[FOUNTAIN]Games and commercials

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[FOUNTAIN]Games and commercials

"If you're traveling to Norway this winter you'll need a passport but -- you don't need a visa."

This was the phrase that American Express used for a blanket television advertising campaign that started to appear in Jan. 1994, when the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, were in full swing.

The point of the campaign was a play on words; Americans needed no visa to enter Norway and neither, American Express was suggesting, did they need the credit card issued by the official Olympic partner Visa International. The campaign was considered a good example of so-called "ambush marketing."

Ambush marketing is a term coined by Jerry Welsh, a marketing specialist in the United States, who earlier devised a "cause-related" marketing strategy to drum up support from individuals and corporations for the U.S. national Olympic team. His aim was to attract advertisers other than official sponsors and link them somehow with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Since the Los Angeles Olympics, the International Olympic Committee and FIFA, the World Cup sponsor, have stepped up efforts to block ambush marketing. For example, FIFA strictly prohibits the use of the term World Cup as well as symbols of the tournament except by the official partners -- one company in 15 industries worldwide -- and six local partners in Korea.

The official partners, who paid $40 million each on average to FIFA, obviously do not look on ambush marketing with approval.

But marketing schemes that eluded the counterefforts of the IOC and FIFA have evolved quickly. A good example is the advertisements of SK Telecom, the largest local mobile carrier, that publicized the Red Devils booster group instead of the World Cup itself. SK Telecom could not use the term World Cup because it was not an official sponsor, but the television commercials that feature organized cheers for the national team have been an enormous success. SK's marketing reached its peak when it organized a rally in front of City Hall on Monday, the day the Korea-U.S. match was held in Daegu.

Although not illegal, ambush marketing involves questionable ethics. Jerry Welsh also warned that if ambush marketing is not controlled, it could weaken the sponsorship system and eventually harm sports and corporations alike. But as the World Cup tournament heats up, so will the commercialism that seeks the most bang for the buck.

That's the way it is.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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