This weekend is Super Bowl Sunday. More than one billion people worldwide are expected to watch the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks in New Jersey, around 80,000 will huddle together in a freezing MetLife Stadium and the going rate for a 30-second TV commercial is around $4m.

For marketers, getting your brand associated with events like this can be huge. Doing it without handing over a $4m cheque (or check, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re reading this from) is the Holy Grail.

This week, it was Sodastream that was grabbing attention with its ‘Super Bowl’ ad, featuring Scarlett Johansson. The ad, which takes aim at Coca-Cola and Pepsi (the latter of which is the official sponsor of Sunday’s half-time show) has been ‘rejected’ by Super Bowl broadcaster Fox but that hasn’t stopped it clocking up 6.6m views and counting before a ball has been kicked, as well as masses of media coverage.

Sodastream has previous for this sort of thing. Last year, another swipe at the soft drinks giants was also rejected by the big game broadcasters and went on to record 5m YouTube views.

Ambush marketing is now a massive industry, but for every success story, there is an ever growing pile of campaigns that end up on the scrapheap. So what are the key ingredients to a successful creative campaign, and what can we learn from previous successes? Here are five key ingredients to getting the buzz, without spending the bucks.

Be fast and be agile


It was twelve months ago, during the very same event, when we saw the power of being fast, the fastest and faster still.

At the 2013 Super Bowl, as the floodlights temporarily went out in the New Orleans Superdome, Oreo was stealing the spotlight with its “dunk in the dark” tweet. A simple social media post, timed perfectly, secured 10,000 tweets, 18,000 likes and 5,000 shares in less than an hour. Eventually, it would earn Oreo 525m impressions.

Had this been a brand that has extensive sign-off processes, required multiple stakeholders to get involved and the thumbs up from a compliance department, this wouldn’t have happened. After all, this was something that happened at around 8:30pm on a Sunday night. It just goes to show the power of agility and placing trust in your marketing team, social media team and your external agencies.

Be creative


If there is an event that you want to ambush, it is a certainty that there will be an exhaustive list of restrictions, limitations and simple “must not dos” that stand in your way. Even pub landlords fell afoul of LOCOGs marketing restrictions during the 2012 London Olympics.

So when Paddy Power, who had nothing to do with the Olympics, declared themselves as the official sponsor of “the largest athletics event in London this year” via the medium of a giant billboard at Waterloo Station, LOCOGs lawyers sprang into action.

However, the bookmaker was in fact telling the truth. It was the official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London – just not the one that everyone thought. Instead, the Irish bookie had sponsored an egg and spoon race in London, France.

The case went to court and Paddy Power won.

Be prepared for a backlash


We’ll stick with Paddy Power for this one, because this is a brand that understands how to deal with the backlash that comes with courting publicity a little more creatively.

What some may find a brilliant piece of marketing, others may find utterly distasteful. In 2010, the bookmaker was branded “scum” by the owner of the Celtic Manor after it erected a Hollywood-style sign overlooking the venue of the Ryder Cup. The bookie responded by paying our early on all bets backing the European team – before the American team had touched down in Wales. It was a move that immediately got the sentiment of the public back in their favour.

Even planning your efforts with the best of intentions can’t always prevent some sort of negative reaction, so have a plan in place.

Understand the risks

Creative marketing doesn’t come without risks. A banned ad can create buzz, but it can also be a PR disaster, particularly if you can’t overcome the various branding and legal hurdles.

Do a risk assessment, foresee every possible hurdle and decide whether your plan is worth it. If you’re trying to market in a highly regulated industry, or representing a very conservative brand, seriously think about whether this type of creativity is for you.

If necessary, be tenacious

Sepp The Dog tweet

In 2010, as South Africa prepared to host the FIFA World Cup, budget airline Kulula described itself as the “unofficial national carrier of the ‘you know what’”, complete with ads depicting footballs, vuvuzelas, South African flags and footballers.

Sepp Blatter and FIFA didn’t like it, pointing to its extensive list of things and phrases that are ‘protected’, and ordered the ad to be withdrawn. The ad appeared soon after in a slightly amended form, arguing that the South African flag was actually a beach towel, that a vuvuzela was actually a golf tee and that it wasn’t a footballer in the picture but instead, a man “putting his right leg, right leg out, shaking it all about”. FIFA complained again.

But Kulula didn’t stop. Instead, they went out and searched for anyone with the name Sepp Blatter, with the promise of a free flight. They eventually found a dog with that very name, but it was enough for them to be able to say “Sepp Blatter flies with Kulula!”

The lesson here is that an objection doesn’t necessarily mean your creative strategy is dead in the water. Instead, it could take on an entirely new narrative.

With all eyes on America’s biggest game this Sunday, it will be either Broncos or the Seahawks that take most of the headlines. But that won’t stop marketing execs looking to capitalise on the weekend’s events. All of the ingredients are there – a probably snow storm, some ‘larger than life’ players and a record breaking quarterback – but which brands will come out on top in the marketing stakes?

If you want to learn more about our creative approach, please get in touch!