7 Ambush Marketing Campaigns for Brand Growth

Experiential Marketing

Want to know what ambush marketing is but were afraid to ask? Remember when Nike sponsored the 1996 Olympics? Oh, you don’t? Well, that’s okay because they didn’t. But you probably remember seeing the gold sneakers donned by Olympian Michael Johnson— a star athlete of that year’s games. 

That’s ambush marketing in a nutshell. It’s when a brand co-opts the PR of a major event without the millions spent being an official sponsor. While Reebok was the official sneaker sponsor of the Atlanta Olympics, Nike stole the show. They aligned themselves with a celebrity of one of the games’ most popular events and made bank in the process.

Ambush marketing is a maverick approach to advertising. And you don’t need to be a global brand like Nike to crash the party. So let’s dive deeper into what it is. And we’ll also give you seven ideas you can use to get an edge over your competition.

A Quick Primer on Ambush Marketing

Ambush marketing rides the coat-tails of another brand’s campaign to raise awareness— generally in the context of event sponsorships.

With the Tokyo Olympics a little more than two months away, let’s look at another example from the games. In 1992, during the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, France, a bitter feud erupted between American Express and Visa. Visa shelled out $20 million to be the games’ official credit card sponsor and reminded viewers that “The Olympics don’t take American Express.”

Not to be outdone, American Express looked ahead to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona with ads running against Visa featuring the slogan, “When you go to Spain, you’ll need a passport— but you don’t need a Visa.” 

When you think about it, ambush marketing is like sports. Sports, in the sense where two main rivals duke it out for ultimate supremacy.

Seven Types of Ambush Marketing (and How To Use Them)

Ambush marketing flies in the face of traditional marketing sensibilities, just as guerrilla marketing does. Likewise, it involves a lot of risk-taking, ethically and legally. So it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons before diving in. For your brand or business, we suggest investing in indirect ambushing. 

While still intentional, indirect marketing is association through suggestion. Its aim isn’t to infringe directly on a competitor’s stake. Simply put, it’s a less aggressive approach to a risky marketing strategy. 

1. Associative Ambushing

Associative ambushing is a subtle way for a brand to attach itself to a big event, creating the illusion it’s a part of the big show. 

Let’s say your brand makes custom hats, and you want to time your campaign around the Kentucky Derby— known for showcasing elegant and stylish hats as much as the race itself. Throw your own pre-race party and book a mobile showroom showcasing your products. And remember to get the word out and invite people to attend using the social media hashtag #KentuckyDerby.

2. Distractive Ambushing

Your brand may not be directly involved in an event, but you can still revolve around its orbit with ambush marketing. Distractive ambushing creates a presence at or near an event, siphoning off publicity and/or consumer awareness.  

If you own a start-up skincare company and want to jump ahead of those big-name brands, set up a kiosk centrally located to one of their stores and entice customers to check you out. If they’re offering a 10% off sale on their products, one-up them with a 20% discount and attract value-conscious consumers.

3. Values Ambushing  

With values marketing, a brand will co-opt the message of an event, implying an association related to its central value. 

In 2008, Puma revolved its spring and summer soccer-themed campaigns around the values of that year’s 2008 UEFA European Championships. The brand’s “June 2008: Together Everywhere” campaign was, while not a direct advertisement for the tournament, closely aligned with its theme emphasizing unity and social justice. 

4. Insurgent Ambushing 

In the world of ambush marketing, insurgent ambushing surprises with creative promotions— like street team marketing. 

July is National Ice Cream Month. And it’s even federally recognized— starting in 1984 after President Reagan’s proclamation. It’s a powerhouse marketing month from the biggest ice cream brands in the world, but that doesn’t mean your ice cream truck can’t get a scoop of the free press. Hire brand ambassadors— or even use your staff— and hit the streets giving away cones and cups. 

Even if your business doesn’t sell ice cream, you can use this cool treat as a form of ambush marketing. Check out Calvin Klein’s 2019 campaign combining free ice cream cones with their signature briefs using a branded food truck.

5. Parallel Property Ambushing

Say your sneaker company isn’t an Olympics sponsor. Try hosting a one-day fun run during the games, prompting your customers with a call-to-action on social media to participate. 

That’s parallel property ambushing. The goal is to schedule and launch a campaign side-by-side with a more significant event. This is an excellent way for small businesses to receive coverage on the heels of a popular event.

6. Unintentional Ambushing


Unintentional ambushing is free publicity when you weren’t even looking for it. Maybe an event headliner gives your brand a shoutout. Well, away you go! Some consumers will automatically think your company is aligned with the event. 

This is a good time to outreach with influencers. Aside from having a devoted base of followers, they’re inspirations for businesses to harness the power of social media. Approval from an established beauty influencer can take your mom-and-pop makeup company to new heights.

7. Saturation Ambushing


Your brand may make no mention of the event it wants to connect with. But you capitalize anyway by timing an increase in marketing throughout. 

Saturation ambushing wiggles its way into the conversation without any associative suggestion. This will help you gain mileage with consumers without having to spend money paying someone else for the privilege.

Take a Smart Risk and Boost Your Brand With Ambush Marketing 

Even though it’s controversial, ambush marketing continues to be the rebel in the marketing world that’s paying dividends. Ambush marketing raises awareness, enhances consumer perception, and may help you gain a share of the market. If you decide it’s right for you, be creative, launch an effective and well-timed campaign, and make sure you understand all legalities.  

Once you check those boxes, your ambush marketing campaign will make you a trendsetting brand that goes against the grain.

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How To Leverage Experiential Marketing Research

Experiential Marketing

Consumers receive a steady stream of marketing messages every day. Experiential marketing offers a uniquely personal way to engage customers, turning into customer advocacy for your brand. People are savvier today than ever before and adept at filtering out marketing tactics that fall flat. Let’s take a closer look at why experiential marketing research is essential and how to incorporate it for a successful marketing strategy.

Experiential Marketing Research

Why Is Experiential Marketing Research Important?

In the most classic sense, traditional marketing is dead. Billboards? Consumer drive right past them. Commercials? Who needs them when people can stream instead. Magazine ads? Everyone’s online. Experiential marketing focuses on connecting consumers with brand experiences rather than directly with a product. In that regard, consumers are no longer passive receivers of brand messaging. They’re now actively engaged, and experiential marketing offers a window into the soul of a brand with thoughtful and meaningful engagement. 

So, why is experiential marketing research necessary? There are four reasons:

  1. It helps provide insights and information that will help refine your marketing strategy for the better.
  2. It offers a deeper understanding of who your customers are, as well as your competitors. 
  3. Research helps you understand who’s buying what you’re selling, who’s not, and why. 
  4. Taking a 30,000 ft. view of your industry’s environment identifies new business opportunities.

Breaking Down Experiential Marketing Research

Experiential marketing research is rooted in data, and it needs to be if it’s going to be effective. But, how do you make your campaign data-driven? Here are a few tips to help guide you:

Personalize Campaigns to Boost Sales

When brands understand customer trends, they have a much better chance of striking when the iron’s hot. Not only does personalization have an emotional impact, but it also encourages positive engagement. For example, Versace used data-driven research and found its customers mostly purchased items like wallets and sunglasses. To attract more people to buy its clothing, the luxury fashion company created marketing campaigns to attract high-end shoppers. That helped to deliver a 35% jump in online sales and a 300% average order increase. 

Continuously Engage With Consumers

Your customers crave experiences and information that’s either useful or interesting to them. When you use experiential marketing research, your content is more streamlined. That allows your brand to engage with your customers in a relevant, timely, and meaningful way. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, GrubHub and Time magazine partnered with a compelling social media poll to pique its customers’ interest. Based on company data about the number of times customers ordered particular items in 214 congressional districts, poll respondents found out whether their dietary preferences meant they were more likely to be Republican or Democrat. 

Invest in the Right Tools

Unless you’re a marketing whiz, you’ll need help assembling your experiential marketing research. But, there are a variety of resources at your disposal. CrazyEgg’s maps can help you boost conversion rates. Capsulink lets you explore your audience’s geographical location and what that means for your online presence. And Survey Anyplace’s creative quizzes and surveys can provide you with innovative ways to receive post-campaign feedback. 

The Benefits of Experiential Marketing Research Are Endless

At its core, experiential marketing research is about understanding as much as you can about your customers. When you can predict their behaviors and their needs, you’ll know them as well as they know themselves. 

The benefits of experiential marketing research outweigh the effort ten-fold. It helps craft the right messages at the right time and in an organic way. It improves customer experiences because you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. And it even optimizes your budget. Data-driven marketing allows you to strategically plan how and when you’ll engage with consumers because you’ll know what they want. 

Experiential marketing research changes the way you do business. Even the best marketers can’t perform miracles. So, if it’s improvements and success you’re after, planning for them is the way to go. With clearly defined goals and the facts to back them up, you’ll see immediate results.

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How to Target Generation Z and Millennials in Your Marketing Campaigns


Twitter Experiential Marketing

Capturing a staggering 64% of the world’s total population, Generation Z and Millennials are a generational force to be reckoned with, and marketing campaigns are armed with insights and strategies to capture these historically unique (yet once dismissed) demographics.

With over 100 million of them in the U.S. workforce and accounting for nearly 30% of the U.S. population alone, Generation Z and Millennials are the newest generations whose purchasing power demands attention by brands in the U.S. and around the world.

The same traditional marketing campaigns Baby Boomers and Generation X are accustomed to can be lost on Generation Z and Millennials. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram receive the most traffic from users between the ages of 18 and 29. 

Check out these tips to capture the hearts and minds of today’s most in-demand generations.

There IS a Difference

… And a big one. In fact, the biggest mistake marketers can make is assuming Generation Z and Millennials are one in the same. Millennials are population segments born between 1981 and 1996 and those born after are considered to be Generation Z. Think of it this way: Lady Gaga and Mark Zuckerberg are Millennials. Kylie Jenner and Billie Eilish are Generation Z. Treating “young people” (18 to 35 age-range) as a monolithic segment of the population is a marketing mistake. 

Most Millennials came-of-age during the “digital revolution,” but also remember a time before smartphones and Amazon Prime. While they crave authenticity, Generation Z values transparency, relatability, and personal connections even more. Those attributes are hallmarks of social media standards that dominate society and culture today.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese Promotion

The Power of the Influencer

Another noteworthy (and surprising) difference between Generation Z and Millennials is “the power of discounts,” because who doesn’t love “a good sale”? While 67% of Millennials polled by BusinessInsider in 2019 said they would visit a specific brand’s website to receive a promotion or discount, only 46% of “Gen Zers” said they would do the same.  

In the same poll, 71% of Millennials indicated that online marketing was a direct reason for purchasing an item, whereas only 59% of Gen Zers said online marketing had a similar effect.

So, what is a powerful marketing tactic that does work? Enter, social media influencers. In a report from Think With Google, 70% of Generation Z subscribers to YouTube said they view YouTube personalities like PewDiePie, Shane Dawson, and Mr. Beast as more relatable than mainstream celebrities. 

Harnessing the sway influencers have over their millions of fans (and billions of views) is a strategic marketing tactic brands can use to leverage their reach with a vast audience by being at the center of the cultural zeitgeist. 

Neil Patrick Harris Influencer Marketing

Brand Loyalty is a Thing of the Past

In previous years, having an identifiable and well-known “brand” meant half the battle was won when capturing a desired market share. In 2020 however, simply being ubiquitous isn’t enough for Generation Z and Millennials to open up their wallets. 

According to RetailDive, Millennials are traditionally more frugal than Generation Z, with some analysts suggesting the reason being a by-product of their experiences living through the Great Recession. Gen Zers on the other hand, are more willing to spend the extra cash on luxury brands. 

With both demographics hyper-aware of what motivates them to make a purchase, lower on that list is “brand loyalty.” Millennials and Generation Z gravitate toward brands that identify with their sense of independence and originality. 

In a study by Ernst & Young, less than half of Millennials and Gen Zers expressed they subscribed to “loyalty programs.”

Share Their Values

Much like Baby Boomers of the 1960s, Millennials and Generation Z are socially-conscious of the world around them and lean upon their values when making purchasing decisions. They expect brands to be aligned with those same values (i.e. environmentally-friendly, committed to LGBTQ rights, pro-gun legislation, etc…)

Marketing campaigns that engage with Millennials and Generation Z on an interpersonal basis and speak to their values, can create powerful messages that resonate with them on a deeper level and will capture their attention.

Zara Pride Brand Activation

Make Your Marketing Mark With Generation Z and Millennials

Representing the two largest generation demographics in the U.S., Millennials and Generation Z are the nation’s most powerful consumers bases and will be for years to come. As long as you cater to their wants, needs, and values now with marketing campaigns and strategies that appeal to them and who they are, you can develop long-term customer relationships that will lead to unlimited potential and growth for your brand.

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How Brands are Supporting Social Issues with Cause Marketing


In an era of social responsibility, consumers want brands to show their support for causes they believe in. Find out how cause marketing can help show what you stand for and help make a difference. 

As always in society, younger generations take a lot of heat when their social consciousness aligns with their spending habits, creating a disruption across the consumer landscape. 

But, these perpetual progressions are eternal and unavoidable. No matter the generation.  

This presents brands with a unique opportunity to highlight not only who they are, but what they believe in. And, “cause marketing” has allowed brands to evolve, creating experiential campaigns that are more consumer-centric and event-based around issues making headlines today. 

Let’s take a look at a few powerful campaigns brands employed to both advocate for and actively support important causes, leading by example and driving change.

cause marketing zara pride


Take “Pride” in What You Do

The best trends in cause marketing utilize the most successful tricks in the experiential marketing playbook, which makes sense. If you want your brand to have a real-world impact, it only makes sense to bring your campaign out into the real world and directly to the people. 

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, largely credited as being the seminal moment leading to the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the U.S., last year’s global Pride celebration was held in New York, where the movement started. 

Global apparel retailer Zara and JustWater (founded by Jaden Smith) wanted to take part in this historic milestone and show their pride in a memorable way. 

With a three-sided glass truck customized into a 3D Pride flag utilizing 9,000 colorful bottles of JustWater, Zara strategically stationed their pop-up right at the heart of the festivities. 

And, to keep attendees cool and hydrated over the course of a hot June weekend, Zara’s field marketing team provided parade-goers with a rainbow selection of complimentary JustWater flavors.

This bold and colorful cause marketing campaign not only garnered Zara over one million impressions on social media worldwide (as people used the global trending #PrideLove to tag their photos with Zara’s rainbow truck), but also showcased Zara’s commitment to and support for the LGBTQ community. 


In 2012, when Kentucky-based distillery Jefferson’s Bourbon partnered with marine/oceanic conservation non-profit OCEARCH, you’d be forgiven for scratching your head to figure out what would bring these two unlikely forces together. 

Well, the idea originated using the science of aging whiskey. Constant movement in its barrel matures whiskey faster since it’s in direct contact with the wood more often. So, Jefferson’s Bourbon strapped a handful of its barrels and hitched a ride aboard OCEARCH’s 126-ft. research vessel and mobile lab to find out how a voyage across the seven seas would impact the flavor of their product. 

Turns out, the oceanic expedition resulted in a darker and more complex whiskey and, as a result, Jefferson’s Bourbon now has a line of Jefferson’s Ocean bourbon.

Jefferson's Ocean Cause Marketing

With a portion of all proceeds going directly to OCEARCH, the non-profit has been able to expand its operations with more research vessels stopping at 30 different ports on five continents. 

Four barrels of Jefferson’s Bourbon now embark on seasonal expeditions (for a total of 180 barrels annually) as OCEARCH collects important scientific data on the ecology and behavior of the world’s oceanic marine life.


Ben & Jerry’s may be one of the most popular ice cream brands in the U.S., but you could also say the Vermont-based company is a pioneer of cause marketing. With outspoken support on issues of the day like voting rights, LGBTQ equality, and Climate Change, Ben & Jerry’s is almost as well-known for their activism as they are for the catchy names of their ice cream flavors. 

As rallies are being held around the world advocating for racial equality, the issue has been an important one to Ben & Jerry’s for years. 

Just last fall, a limited-edition flavor called “Justice ReMix’d” was released as part of a national campaign with the Advancement Project National Office to help reform the U.S. criminal justice system. 

Along with portions of sales from “Justice ReMix’d” going to the Advancement Project National Office, Ben & Jerry’s also organized educational events and gatherings around the country to raise awareness. 

And, with nearly half a million visitors to their factory in Waterbury, Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s also teamed up with Art For Justice, which funds artists who’ve been previously incarcerated for an installation at Ben & Jerry’s headquarters exhibiting their work.


Everyone believes in something, and that goes for brands as well. Whether it be animal rights, poverty and homelessness, or online bullying, consumers have become more and more aware of the world around them and many want to make a difference. With the resources and man-power at brands’ disposal, customers almost expect the companies they know and love to stand for something. 

By aligning your goals with your audience’s beliefs, cause marketing is not just an opportunity to show the world who you are, but to help make it a better place. 

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