TOC The lords of the rings Your Turn

July 15, 2008

Ambush marketing is to advertising what cuckoldry is to marriage. This fascinating concept is at work whenever a brand finds a way to benefit from advertising paid, directly or indirectly, by another brand contrary to this other brand's expectation. As a quick search on Google can attest, Internet has created many new opportunities for ambush marketing (1). More traditionally, "[it] has long been a flash point at the Olympic [Games]", Stephanie Clifford reports (*). It costs a lot to become an official sponsor. Yet the associated "halo effect" can easily be obscured, preempted even, by enterprising rivals who pay for big billboards in town rather than polite posters in stadiums.

The Chinese authorities have a strong record in controlling public expression, a factor which, according to Stephanie Clifford' analysis, will curb the ambition of ambush marketers. But besides Beijing, the main venue, events will be held in other cities and most of the world will perforce follow the Olympics on a screen. Yet, how far downstream control can be enforced? After all 2008 will see the first YouTube Olympics.

Brands, I am wont to say, are the new lords. We should not be surprised to see them compete in sponsoring tournaments. Indeed feudal tournaments themselves deserve a new perspective. What Ricardo (2) would have called squandering by the propertied class of the wealth extracted from the laboring class, may end up relabeled as building brand equity. So eager to be held in high renown, medieval lords were only practicing good marketing.

Holding the Middle Ages as a mirror to our times is not just a passing fancy. While it keeps the trapping of democracy, pronaocracy parcels out political power among lobbying brands. Inspired by Alain Minc and Jacques Attali, we have already explored how, abandonned by the State, powerless individuals seek protection from modern dangers by relying on the self-interest of the brands themselves, in essence a feudal contract.

Today let us turn to the music industry. Robert Levine tells us how American bands are being promoted by brands such as Procter & Gamble (**). Acknowledging the medieval lords' marketing acumen, the new lords understand the advantage of promoting courtly living under their coats of arms. What about the new minstrels? "In another era, there was a stigma attached to this. [...] Now it's just another way to expose your music", Danny Goldberg is quoted to say. It is in fact an excellent trade. Truly successful artists know their own brand will in good time eclipse their patron's. Shielded from the need to sell records despite digital piracy, lesser artists can enjoy a degree of economic security during their performing years.

Contrast this flexibility with the desperate attempts by television networks to hold onto advertising revenues. David Carr had already shown us how "live music thrives as CDs fade" (***). This newly found preeminence of the living artist over his or her art production is a reflection of technology trends (3). But it explains far more than the difficulties of the record labels, left over dinosaurs of the late industrial age. If the audience's attention is captured by the artist rather than by the art, advertising must be attached to the person rather than juxtaposed to the content. Paying a singer to carry one's logo delivers more value than to splice ad spots inside a television program.

Read Stuart Elliott's article on "how to get viewers to sit still during commercial breaks" (****) and apply our Middle Ages test to grade the list he compiles of ways explored by advertising agencies. Anything which "breaks" the brand from art and artist is doomed from the start. But courtly life is an art in itself. Encourage slavish flatteries by supine artists and you will drive attendance to better appointed courts. Brands must marry taste with money and, so doing , accept to trade-off some control for lasting fame. Product placement in the right context "is easier said than done."

Meanwhile I look forward to a resurgence in heraldry studies. Come August, will Auto Union (4) dare ambush the Olympics?

Philippe Coueignoux

  • (*) ......... Olympic Sponsors to Benefit Under a Tougher Stance in China, by Stephanie Clifford (New-York Times) - July 11, 2008
  • (**) ...... It's American Brandstand: Marketers Underwrite Performers, by Robert Levine (New-York Times) - July 7, 2008
  • (***) .... Live Music Thrives As CDs Fade, by David Carr (New-York Times) - June 23, 2008
  • (****) .. New Efforts to Make Long Commercial Breaks, by Stuart Elliott (New-York Times) - July 7, 2008
  • (1) any typo on the previous link was quite intentional. For more details, see ambush marketing in my lecture series.
  • (2) see Ricardo in the wikipedia
  • (3) for more details, see distributing digital information in my lecture series.
  • (4) see Auto Union in the wikipedia
July 2008
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