Ambush marketing arrests at World Cup – Australia’s ambush expert explains how he would have done it

Australia’s king of ambush marketing, Messages on Hold chief executive Kim Illman, says the arrest of two women for organising ambush marketing at the World Cup will be worth it – as long as the pair are only hit with a fine, and not sent to jail.

The two Dutch woman were charged by South African authorities over the “unauthorised use of a trademark at a protected event” and “entry into a designated area while in possession of a prohibited commercial object”, after they allegedly organised a stunt that saw 36 woman dressed in bright orange mini dresses standing together at a match earlier this week.

The stunt was to promote a Dutch beer company, Bavaria, but rival brewing company Anheuser Busch’s beer brand Budweiser is the official beer sponsor of the tournament, and World Cup organisers FIFA are notorious for aggressively protecting the rights of their official sponsors.

It is not clear what the penalties levelled against the two women may be, but Illman, who is famous for pulling ambush marketing stunts at Australian sporting events, says if they are just hit with fines then the stunt will have been worth it.

“No matter what the value of the fine is, mission accomplished. They’ve got exactly what they wanted,” he says.

“They call it a fine, but really it’s just a fee for doing something. And if they do get hit with a $50,000 fine, that’s a global new story. You can’t buy publicity like that for $50,000.”

“But if it’s a jail sentence, no ambush is worth going to jail for.”

Illman says he would be “a lot more careful if I was doing anything in South Africa” and says the organisers of this stunt may have erred by making the stunt run for too long.

He says he would have had his people arrive at the stadium in normal clothes, quickly change into the promotional gear for a photo opportunity and then get out.

“I would have been long gone before anyone knew was happening.”

Illman, who has pulled off stunts at the Olympic Games and Melbourne Cup, says there are a few keys to a good ambush marketing campaign.

Televised live events are the best targets, as it is nearly impossible for broadcasters to “scrub” a company’s branding out of shot.

It’s also crucial to go for the biggest audience possible. “It’s better to do one stunt for one million people than 100 stunts for 10,000.”

Creativity is important, and Illman also advises ambushes to get in and out quick to avoid getting into problems with any authorities.

And his final piece for advice?

“Never ask for permission, plead for forgiveness afterwards.”

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