Right Said Fred’s catchy song, Stand-up for the Champions has been used to powerful effect by MNet to capture Joe Publics attention. The champions are portrayed as those sportsmen and women whose heroics leave us enthralled, entertained and at times dismayed.

Today these champions are paid (over-paid many might say) vast sums of money for not only displaying their skills, but endorsing a range of products from hair gel to motorcars. In fact many of those at the pinnacle of careers earn more from the endorsements than they do from plying their skills. ‚Well good luck to them‛ is the somewhat envious response heard from the terraces or armchairs, ‚‌they might as well milk it for as long as they can because more often than not their sporting careers are short-lived‛. Fair enough.
But, there is another side to all this.
In the dogfight for product coverage and brand exposure, large corporates are forking out vast sums of money to secure the exclusive rights to have their branding displayed at sporting events. Naturally, the bigger the event and stage, the higher the cost. In the early days of this practice those who failed to secure such rights resorted to what has become known as ‘ambush marketing’. Quite simply ‘ambush marketing’ is raining on someone else’s parade. It is simple, cost-effective and does the job without paying the rent. You get to enjoy the meal and someone else picks up the tab! Of course those who have paid a premium to secure the rights to display their banding have not taken this laying down and the current Cricket World Cup provides a startling example of the direction their response has taken.
Their response has been one of lockdown‌imposing draconian measures to exclude, eliminate and blackout any hint or sign of opposition branding from not only the gladiators arena itself, but any association with the entire event. Herein lies the problem. In the sponsors zealous fervor to safeguard their investment they have chosen a route that ultimately, in today’s world, equates to Custer’s last stand‌and we all know how that episode ended!
By imposing on you and me what we can and cannot eat, drink and wear to the cricket games for which we have paid good money to be at, is a source of major irritation to most. The significance of this practice, one being taken to the extremes by the branding police who vigilantly patrol the grounds, is not lost on a thinking, perceptive public: Where will this end? If I am being told what I can’t wear will the next step be to impose on me what I must wear?
In an age of networked communication and the power of personal choice, adopting a stance which alienates and antagonizes the public is not only shortsighted but is indeed perilous. Recent media reports tell of irate Indian fans, dismayed at their team’s poor performances, initiating widespread consumer boycotts of products endorsed by Indian cricketers. Just how did they manage to pull something like this off? The answer is tens of thousands of SMS messages that have spread overnight like an epidemic and which remain immune to boundaries and censure. Today’s ‘hacker mentality’ combined with the technology that makes it possible, ensures that the tighter the controls the greater the likelihood that they will be breached, brought down, massacred. This ‘war’ is being played out in the music industry and those who watch the trends and interpret the signs of our times tell us that participation, access to information, networked communication and unbounded tribal affiliations (e.g. the ‘International Federation of Britney Spears’) dominate the landscape. In other words, ambush marketing wins!
I believe that the current practice adopted by fearful and shortsighted sponsors has crossed a line. By intruding on our rights to wear what is comfortable and eat and drink products of our choice, they have lost the plot and will lose the war. By opting for brand exposure exclusivity they have abandoned the creative, innovative, make-me-smile path that would have served their end so much better. They have chosen to hit harder rather than box smarter. They have paid a high price to secure what they think are the best seats in the ground‌ but I suspect the real price to be paid is still to be invoiced by a public who are the champions. Champions who won’t be dictated to in this manner, champions who once mobilized represent an irrepressible force; Champions who will find a ‘better way’ (and I have a few ideas already – but that is another story!); Champions who will succeed in navigating an entirely new landscape in the marketing war.
Will the real champions please stand-up…

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