From Ambush to Ambient to Ambiguity

One of the more ubiquitous things hanging around the necks of Olympic athletes — far more than the coveted metallic medals — were the brightly colored Beats headphones from Doctor Dre.

It might not have struck you as that strange. Athletes are allowed to block out distractions and focus on their upcoming performances, unless you consider the amount of money Panasonic paid to be the ‘official’ audio sponsor of the games. The cries of Ambush marketing threatened to drown out the “U.S.A!” in the Aquatics Centre.

To protect these lucrative deals, the Olympics diligently police the presence of outside promoters (does anyone remember Linford Christie’s Puma contact lenses in 1996?), taping over obvious promotional ties.

But Beats beat the system. They merely offered the stylish sound systems to top athletes to try out, decked out in proper national colors. No cash changed hands and the athletes are simply using a product that they enjoy.

“We have to take a commonsense approach,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “There is a difference between someone using equipment with a logo and someone promoting the brand.”

This so-called ‘Ambush Marketing” of placing promotional messages at an event without payment is a few shades of gray darker than “Ambient Marketing”. Ambient messages are paid placements in often unexpected places like the back of parking stubs or inside video games. A growing niche of over $600 million, it is sure that ambient medal will be creeping into more and more ports of our collective vision An interesting collection of interesting ambient placements can be found here.

As mass media shrivels and consumer’s “selective blindness” to advertising grows, more clever marketers will be looking for ways to get their message in front of you. And there will surely be more push-back from those who don’t want this intrusion into every facet of their life.

It will be difficult to avoid listening to this argument over and over in the future. I wonder where I could get a good set of headphones…


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