Ambush marketing has replaced football hooliganism as enemy #1 at major soccer tournaments. These clever new advertising tactics aren’t sitting well with the big time sponsors, and they’re also becoming very difficult to stop.

Case in point. At this summer’s Euro 2008 which took place in Switzerland and Austria, the top European soccer teams battled it out for the top spot, commanding massive advertising money from sponsors for the highly anticipated tournament. Carlsberg, a popular beer company, was a major sponsor for the event getting top billing on the scoreboards and on-field banners. (click on article title for more details, examples, and photos in full post)

However, in the stands Heineken was unleashing a brilliant ambush marketing strategy. The rival beer company was giving out free Dutch-team sponsored hats with visible Heineken logos to fans on their way into the stadium to support their team. Officially, event organizers cracked down and wouldn’t allow the hats into the venue. But for every fan wearing a hat that sneaked into the stadium and got some air time in front of the cameras, Heineken earned incredibly valuable and inexpensive ad time.

The Economist magazine reported on this new ad craze that’s taking the sports business world by storm in a recent issue:

Overzealous enforcement can also result in bad press—as with the orange plastic “Lederhosen” given out by Bavaria, a Dutch brewery, to Dutch fans before a match at the 2006 football World Cup. Officials asked fans to remove the offending garments, to placate Budweiser, a rival beer brand that was the tournament’s official sponsor. Many fans ended up watching the match in their underwear, and the resulting fuss generated even more publicity for Bavaria.

And who wouldn’t want some half-naked drunken Dutch soccer fans talking crap about your product? Certainly not I.

Here’s a couple of interesting examples of ambush marketing:

1.) Check out this airline ad. I wonder which billboard went up first?

2.) A who could forget the brilliant KFC Superbowl chicken dance dare?

3.) These guido Abercrombie douches standing behind Obama at a campaign speech.

4.) And although it’s in French, I have a feeling this is one of the greatest examples of ambush marketing known to man. Or maybe it’s not, who cares, watch it.

Economist: Playing the game, July 3, 2008