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Ambush marketing: The high of churning out an ad in less than a day

Ambush marketing means different things to different people. Let's first get the pedantic definition out of the way: riding on a rival brand's ad, event or positioning to create publicity for one's own brand. To marketers, it's a huge punt that may give their brands attention and make the competition look duller by comparison. To the sales department, it's yet another expense that may or may not reflect on the topline. But to the agency creative it's nothing short of a high; the intoxicating rush of thinking on their feet, churning something out in less than a day instead of the standard six week deadline.

First off, it's not like a plain vanilla release. Creatives claim they can't sleep the night before, waiting for the nation to wake up and react. Like the time people woke to a Dove hoarding on the morning of July 28, 2010. The hoardings were positioned in the vicinity of a Pantene teaser campaign for "a mystery shampoo" and simply said "There's no mystery, Dove is the No 1 shampoo." "When you're working on an ambush campaign," says Zenobia Pithawalla, ECD Ogilvy Mumbai (who spearheads team Dove), "the feelings are generally mixed." It is the thrill of doing something wicked albeit with a bit of guilt as someone else's campaign becomes the brief for your brand (and invariably the butt of your joke). What you're doing may not be cent per cent right but you just can't wait to do it, she shares.
A year later, the 'Have I Made It Large' campaign featured an uncharacteristically pensive Harbhajan Singh pondering on how ephemeral accomplishment is for Royal Stag. It was rudely deflated by a near frame by frame parody from DDB Mudra for McDowell's. The ads have been joined at the hip by an enterprising YouTube user and the latter invariably gets the laughs. To Bobby Pawar, CCO - South Asia at Publicis Worldwide, who wrote the ad, there was no better joy than making "ridiculous fun" of an ad that he thought went on the holier than thou path. "When something is visibly deep and pompous, it simply opens the door a little bit. All that's left for you to do is just kick it down," Pawar says. There was no adequate brief except to take a shot at how pretentious the ad was, he recounts. There was no logic to what they did, he adds, because if they tried to be logical while subverting the Royal Stag ad, they'd have made a mockery of themselves.
And last year, Dettol riffed on Vim bar, by saying that it wasn't just capable of cleaning, it also killed germs in the process; something that the category leader, never made a claim to. Says Satbir Singh, CCO of Havas Worldwide (Dettol's creative agency), "Ambush advertising garners a huge portion of mindspace in a short time, something that helps when you're establishing a new brand and repositioning its biggest competitor to position yourself by demonstrating how you're better." Personally, he muses, every writer who loves his job would enjoy a slanging match as long as it is good natured and stays civilised.
That is if it's allowed to get off the ground in the first place. Ambushes have always been infrequent because of the several legal elements that come into the picture. Second, you need to either have a strong claim or a clear and provable superiority over the player you're ambushing. Brands have threatened each other with legal action for playing the 'Mine is better than yours' card; for instance Eureka Forbes and Hindustan Unilever in the water purifiers category. So weigh the consequences before you run down your rival. And remember, while everyone likes the occasionally cocky and irreverent jester, no one likes a bully.


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