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Legal ambush in big league

Find out how rival companies are legally making money off the IPL, at the expense of league's sponsors. Rohit Bhaskar reports. Race to MVP | Best moments

india Updated: Apr 30, 2012 01:35 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Rohit Bhaskar
Hindustan Times
Rohit Bhaskar,IPL,indian premier league

Case A: You are at a Nike store. You have tickets to the evening’s IPL match. You decide to dress up for the occasion and buy a polo tee from Nike’s IPL-inspired, city-based ‘be true to your city’ line. The official merchandise partners of the IPL are Nike’s chief rivals Adidas, Reebok and Puma.

Case B: You need to buy a cell phone. You turn on the television and see Virat Kohli impress a young lass with his fast reflexes. The advertisement, which runs when the IPL matches are on, is to promote mobile phone company Celkon Mobiles. The official mobile partner of the IPL is Karbonn Mobiles.

American marketing guru Jerry Welsh coined the term ambush marketing while he was working with American Express. It crudely means an advertiser finding loopholes through which it can associate with a major sporting event without actually having to pay a sponsorship fee.

During the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway, Welsh’s colleagues at American Express gave practical shape to his theory.

Visa was the official partner of the Games, but using an innovative marketing strategy with the tagline, “If you are travelling to Lillehammer, you will need a passport, but you don't need a visa,” American Express was able to ambush the event. In a survey during the Games, 52% respondents thought American Express was an official partner of the Olympics. Less than 72% thought Visa was the official partner.

The difference, however, was that while Visa paid $40 million to become official partner, American Express didn’t pay a penny. Since then ambush marketing has become a constant fixture at almost every major sporting event. As the two examples listed above prove, the Indian Premier League is also a victim of this modern-day sporting scourge.

Law & disorder
Following the comical happenings of the Lillehammer Games, host nations became more careful, with many nations enacting special laws to tackle the menace. Prior to hosting the Sydney Olympics, Australia enacted a new law, commonly referred to as the Sydney 2000 Act, with provisions to specifically deal with ambush marketing. Many countries have followed suit, with the 2012 London Olympics expected to tackle the menace head-on with strict measures.

Litigation lawyer and sports activist Rahul Mehra feels India lags behind on this count as there is no specific law to deal with the intricacies of ambush marketing.

“At present the laws that are in place – the Trade Marks Act of 1999, the Copyright Act of 1957 and the Emblems and Names Act of 1950 – aren’t adequate to tackle ambush marketing,” Mehra told HT. Experts, however, feel that assertion is flawed. According to them ambush marketing is just a highly creative marketing technique which will become more popular in the future as an intellectually challenging and cost effective way of brand marketing.

Within the laws
Celkon Mobiles executive director Murali Retheneni told HT that while the idea to launch the ad during the IPL was intended, it was never meant to ambush Karbonn Mobiles, who will fork out Rs 30 crore this season to be the league’s official mobile partner.

“Yes it was planned way earlier, as we know IPL grabs the most eyeballs, so it’s the best platform to launch our product and publicity campaign. However, it was not motivated by looking at the competition,” said Retheneni, who formed the company in 2010 and sources his phones from a local R&D centre in Hyderabad, with an assembling centre in China. After immediate success in south India, where they now sell 400,000 units per month, Retheneni says the focus is now to capture the market in the north and hence the move to sign Virat Kohli.

Lawyer Nandan Kamath, counsel for Copyright Integrity International, who work closely with both the ICC and the IPL on rights protection, also felt that Celkon did nothing against the laws by using one of the IPL’s hottest properties as they look to eat into the market of the official sponsors.

“The broadcast contract with the official broadcaster gives the central sponsors the right of first refusal within their category for on-air advertising. If they don't choose to avail that nothing stops a competitor from advertising on air. With respect to use of a player participating in the IPL, so long as the franchise provides consent, the player can pursue his own endorsements and there is no blackout period,” Kamath told HT.

First Published: Apr 29, 2012 23:55 IST