Beer battle at World Cup raises ethical questions


Last week’s World Cup event made the news for more than mere soccer. Dutch brewing company Bavaria received a great deal of press for pulling off a technique called ambush marketing.

Thirty-six young women wearing orange mini dresses associated with Bavaria were arrested by police during a World Cup game. Another beer company had the exclusive sponsorship rights. (Read about the incident here).

Ambush marketing is a marketing campaign that is staged during an event, such as a sports game, but does not involve the payment of a sponsorship or licensing fee.

The incident raises a number of questions. There are two basic considerations – the ethical and the legal.

The legal argument would amount to the fact the “ambushing” company didn’t pay a sponsorship or other fee to associate its brand with the event. Any association with the ambusher’s logo or name with the event’s name or logo could be grounds for a lawsuit.

Ethically, it would be wrong for the “ambusher” to use the event’s name or logo. But is it wrong for the “ambusher” to take this action?

Law and ethics do not always match up. Not everything that’s legal is moral. And vice versa.

The ambusher is doing an end-run around a legal agreement between the event’s sponsors and another company. But is it right for the company with the biggest checking account to be the only company in an industry to be associated with a particular event? Is that company’s director serving the shareholders faithfully? Or is ego a driver behind buying the exclusive sponsorship rights to an event? An argument in favor of exclusive sponsorships is that South Africa is a democracy and two legal entities have the right to enter into contractual agreements.

The South African police arrested the women who wore Bavaria’s colors. Here’s a great question: Does the police have a right to arrest people involved in a business contract dispute? These women should have been escorted out of the game, but arresting them went too far. Can you imagine the can of worms that would be opened as a result from police getting involved in every business dispute? Civil courts are much better designed to iron out the legalities of business contracts and freedom of speech.

Even if Bavaria had the right to conduct its unorthodox marketing campaign, the company may feel the legal repercussions long after the World Cup has ended. Undoubtedly we’ll see more such tactics at large sporting events because of the money involved and the desire of companies to find new ways to reach consumers.

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About Jason Reynolds
I'm a reporter, blogger, husband and aspiring author. When I'm not working, spending time with the family, or reading (which is quite a bit), I enjoy cooking, traveling, photography and wrangling my family's cats and chickens.

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