in the approach? Has it attained a new avatar? And what has really changed with the arrival of digital? We speak to industry folks to find more.

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Ronita Mitra

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Santosh Padhi

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Rajiv Rao

Ronita Mitra, founder and chief strategist at Brand Eagle Consulting, says, "The fundamentals of brand building will always have to be remembered, regardless of the tactics used to communicate a brand. There too, it cannot only be about targeting a competitor brand's features. The focus has to be on your own brand story. That's how long-term relationships and respect is built with consumers. Moreover, it cannot be a trend since it's not strategic."

Speaking about digital and its impact on ambush marketing, Mitra adds, "In today's world, brands are tempted to exploit digital media to create tactical, low-cost films attacking the competition, but that can't be a sustainable strategy. Digital offers a swift cost-effective opportunity which can be exploited and forgotten if it doesn't work."

Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer and co-founder at Taproot Dentsu, maintains that ambush marketing in advertising has always existed and has been evident in bits and pieces. He says "If one digs into the categories over the years, it can be found. However, not too many big brands will do that. In today's era, the multiple digital platforms allow one to get circulated and get more eyeballs quickly. People love circulating stuff that is cheeky or funny. It has made the reach go large. Brands will keep taking advantage of situations like these."

Film Maker Rajiv Rao, previously national creative director with Ogilvy and Mather, states that ambush marketing was never passé. He says, "It was always there. The only thing is, some are really well done and some are not. It's a matter of a clever idea and not all manage to do that. It cannot be a trend because it's not planned. It's more like a window of opportunity that has to be taken advantage of."

Rao also adds, "Digital has made it easier to take advantage of, along with providing a large reach. Today, you don't really need to wait to execute an idea. One can immediately upload an idea and pull off a campaign. It really works well in ambush marketing where being fast is important."

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Bobby Pawar

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Ashish Chakravarty

Is ambush marketing making a comeback?

Bikram Bindra

Bobby Pawar, MD and chief creative officer at Publicis Worldwide says that the recent ads are more comparative and differ from classic ambush marketing.

Regarding the effect of digital mediums on ambush marketing, Pawar adds, "Digital provides more platforms to do it. But, the medium is dependent on the ideas. If there is an idea, the medium can be put to correct use. One cannot just stand up and wish to create a classic ambush. I haven't seen a good ambush that I can remember, of late."

Ashish Chakravarty, chief creative officer, Contract Advertising India, has this to say, "The key ingredient of an ambush is the intelligence used by somebody with lesser means and a smaller budget and then catching the opponent off-guard. But then, there are attempts to ride off of someone else's popularity, which isn't exactly an ambush. It has always been there."

Speaking about the mix of digital and ambush, Chakravarty states, "Digital is cost-effective and helps propagators be faceless and fast; there are lesser laws to bind it. It is a potent medium for ambush marketing. If a post or meme doesn't work or goes wrong, it can vanish in the following 10 minutes and if it goes viral, it's win-win. There is no cost for failure. Doing that on TV, print or other traditional mediums would cost a fortune while being governed by law."

Bikram Bindra, vice-president and strategic planning head - Delhi, Grey Group, says, "Ambush marketing never really went out of style; from cola to car companies, everyone has dabbled at taking a pot-shot at their closest competitor. What did happen was that cautious marketers realised that benchmarking with the competition wasn't always the best strategy to highlight their own USP and, of course, legal repercussions were something to watch out for."

Bindra also comments on the mix of digital and the concept of ambush marketing by saying, "In recent times, the opportunity to spin a different, bolder and a more direct attack has been enabled by the digital medium where classic rules of play seem more relaxed and brands are comfortable treading in slightly risky territory. This is perhaps because these remain tactical campaigns that are given a boost on social and co-exist with equity or brand copy that play on mainstream media like TV."

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