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Beer the winner in World Cup mini-skirt row

By Ollie King

Updated on 19 June 2010

Last week's ambush marketing stunt at the World Cup, featuring 36 blondes in orange mini-skirts, raises a range of legal and ethical questions, marketing expert Mike Beverland tells Ollie King for Channel 4 News.

Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort, arrested for their role in Bavaria Beer's ambush marketing ploy

Tuesday's stunt really couldn't fail - 36 beautiful women in a stadium full of cameras. 
 
But the 36 blondes at the centre of the Robbie Earle ticket row were not really Dutch fans (most were reportedly hired-in local South Africans). They're part of an audacious attempt at commercial hijacking by a Dutch beer company – what's known in the trade as "ambush marketing". Publicity on the cheap.
 
It was bound to upset Fifa. Global multinational corporations like Budweiser, Coca-Cola and McDonald's had paid world soccer’s governing body a staggering $1.2bn for sponsorship rights.

A Fifa spokesman said the girls were trying "to secure themselves a slice of the (World Cup) rewards illicitly without offering any financial support in return".

Two Dutch women, Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort, appeared at Johannesburg magistrates court on Wednesday, accused of contravening the country's merchandise marks act - put in place specifically to guard Fifa's lucrative commercial rights. Bailed out by Bavaria's lawyers, they still face potential jail sentences of six months.

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The two Dutch women didn't want to do any more TV interviews, but in a statement told Channel 4 News -

"What has started as a nice trip to the World Cup turned into a large-scale intimidation by the Fifa and we were held and interrogated for four hours in freezing conditions after the game.

"Two days later we were taken from our bed on Wednesday morning and were told that we have been accused of acting like criminals in the Soccer City stadium.

"Can you imagine really going to jail for wearing an orange dress? What about all supporters in shirts with brand names that are not sponsor of the Fifa? Are they taken to prison as well? The World Cup party is definitely not a party anymore for us."

Professor of marketing at Bath University, Mike Beverland, said: "Ambush marketing really began with Kodak in the 1984 Olympics when they ran a series of campaigns suggesting they were the official sponsors when in fact they weren’t.

That’s really the recognised first point of ambush marketing. They managed to convince the consumer they were the sponsor when in fact it was Fuji Film.

"The stunts range from running ad campaigns where you suggest you are the sponsor or are associated with the Olympics, right through to some really intriguing stunts.

"I know of people who've got a floor underneath a broadcaster in a hotel and floated a balloon underneath as the programme was on air with their logo on the balloon. There was little that could be done about it."

Fifa should have been on the lookout as it's not the first time Bavaria Beer has pulled an ambush marketing stunt.

Four years ago, in the last world cup in Germany, Bavaria Beer employees were forced to strip down to their pants after stewards prevented them wearing their Bavaria-branded orange lederhosen.

Getting evicted or, even better, getting arrested, is part of the strategy. It generates headlines. Bavaria has shot to worldwide fame on the back of its South African stunt, and for very little outlay.

"If you don't get noticed you haven't really lost very much," says Professor Beverland, "but if you run a regular ad campaign associating yourself with the Olympics, or in this case the World Cup, and that falls flat, you've committed a lot of resources."

Ambush or guerrilla marketing doesn't always rely on the fans or employees. In the 1990s Britain's very own Olympic hero Linford Christie stunned journalists when he flashed his contact lenses before the world's media bearing a logo with Puma on them. 

Other companies have also pulled similar stunts. During the Rugby World Cup in France back in 2007, French lingerie company Dim placed models wearing just the brand's lingerie in the crowd to cheer on the French. They too were thrown out, but not before their pictures were all over the press and TV.

New Zealand has passed laws to ban ambush marketing at the Rugby World Cup next year, and Britain is also ready for 2012. The London Olympic Games act says anyone found guilty of ambush marketing could face a £20,000 fine. Part of the act actually prohibits non-Olympic sponsors of using certain words like "gold" or "2012" around the time of the event.

"It raises some very questionable issues," says Professor Beverland, "because if you just think about these girls down in South Africa for example, would it have been in breach of the law if they had not been wearing a logoed skirt, if they just had a dress that was orange, associated with the national dress? Would they have got away with it?

"Bavaria Beer could still have run the same online marketing campaign and no-one would have been the wiser. It raises interesting legal and ethical questions about how far you can go to protect your sponsorship rights. It’s a murky area."

Barbara Castelein and Mirte Nieuwpoort appear back in court on Tuesday.

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