Ambush Marketing: Tips & Tactics for Nonprofits

Today on Razoo.com I wrote a post on 5 Ways to Ambush Your Competition and Steal the Gold. To give another example of ambush marketing I'm reprinting this post from 2010. Read and learn!

I love how Boston-based New Balance is attacking the Boston Marathon like I wish I had attacked Heartbreak Hill when I ran the great race in 2005.

They've outpaced the official shoe sponsor of the marathon, Adidas, and come up with a strategy to leave their mark on the hometown run.

They're doing everything that will connect their brand with the world's greatest race--except pay the sponsorship fee.

Little guys--both non- and for-profit--take note: pushing the envelope may earn you dirty looks from fat cat sponsors and event organizers. But nothing is gained in this world without risk and toeing the line between following the rules and breaking them.

And New Balance didn't break any rules. Even Boston Athletic Association chief Guy Morse concedes: “That’s on the fine line. It is still a free country at some level. It is taking advantage of an event they’re not associated with,’’ Morse said. “I’m not happy about it. But that’s the way it is.’’

You can read about New Balance's ambush of the marathon in the Boston Globe. But as much as I admired New Balance's campaign, I can't understand why they don't have a cause component. During the years my nonprofit had large teams in the Boston Marathon we recruited sponsors for marathon cheering sections based on our access to the course and the halo we enjoyed as a charity.

Check out these two posts I wrote in 2007 and 2008.

Even though we were successful at getting many corporate sponsors, including big brands like Toyota of New England, on the race course, the BAA would never had let New Balance on the course. The competition between Adidas and New Balance  is simply too fierce.

But that doesn't mean New Balance couldn't have sponsored a charity team and splashed their logo all over their training and race-day apparel. Just last year I had 60 runners on my marathon team and would have welcomed a sponsorship from New Balance. And I'm sure I'm not the only charity.

Sponsoring a charity team would have put New Balance right in the middle of the race!

Here's an idea that would have made sure that all eyes were on them.

The challenge with sponsoring a charity team is that regardless of how big the team is each runner is goes at their own pace and team is flung from Hopkinton to Boston.  As a sponsor looking to make a splash and a statement you never get to "mass your forces." The devastating volley I would fire would have a team running at the same pace for one cause and one sponsor.

Just picture this: 30, 40, 50 runners from the same charity, in the same apparel running the Boston Marathon course. Who wouldn't ask: "Who are they?" I've mentioned this to people and they've said, "But how you going to find that many people to run together?!"

We can pass health reform but we can't find 30 people to run a marathon together? Please. A determined nonprofit and a sponsor like New Balance could definitely make it happen.

Who would have thought a Boston running shoe company like New Balance would take on Adidas at the most hallowed road race in the world? New Balance should tear a page from another shoe company's game book and just do it.