Beats By Dre Ambushes, Wins The Olympics

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With the 2012 Olympic Games a week away, brands are beginning to get an idea of just how much of a bump they got from a few weeks in London at the most watched event in TV watching history.

When it comes to the most effective ambush marketing campaigns, there is no shortage of contenders. Paddy Power took true ambush action and suffered the International Olympic Committee’s significant wrath. BMW’s Mini executed probably the most garish ambush strategy during the discus and javelin events. And it’s easy to see Nike as a favorite. Its “greatness” campaign was a hit from America to China.

But another brand stood out more than Nike — from America to China — and saw an immediate, significant sales increase. It’s a brand that appears to be making unconventional marketing its core platform for brand building: Beats by Dr. Dre. [more]

During the games, athlete after athlete could be seen walking onto the global stage, ears wrapped in Beats by Dre. The headphones brand skipped shelling out for an official Olympic sponsorship and instead send gear to the athletes directly in the hopes the stars would wear the “b” logo on the world stage. And they did. They did in droves, providing Beats with millions of dollars in free exposure.

To amplify the free gear, Beats also set up an exclusive Beats By Dre room at Shoreditch House, where athletes were welcome to party and unwind.

The IOC made little fuss about the ambush campaign, except to crack down on tweets by members of the British team explicitly mentioning the brand’s name. The Brit team eventually put the kibosh on its athletes wearing Beats. But other athletes continued to thank Beats as part of the protest against “Rule 40.”

One keys to Beats’ success was the exclusive designs. British athletes were sent gear with the Union Jack. America’s gold-winning basketball team was seen decked out in gold Beats headsets. Some of China’s athletes were seen strolling into competition wearing Beats headsets in the national colors, red and yellow.

The most prominent China star wearing Beats was swimmer Sun Yang.* Sun, who broke the world record, was seen time and time again pre-race wearing various Beats headsets. His headphones became a sensation on China’s microblog Weibo where users traded comments about “魔声耳机” (“magic sound headphones). As Guangzhou Weibo user 壹平坊数字专门店 wrote, “Magic Sound Headphones have become the official headphones of the Olympics.”

That sentiment was probably painful to official sponsor Samsung. The South Korean brand is one of the main rivals of Taiwan’s HTC, which owns Beats by Dre. For Samsung, Beats’ ambush success took its most insulting form when South Korean swimmer Park Taehwan, the bitter rival of Sun Yang, walked into the pool area wearing, yes, Beats By Dre.

So what did Beats reap from its successful Olympic ambush? Besides the huge spike in brand recognition in nations like China, Beats saw real sales increases. Pocket-Link reported that while electronics retailer John Lewis saw overall headphone sales increase 19 percent, sales for Beats By Dre spiked by 42 percent.

Interestingly, the most Olympic Olympian ever, Michael Phelps, was not seen with Beats, but instead donned the brand Tracks HD from Sol Republic. It did not take long for Sol Republic to Tweet and Facebook the endorsement.

Beats has made this kind of low cost, huge buzz marketing its forte. Last November the brand opened its New York City SoHo store using little more than social media.

*Beats may have been able to ambush the IOC but it can’t ambush Coca-Cola. In new Coke commercials starring China’s gold-winning swimmer, Sun Yang dons his now-trademark red headset, but the Beats logo is conveniently edited out.

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