Ambush Marketing and Ethics in Business

FullSizeRender“All organisations have ethical standards, they may not be enshrined in a formal written code, and they may be very low or even amoral standards but they are still there as part of the corporate culture.”

CIM Study Text, Paper 9, Integrated Marketing Communications, 2002, BPP.

Reidenbach and Robin (1991) usefully distinguish between five different attitudes of corporate ethics.

(a) Amoral organisations, as you might expect, are prepared to condone any actions that contribute to the corporate aims (generally the owner’s short-term greed). Getting away with it is the only criterion for success. Getting caught will be seen as bad luck.

(b) Legalistic organisations obey the letter of the law, but not necessarily the spirit of it, if that conflicts with economic performance. Ethical matters will be ignored until they become a problem.

(c) Responsive companies are those that take the view that perhaps there is something to be gained from ethical behaviour.

(d) Emerging ethical or “ethically engaged” organisations take an active (rather than reactive) interest in ethical issues. Ethical values in such companies are part of the culture. Codes of ethics are action documents, and contain statements reflecting their core values.

(e) Ethical organisations have a “total ethical profile”: a philosophy that informs everything that the company does and a commitment on the part of everyone to carefully selected core values.

So what is ambush marketing? The concept is not very widely discussed in academic literature, but Jobber (2004) defines it as “the activities of companies that try to associate themselves with an event (e.g. the Olympics) without paying any fee to the event owner.” Which takes me to Jamaica’s ISSA Boy’s and Girl’s Athletics Championships (CHAMPS) held last week and the running debate about an incident that many claim is a clear case of ambush marketing.

Robust competition makes the great game of business exciting, but it should never descend to the law of the jungle. In our Jamaican business environment ambush marketing is considered amoral. We don’t like ambush marketing for it is not being clever. It is wrong. Besides, skilful brand managers have better tools at their disposal and avoid ambush marketing, for the cost of reversing negative feelings and judgments regarding their brand may be simply too high.

Herman D. Alvaranga is a marketing strategist and president of the Caribbean School of Sales Management.


CIM Study Text, Diploma Paper 9, Integrated Marketing Communications, 2002

Principles and Practice of Marketing, 4e, Jobber, David, 2004

A Conceptual Model of Corporate Moral Development, Reidenbach and Robin, 1991


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