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It's "the Rosie Ruiz of corporate sponsorship, in which an advertiser tries to show up at the finish line of an event without any sweat on its gym shorts." This is how ambush marketing was recently defined by Darby Coker of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

Said differently, ambush marketing is the practice by which an advertiser tries to associate itself with a particular event without paying the sponsorship fees.

Remember the advertising campaign for American Express during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, that proclaimed "If you're traveling to Lillehammer, you'll need a passport, but you don't need a Visa." Of course, Visa was the official sponsor of those Olympic Games.

For 1996, the Atlanta Committee has established a "sponsor protection program." If a non-sponsor attempts to ambush the Games, the protection program will present the ambusher with market research within 48 hours of the ad's first appearance, indicating that its advertising is deceiving the public. If the ad is not immediately pulled, the program is prepared to call a press conference announcing the ambush incident. It will also run ads in major publications condemning the ambusher for expoliting the Olympic Games without paying the sponsorship fees that are used to pay for, among other things, the training of Olympic athletes.

Darby Coker believes these measures will create a publicity nightmare that most non-sponsors will want to avoid. However, not everyone is convinced that the Olympic Committee's approach will have the desired effect. Peter Land, director of marketing and communications for the NBA, believes that threatening to publicize an ambush will only encourage potential ambushers. He said the Olympics' plan actually "plays into their hands by giving them additional exposure."

What can a sponsor do?

Exclusivity: When negotiating to be a sponsor of the Olympics or any other event, an advertiser should negotiate for the right to be the exclusive sponsor in its product category. Too often, advertisers allow their product category to be so whittled away that a competitor may even end up a fellow sponsor. To deal with the possibility of ambush marketing, a sponsor should require the event organizer to police all advertising related to its event and to actively pursue any ambusher. If the event organizer does not fulfill this function, the sponsor should be permitted to challenge the ambusher in the name of the event organizer.

Exclusive airtime: An extremely expensive and perhaps not very pragmatic approach is for an advertiser to purchase exlusive media time in its product category from the broadcaster of the event. Corporations that have paid $40 million to be "premier" sponsors of the Atlanta Olympics often have a right of first refusal to be the exlusive broadcast sponsor of that event in their product category. To ensure that it will be the exclusive soft-drink company of the '96 games worldwide, Coca-Cola has exercised its right of first refusal and paid NBC $60 million for exclusive broadcast rights.

Have a plan: Once an advertiser has signed to be a sponsor of an event, it should immediately devise a plan of action to address any attempts to ambush its campaign as quickly as possible. It may wish to take an aggressive, Olympic-style approach and condemn any ambushing incident through retaliatory ads. If so, the basic elements of its advertising and public relations response should be designed in advance.

Legal action, which can be time-consuming and costly, may not be the answer unless the ambusher has used a trademark or logo owned by the event organizer.

Promote the exclusivity of your sponsorship: Perhaps most importantly, an advertiser should develop and implement a campaign that emphasizes its exclusive sponsorship and association with an event. Starting such a campaign as early as possible will help maximize its impact. By firmly establishing its exclusive sponsorship in the minds of consumers, a sponsor can deal the most serious blow to would-be ambushers.

Messrs. Florin and Carlin are with Loeb & Loeb law firm in New York.

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