Newcastle Crashes The Super Bowl Again, But Is Ambush Marketing A Good Strategy?

Newcastle's 'Band of Brands' tries to steal thunder from Doritos' Crash the Super Bowl.

Create Awareness

After releasing a faux entry into Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest, Newcastle Brown Ale, which describes itself as scrappy and punching above its weight class, is extending its No Bollocks narrative to an ambush campaign of sorts asking small brands to pool their resources for a Super Bowl spot. This effort nicely illustrates how ambush marketing has changed over the years. As it stands, ambush marketing has become much more of a deliberate strategy and includes more clever campaigns. And while it does raise some legal considerations, ambush marketing can help reinforce brand ethos while also potentially connecting with new audiences.

Newcastle Brown Ale has said it is in no position to spend $4.5 million on 30 seconds of air time during a football game, so it launched “Band of Brands,” or what it calls “the first-ever crowdfunded Big Game ad” for the Super Bowl.

It’s a good example of a brand capitalizing upon a big event without shelling out big bucks to participate via official channels. It’s also a good example of a more creative attempt at so-called ambush marketing as the art of the ambush evolves from merely trying to get publicity at an event to an actual campaign strategy.

Banding Together

In exchange for what Newcastle calls “a small contribution,” it says any brand can join its team and “have its logo and messaging featured in an actual Big Game spot.”

The brand announced Band of Brands after another ambush effort of sorts in which it posted a mock entry to Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl contest, the Frito-Lay brand’s annual call for consumer-generated TV spots, or what Newcastle calls its “Unofficial Snack Chip Contest Submission.”

Promotion for Band of Brands also includes a video starring actress Aubrey Plaza. Newcastle says Plaza will star in two videos “aimed at drawing companies to the Band of Brands project and teasing the final Band of Brands commercial’s debut.”

Nick Maschmeyer, strategist at advertising agency Droga5, said this is the “first stage of the campaign,” in which the brand “[uses] celebrity talent to get the video in front of people and get them talking about it and get other brands submitting to be part of the ad…[and] once we sort of solidify tour team and get everything in place, we will shoot the mega ad,” which he says, “will be on TV during the game, but don’t exactly know where or when.”

Maschmeyer said the brand will broadcast a 30-second spot, but will release a longer-form spot online as well.

Per a press release, interested brands can submit proposals on the Band of Brands website through January 19 with the only qualification being that the brands are “similar to Newcastle in spirit and tone and sense of humor,” Maschmeyer said. (However, Newcastle will remain “the exclusive beer brand of Band of Brands,” he said.)

According to Maschmeyer, Newcastle has had “a few bites already” and the brand “[hopes] to take on more,” but he would not disclose how many brands are involved, saying once they have been vetted through Newcastle’s legal department, the brand will announce partners as they roll in.

As of January 19, Newcastle has announced five brands in its Big Game Band: snack brand Beanitos, Armstrong Flooring, McClure’s Pickles, consumer electronics and gift product brand Sharper Image and prepaid wireless service Boost Mobile.

“We’ll take as many as we can cram into a single ad without it being too overwhelming,” Maschmeyer said. “The more we get, the better, as it helps defray costs.”

The brands will be featured in different ways, but Maschmeyer notes the team “[hasn’t] quite figured it out yet.”

Band of Brands follows Newcastle’s Super Bowl success with its If We Made It video, which Maschmeyer said was “essentially an attempt to hijack the Big Game conversation with a campaign about how epic our Big Game commercial would have been if we had made it.”

The video garnered about 740,000 views.

“So that was a little bit tongue in cheek, poking fun at the prohibitively expensive nature of a 30-second spot in the Big Game and us realizing that we didn’t necessarily have the money for the spot, but we would be a great contender to make an epic Big Game spot if we had made one,” Maschmeyer said.

This year is about working within the Big Game system “that rewards the behavior of paying $4 million and seeing if we could find a way to get in without having to pay that money, which we still don’t have,” Maschmeyer said.

That’s why the brand first tried to crash Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl effort. (Maschmeyer said Newcastle “broke about 15” of the contest rules so Doritos was “not able to consider [its entry] officially.”)

And Newcastle isn’t alone in attempting to steal a bit of Doritos’ thunder with some ambush tactics. SumofUs, which calls itself “a movement of consumers, workers and shareholders speaking with one voice to counterbalance the growing power of large corporations,” released a similar mock entry video, A Cheesy Love Story, to draw attention to rain forest destruction. As of January 16, the video has about 970,000 views on YouTube, but the organization said it had more than 1.5 million views in the first 48 hours on Facebook.

Maschmeyer said Newcastle was also inspired by recent trends in crowdfunding and the shared economy.

“We don’t have $4 million and lord knows most brands are the same, but we all have some marketing budget,” he said. “Let’s get together and pool our resources and create an ad that features us all together without having to pay the $4 million.”

Band of Brands, he said, “essentially democratizes Big Game advertising for small, scrappy brands that don’t get to be heard every year during the Big Game. It’s a nice idea that the little guys can be heard above the perennial advertisers that you see every year that have the deep pockets to afford Big Game air time. We like that a little bit of ingenuity and teamwork can get you to the same place.”

It’s also a strategy that fits nicely within the brand’s long-running “No Bollocks” narrative, which, per the release, “takes a lighthearted, no-nonsense, honest approach to marketing by shining a light on the silly, stale and sometimes deceptive clichés often found in beer advertising.”

Another good example of the brand’s No Bollocks philosophy was a campaign to pay Twitter users $1 to follow it.

“Our creative platform is really about sort of taking the piss out of marketing and cheap gimmicks and sales tactics. The only thing we’re serious about is beer. Everything else is a little more lighthearted,” Maschmeyer said. “We don’t mind making fun of ourselves. ‘No Bollocks’ directly call out the cheap gimmicks and clichés of marketing in general, or we do the exact same thing that the other marketers and brands are doing, but exaggerate them to their logical extreme to point out the bollocks of their marketing and communications.”

And the timing is good for another iteration.

“The Big Game felt really, really right for us – basically it’s marketing’s birthday and the one day of year when Americans are seeking out ads,” Maschmeyer said. “The context of us to be playing in [a space where consumers are] seeking out ads feels like a nice opportunity for Newcastle to get our voice in there and be able to comment on the hype around the ads going on at that time.”

While the Newcastle target is typically men 25 to 39 who are premium beer drinkers, Maschmeyer said, “What we really like about the potential for partnering with all of these brands is reaching lots of new audiences. I’m not going to use ‘synergy,’ but the ability for other brands to leverage our content on their own channels…and get our content in front of new people…[is more] substantial than if we were doing it by ourselves.”

For his part, Daniel DiGriz, president of digital marketing strategy firm MadPipe, notes ambush campaigns appeal to younger crowds. In other words, whereas Boomers respond to authoritative reviews and endorsements, Millennials are much more interested in peer reviews and “what is social, hip, trending and current.”

What’s more, DiGriz agrees the Newcastle campaign is “likely to engage a whole new generation that other competing brands are missing out on and I think it will be really popular among a wide variety of generations.”

The Evolution of the Ambush

The Newcastle effort marks a real change in ambush marketing from its origins.

“As with most things, it’s your fault – it’s the Americans’ fault,” said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University.

That’s because the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal were a financial disaster with many sponsorship deals sold for little money – on the order of 630 official deals – and so sponsors didn’t get the ROI they wanted and fans became cynical at the commercialization of the Games, so the Olympic Committee came up with a new model for the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, but, because of boycotts, it didn’t actually debut until 1984 in Los Angeles.

Instead of selling lots of sponsorships, the IOC sold very few for lots of money – on the order of 11 global sponsors.

“These companies typically pay $100 million per Games to be associated with the event when it takes place,” Chadwick said. “And obviously if you are Coke or McDonald’s or Adidas and you’re spending $100 million on an association, you want protecting.”

Today, bidding nations are even obliged to pass legislation that is intended to protect official sponsors from trademark and copyright infringement and also from ambushing, Chadwick said. That includes protection and category exclusivity from the IOC, but also “almost creates a closed club/society in which unless you have $100 million, you’re never going to sponsor the Olympic Games.”

That, Chadwick said, led rival brands to start contemplating how to get around this and “a decision emerged that ambush marketing would be employed as a means of really trying to associate with the event without huge rights fees.”

Post-1984, ambush marketing emerged “just as a means for brands to associate with an event that they otherwise had no legal right of association with and probably couldn’t afford to compete with anyway, but, over the course of time, [ambush marketing campaigns] have become more serious and sophisticated and you see brands making deliberate strategic decisions not to bid for official event sponsorships and to really implement a strategy as ambushers and nonconformist troublemakers,” Chadwick said.

And this has only been amplified by social media.

“Social is increasingly becoming the front line of ambushing because it’s very difficult to control and monitor, so what we’re starting to see is rival brands and companies using [social in] innovative ways…,” Chadwick said.

Bookmaker Paddy Power, for example, was “very, very smart in the way they went about their business” around the Games in London.

According to Chadwick, there is a small village in France called London that hosts an annual sporting competition, which Paddy Power sponsored.

“And what Paddy Power did around London [England] around the time of the Olympic Games was call itself ‘the official sponsor of London’s biggest sporting event,’ and there was nothing the IOC could do,” Chadwick said. “This was almost like a bypass attack strategy where there was no direct attack. What we see is very innovative and humorous approaches to this kind of thing.”

In fact, Chadwick said there are three general types of ambushes: Incursive ambushes, which are very much about attacking rivals and undermining official sponsors; distractive ambushes, which are not necessarily designed to attack or undermine, but rather to distract from official sponsors as Newcastle is doing; and associative ambushes, which are not about directly attacking a rival either, but about standing alongside an event and the official sponsors “in the hope that the halo effect of sponsors and events somehow shines upon these brands standing alongside them,” Chadwick said.

There is also the real-time marketing example of Mars, whose Snickers brand tweeted about biting player Luis Suarez during the World Cup.

Chadwick said this is an example of an opportunistic ambush.

“Mars has no legal right of association,” Chadwick said. “But this was very, very smart and humorous.”

So, for a brand that doesn’t have $100 million lying around, is ambushing a good strategy?

The legal considerations are obviously quite important and brands that don’t have a legal right of association must be careful to avoid words, images, logos, colors and anything else that might suggest an association with the event, Chadwick said. But beyond punishments and fines, brands must also consider how ambushing an event will “play out in terms of consumer perception,” he adds.

An ambush at an event like the Olympics, which showcases national pride, might provoke an adverse reaction among consumers, making the Olympics a high-risk ambush event, Chadwick said.

An ambush campaign also has to fit within a brand’s image.

Some brands use ambushes as positioning statements and as part of their brand identity and reputation, Chadwick said, pointing to Nike, which has used ambushes to undermine Adidas since the 1990s.

“So clearly to position yourself as an ambusher implies that you are a nonconformist, you are dangerous, you are against the mainstream, you are prepared to contravene contentions,” Chadwick said. “For brand managers or sponsorship managers, it’s an interesting thing. In one sense, it can help reinforce existing brand perception, but, historically, if [your brand] has been seen as safe, secure and trustworthy, to suddenly operate outside the mainstream [would not be a good fit].”

In other words, banks, which are supposed to be trustworthy, probably wouldn’t want to consider ambush campaigns, he adds.

This Means War?

In addition, Chadwick notes how prevalent war imagery is within ambush marketing.

“Essentially what Newcastle is trying to do is create a community of ambushers that will ambush together,” Chadwick said. “It’s very, very interesting that the use of the word ‘ambush,’ is warlike.”

In addition, in order for official sponsors to stop ambush marketers, the tactics are no less warlike – it includes intelligence gathering and infiltration, Chadwick said.

Or, in other words, “You have a few choices – you either bomb the hell out of them or try to win hearts and minds,” Chadwick said.

So, for example, Super Bowl advertiser Budweiser could either go up against an ambusher like Newscastle and “really use its budget, strength and power to really suppress their messages,” Chadwick said. “Or the alternative is to win the battle for hearts and minds. If people know who Bud is and what they’re doing and how synonymous the relationship is between [the brand and the Super Bowl] and when consumers think about the Super Bowl, it evokes images around Budweiser…and it’s a nice, warm, fuzzy glow…it doesn’t matter what Newcastle does.”

Coincidentally, Budweiser is following up on its wildly popular Puppy Love spot from, which has nearly 55 million views to date, with another Super Bowl spot with a puppy.

This, Chadwick said, is a great example of winning the battle for hearts and minds.

“If there is a closeness between you and your customers and they like you then it really doesn’t matter what your rivals do,” Chadwick said. “It is very difficult for them to break the bond and undermine your relationship with your customers. The example with the puppy is great. What the hell does a puppy have to do with the Super Bowl? But it doesn’t matter because everyone likes puppies and it leaves a great feeling in the hearts and minds of consumers.”

Band of Brands was created by in partnership with Droga5, Fast Horse, and MediaVest. Newcastle is imported by Heineken USA.

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