The armchair football fan is a notoriously fickle creature – which is why Five booked tactical pitch perimeter advertising during Blackburn Rovers' Uefa Cup tie away at Olympique Lyonnaise a few years back.
The match was being televised live on BBC1.
Those cunning foxes at Five wanted to sabotage the Beeb's footie coverage by informing viewers there was a much better match – Liverpool's 5-0 rout of FC Kosice – on the other side.
The BBC could have no complaints about what was a totally legal and clever spoiling tactic by Five to directly target its audience using media information which was publicly available.
Subsequent audience research revealed the perimeter board enticed 143,000 BBC1 switchers to Five in the minute following its first exposure – and before the BBC's sports producer realised what was happening and confiscated the offending advert.
Rival companies and brands love to outdo each other and finding ways to disrupt each other's advertising and marketing activity is a much-loved tactic.
Sport is the perfect arena for such spoiling fun. During the Olympic Games in Barcelona, for instance, Nike bought all the poster sites from the airport into the city so visitors would think that it, rather than Adidas, was the event's main brand sponsor.
Nevertheless, mention the word "sabotage"
to clients and marketing directors can shift nervously in their seats, worried any clever idea could backfire on them and their brand.
Yet, if there is humour involved and the facts are checked thoroughly – particularly in the case of price-comparison advertising – this can be an effective course of action. No one gets hurt and consumers love it.
Traditionally, it is the market leader in any industry which tends to be on the wrong end of sabotage activity as challenger brands seize any opportunity to take a punch at the big boy.
Take British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, which have been at each others' throats for years.
Virgin can get away with introducing sick bags with ethnic designs to draw attention to the ill-fated cultural tail designs on BA planes, and erecting billboards proclaimingHeathrow as Virgin Territory when it was finally awarded slots at the airport.
If BA attacked Virgin in a similar cheeky way, its efforts would probably fall flat because consumers expect it to rise above such antics.
"Before entering this area, an advertiser must ask itself if it is being mischievous or defensive. Challenger brands can be naughty while brand leaders will always be looking over their shoulder. That's just the way it is,"
says Crawford Hollingworth, CEO of brand research consultancy Headlight Vision.
Brands can generate respect if they are perceived by consumers as the sharp underdog, but Hollingworth warns theremust be a weakness in the big brand's product or service to attack. "Otherwise you can just end up looking like a little dog yapping at the market leader's heels," he says.
The end of BT's monopoly for directory enquiries is another example of challenger brands getting away with having a dig.
Immediately after deregulation, BT ran Public Notice press ads informing readers of the switch from 192 to its own 118 500 service.
But it had not reckoned on those cheeky pups from Naked and their rival 118 118 campaign.
So, 118 118 ran full-page ads parodying BT in the same editions of newspapers being used by BT. The ads were brazenly headlined Public Notice and mentioned services that "BT 192 never bothered to offer".
"Any company which has previously enjoyed a monopoly is fair game for sabotage, but the key thing is the message," says Yusuf Chuku, lead strategist at Element Communications, the recent joint venture between ad agency WCRS and Naked, the client list of which includes The Number 118 118.
"You have to do it from the consumerchampion angle and be cheeky for it to work.
Basically, you need a sense of humour and style."
Obtaining details of a rival's planned advertising is not as difficult as you might imagine.
The media village breeds gossip and feeds on rumour, and good creatives and planners will always have their ears to the ground.
Reports in the press will also alert companies to planned competitor activity ripe for sabotage, while new employees recruited from an opponent are a valuable source of information.
"Good planners are aware of what's going on; they have their periscopes up and are listening and watching the industry and keeping in touch with the national and international news," says Nick Hammond, planning director at TotalMedia.
"They'll spot opportunities where clients could benefit from the media activities of others, but any sabotage will only work if the advertiser and its media and creative agencies work closely together to get the message right."
One popular and opportunistic form of sabotage is piggy-backing someone else's advertising.
This can be a cost-effective way for large and small brands to generate awareness and media coverage. Often, one advertiser's creative can prompt copy-cat thinking from businesses in non-competitive sectors which will benefit both parties.
Take the Wonderbra campaign featuring Eva Herzigova in her underwear with the message "Hello Boys" and designed to be a head-turner amongmale consumers.
The idea was adopted and adapted by Guinness, which used the slightly less attractive sight of comedian Billy Connolly holding two bottles of Kaliber alcohol-free lager. "It allowed the Kaliber brand to be perceived as almost sexy and quite funny, which is a rare achievement," says James Jennings, joint managing director at BJK&EMedia.
"This demonstrated how non-competing brands can benefit if one bounces its advertising off the other."
Ron Leagas, the former Saatchi & Saatchi managing director and co-founder of Leagas Delaney, which now runs marketing communications agency Edge Ideas, warns that piggy-backing another company's creative is not always straightforward,which is why some clients are nervous about this whole area.
"If your brand's not famous enough, it can just add fuel to the major brand and be perceived as lazy marketing by you. Clients can also get into trouble if they use someone else's intellectual property such as a trade mark without consent. With the Wonderbra and Kaliber activity both sides could see mutual interest from what was happening so there were no such problems," says Leagas.
Most examples of advertising sabotage will raise a smile, but marketing teams can suffer a serious sense of humour failure if they are adamant the claims being made by their fiercest opponents are false. When rival companies issue ads comparing prices or service, for example, complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority often follow.
In fact, the ASA got so fed up dealing with these kind of complaints, and the time it took to investigate grievances, that it decided to tighten its code a couple of years ago. Now it allows comparative claims, but insists any advertising does not discredit or denigrate another company's products.
The ASA was stirred into action following a spate of complaints by some famous competing brands, such as Hoover and Dyson, Ryanair and EasyJet, and B&Q andHomebase.
For example, the authority was asked by EasyJet to investigate Ryanair advertisements headlined "Why Pay More... To Arrive Later"
which claimed Ryanair beat its rival every week on the number of on-time flights.
The ASA upheld EasyJet's complaint, saying comparisons between two lots of punc-tuality statistics were misleading unless it could be shown that both sets of data were compiled with identical methodologies, which was not the case.
A complaint not upheld by the ASA was an attempt by Homebase to sabotage a B&Q advertising campaign.
It had objected to a national press advertisement headlined "B&Q savings on Homebase prices – judge these" which related to just six products. The ASA accepted these six products were indeed cheaper in B&Q and that by using the words "judge these" and a footnote referring to the Homebase stores surveyed, consumers would realise the advertisement related only to these items.
Need for concrete evidence
"Investigating a complaint can become a drawn-out affair when two industry heavyweights get embroiled in a dispute. The complainant must, therefore, have solid grounds for getting in touch and have concrete evidence to back up the complaint," says an ASA spokesman.
"If the legal teams on both sides produce counter arguments, this can stall proceedings and some investigations can get very technical with scientific claims needing ratification."
He cites arguments over suction power made in ads by Hoover and Dyson which could be answered only by independent experts.
One form of advertising which is illegal but a popular weapon, nonetheless, for sabotaging legitimate campaigns is fly-posting.
Ambient media organisation Diabolical Liberties, one of the companies arguing for local councils to designate authorised sites for fly-posting, has been involved in some controversial sabotage activity in the past.
The "I shagged here" promotion for Mates Condoms included slapping at least one of the posters across a Jaguar advertisement on one of Maiden's legitimate outdoor sites. Maiden's response was to issue an invoice for the space used.
Yet the fly-posters themselves can be a target for the saboteurs.
In November, Transport for London officials began putting "cancelled" stickers on illegal posters advertising gigs and events. TfL saw this as an effective way to discourage unlawful street ad bills, although in most cases the stickers were simply covered over by new posters within a few hours.
This tit-for-tat activity has raised questions about whether TfL was lawfully entitled to sabotage fly-posters despite the fact the ad bills were pasted illegally on TfL property.
Giles Crown, a partner specialising in media and brands at law firm Lewis Silkin, argues that TfL could have faced a claim for malicious falsehood if a concert organiser was able to prove it lost money because consumers thought an event was no longer taking place.
"TfL is guilty of spreading wrong information about something being advertised by another company. The argument a court would have to settle would be should a brand that is doing something illegal – fly-posting on London Transport property – be allowed to take legal action? That would have to be TfL's defence against any malicious falsehood claim," says Crown.
Fly-posting is certainly controversial.
Hewlett-Packard's Hype Gallery campaign in January 2004, which allowed consumers to fill in the gaps left on posters, became ineligible for the recent IPA Best of the Best awards because there was an element of illegal flyposting involved.
The Hype campaign was an example of what strategists at Naked refer to as "open source communication" – where the advertiser works with consumers in order to create a piece of communication.
It is, effectively, the opposite of so-called "brandalism" which is where advertisers have no control over how, where and when their branded communication is sabotaged.
For example, billboards in New York for Apple's iPodmusic player were defaced by one disgruntled customer with the words "iPod's unreplaceable battery lasts only 18 months"
after he discovered it would cost more to buy a new battery than to purchase a new iPod.
Brandalismis designed tomake advertisers sit up and listen to complaints and is effectively part of the anti-globalisation movement.
Brands such as Nike, McDonald's and Microsoft have all suffered from the actions of "brandals".
A Microsoft poster sited near Liverpool Street station which did say "Suddenly Everything Clicks" was cleverly altered to say "Suddenly Everything Sucks".
Grown of image disparity
"Brandalism has grown out of a disparity between the image that brands portray of themselves in their advertising and the reality of the service they offer. Consumers will no longer tolerate wild claims in advertising,"
says Faris Yakob, a strategist at Naked.
Another formof brandalismis Culture Jamming, where consumers parody ads and hijack billboards. Brands to see their image and logos distorted by the jammers include Calvin Klein, Absolut Vodka, McDonald's, Nike and Starbucks.
This is where saboteurs mimic the look and feel of a targeted ad with realistic copies of corporate logos and slogans on posters or Tshirts so viewers react with a double-take as they realise they have been fooled.
Whether it is advertisers disrupting their rivals' campaigns or consumers attacking brands they dislike, advertising sabotage is a winner for those clever enough to make it work.
And, in a corporate world where many companies arguably take themselves far too seriously, you have to admire the cheekiness of the offenders.
- Attacks on rivals
– Virgin posters takes a sideswipe at BA Brandalism
– Consumers attack iPod posters for low battery life Culture jamming
– McDonald's badges using logo for animal rights message Direct action
– TfL defaces illegal fly-posters Piggybacking
– Wonderbra-inspired Billy Connolly ads for Kaliber Spoilers
– Five takes pitch hoardings for BBCscreened game Tactical placement
– 118 118 parodies BT ads in newspapers
Spoo of Polo ad
Volkswagen has been swift to distance itself from a film purporting to be one of its adverts.
The film features a suicide bomber blowing himself up inside a Polo, which remains intact.
Then follows the slogan "Polo, small but tough."
VW insists it had nothing to do with the creation of the ad.
While not a direct act of brandalism– the film is believed to have been released accidentally by themaker – it gained a life of its own as a viral e-mail.
VW is now attempting to defuse the damage done to the VW and Polo brands through association with the ad.
Advertisingagency sabotage While adland's finest will help their clients sabotage rival brands' advertising wherever possible, the media world is not opposed to employing spoiling tactics against its own kind.
Almost four years ago, Trevor Beattie's TBWA scored a cheeky winner against rival agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Saatchis was having its reception renovated and had erected large, poster-friendly white workmen's boards to obscure the entrance. On the boards were signs proclaiming "Bill posters will not be prosecuted".
Unfortunately, Beattie took Saatchis at its word and at 7am on Thursday, 1 February, 2001, the TBWA teampasted a huge poster covering the boards inside a large arrow pointing left.
The poster read: "You'll get a better reception at TBWA".
What made this more embarrassing for Saatchis' creative director at the time, David Droga, and his team was the fact that Beattie had tipped off the BBC which was making a documentary about advertising.
A camera crew arrived to film the stunt.
"This worked brilliantly because it was a bit of fun which Saatchis was embarrassed about, but which it took in good sport. It generated trade, national press and television coverage for us and although passers-by were a bit bemused the advertising industry loved the cheekiness,"says TBWA\London CEO Andrew McGuinness.
Former Saatchis managing director Ron Leagas, who had long since left the company, says he would have responded. "I'd have retaliated by parkingmy chauffeur's car outside their office with a sign saying ‘If TBWA are driving you around the bend, allow me to drive you around the corner'."
Getting one over on Land Rover
A supplement to celebrate 50 years of Land Rover was too good a sabotage opportunity for arch rival Jeep to ignore.
The supplement appeared in Autocar and was designed to show how this iconic British four-wheeldrive vehicle had stood the test of time since its launch in 1948 at the AmsterdamMotor Show and how it was growing in popularity.
Some clever tactical planning by BJK&E resulted in a full-page advertisement in the supplement for Jeep which can trace its history back to 1940. The creative featured an old-fashioned 1940s-style image of a father and son with the words "Happy birthday junior".
BJK&E joint managing director, James Jennings, said the agency had to act quickly.
"We were tipped off that the supplement was happening and wanted to point out in a polite way that Jeep was the more-established brand. Taking an ad within Land Rover's anniversary supplement was a bit of fun rather than being insulting," he says.
"We would never have booked a standard ad as that would have looked weak, so we had to be clever because Autocar is read by opinion formers in the car trade. We didn't receive any response from Land Rover, but I'm sure they noticed."