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How guerrilla marketers can add to the fun of Scotland's Commonwealth Games

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Who can forget the sudden appearance of massed ranks of young Dutch women at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, all gyrating intriguingly in skimpy orange minis - and nothing at all to do with one of Holland's favourite beers, of course.

It was one of the world's most high profile incidents of ambush marketing. But was it just a bit of colourful, harmless fun, or a blatant infringement of hard-won and hugely expensive commercial rights? That rather depends which side of the marketing fence you're on.

The whole issue of ambush or guerrilla marketing is in the air again as the 20th Commonwealth Games in July this year loom large in the minds of marketers who see the global mega audiences as an irresistible magnet for their brands.

And the numbers are tempting. One million tickets have been sold for the 17 sports which will be contested by 71 countries in front of a worldwide television audience of 1.5 billion. The Commonwealth is home to just under one-third of the world's population and 50% of its people are under 25 years of age.

After the Olympics and the World Cup, Glasgow in 2014 is as good as it gets.

But is that justification enough for branding professionals to try to be the marketing equivalent of the kid behind the TV presenter waving frantically at the camera? The answer - with some qualifications to follow in a moment - has to be a resounding No.

The plain fact is that these planet-sized events would simply not happen if it were not for deep-pocketed sponsors laying out unimaginable sums, and it is perfectly reasonable for the event organisers to legislate to protect the interests of their sponsors.

Because marketing transcends all geographies, the rules and regulations are refined and tightened after each incursion by guerrilla marketers and transferred from event to event and country to country. London 2012 turned policing of commercial rights into a fine art, with eagle-eyed enforcement officers cracking down hard on any trademark infringements.

Advertising at the Commonwealth Games is governed by The Glasgow Commonwealth Games (Trading and Advertising) (Scotland) Regulations 2013 which applies criminal offences punishable with up to £20,000 per offence and a criminal record but is based on civil law onus of proof.

In other words you are presumed guilty until you can prove your innocence. If unauthorised advertising activity is carried out by someone in your business, the perpetrator and everyone in authority within the business, all the way to the boardroom, would have to prove that they had no knowledge and took reasonable steps to avoid ambush activities.

There is very little wriggle room here and that is why I have been advising clients to make sure they have certain protections in place prior to the Games as ignorance of the law is no excuse.

In many ways this is fair enough. Big companies have paid serious money to bankroll a global event and as far as marketers are concerned there are clear rules which should be respected by all professionals. I would never condone, for instance, even the slightest infringement of the designated time and event zones. Any attempt to intrude on these spaces and times can impinge on everyone's enjoyment and can seriously backfire by attaching a bad reputation to the brand.

But there are other ways to tap into the biggest, happiest, most freely-spending crowds that Glasgow and Scotland are likely to see for the next few decades. Marketers just have to be a bit clever.

This means using local knowledge, getting the maps out, looking at the routes the crowds will be taking to events and the likely attractions the will be heading to when they are over, working out where the footfall will be extra heavy and planning campaigns to fit the territory.

This could mean setting up instant galleries, one-off events, off the wall attention grabbers - all the guerrilla marketing tricks of using unconventional means to reach conventional goals. Use all the massive power of social media to get your street teams the attention, spread the message via your channels and leave the audience to do the rest.

And don't annoy people. The Commonwealth Games are going to be a great big party and marketers want to tie their brand to something smart and special, rather than pulling pranks which generate the wrong reaction.

Remember, the goal is a message that everyone can enjoy - not a night in the jail.

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