When new Energy Watch proprietor Danny Wallis popped up wearing an Energy Watch T-shirt and bidding for a house on the final episode of The Block, millions of viewers groaned and comedian Dave Hughes, tweeted: “Shouldn’t have to look hard to find this week’s Tool of the Week? ENERGY WATCH #theblock”.
The stunt may have been annoying and did cost Wallis $1.4 million for the house but it certainly got Australia’s attention, which is the secret to good ambush marketing.
Messages On Hold owner and king of ambush marketing Kym Illman defines a good ambush as “anything that gets you a lot of free, high-profile promotion”.
Perth-based Illman says one of his best ambush moments was when he paid a man $1,000 to stand near the finish line at the Melbourne Cup, wearing foam fingers.
“Millions of people saw that, in slow motion, over and over again,” he says.
“And it only cost me a thousand dollars.”
Illman advises business owners to “always be prepared” for an ambush marketing opportunity.
“I always have some signage with me in the car, so if I notice a camera crew getting ready for a live cross, I can ring someone near a TV, and get them to help me get a good position when I pop up in the background,” he says.
But Illman says ambush marketing isn’t for the faint-hearted.
“You have to plan, and you have to be bold.
“Don’t ever ask permission from security – beg for forgiveness later,” Illman says.
Mike Halligan, the founder of Engage Marketing, agrees.
“You’ve got to be bold and confident, and you’ve got to stick to your guns and not back down when pressure from organisations or the media gets too much,” Halligan says.
Illman says it sometimes pays for ambush marketers to stretch the truth a little in pursuit of a good ambush.
“Years ago, if Tom Jones or someone was coming to Perth, we used to ring up pretending to be his manager, to work out what flight he was on,” he says.
“That way we knew what time he’d be at the airport, and could be there when the cameras were.”
Illman says ambush marketing is “pretty well-regarded in Australia”.
“I think Australians are much more easy-going about this sort of thing than people elsewhere,” he says.
“And frankly, if an organisation is inadvertently going to give you an opportunity to promote yourself, you owe it to yourself to take that opportunity.”
Australian Marketing Institute CEO Mark Crowe says the key is to “always be mindful of your audience”.
“Your aim is to appeal to the perceived legitimacy of countering an existing marketing campaign,” he says.
“You don’t want your stunt to be seen as a spoiling tactic.”
So what do Australian SMEs need to be wary of when devising an ambush marketing strategy?
Not much, according to Illman.
“There’s no legal recourse, if all you’re doing is appearing on TV with a logo,” he says.