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Guerrilla marketing - LIME furious over Digicel's advertising hijack at Champs

Published:Monday | March 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Calabar High School captain and star performer, Michael O’Hara, removes his team running vest to display the slogan of a telecommunications company Digicel, after winning the boys’ 200m final at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys & Girls’ Athletic Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday. One of the event’s key sponsors is telecommunications firm LIME. Organisers ISSA say they will be moving to stamp out this marketing ploy.

The battle for customers in Jamaica between telecommunications rivals Digicel and LIME is at its fiercest, with the latest tactic employed by the former being branded as guerrilla marketing.

The accusation, which has made LIME's Vice-President of Marketing Carlo Redwood livid, comes in light of the staged and unauthorised fashion in which Calabar High School student Michael O'Hara went about making it known to the world his affiliation with Digicel during the LIME-sponsored ISSA-GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships.

On completion of last Saturday's 200m race, which he won, the Calabar student removed the top of his team's jersey to reveal a red and green undershirt with the words 'Be Extraordinary' for a packed National Stadium, television audience and those watching via the Internet. The phrase 'Be Extraordinary' is Digicel's tagline that has been heavily used in ad campaigns.

Digicel announced later that day via its Instagram page that the 19-year-old O'Hara, who won four medals at the championships, had been signed as its newest athletics brand ambassador.

"It definitely is what you call guerrilla marketing," Redwood told The Gleaner. "We are obviously a big sponsor, and they are not a sponsor, and there are activities that they would have been doing before and during Champs to try and take away some of those values."




Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) General Secretary Garth Gayle concurred with Redwood and said it is now up to ISSA to ensure that it never happens again.

"The action of the young man (O'Hara) would clearly be a violation and what would be understood to be ambush marketing," Gayle, who is a member of ISSA, by virtue of being principal of Charlie Smith High and forms part of the planning committee, said. "It is not an action IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and JAAA can in any way condone or encourage and ought not to happen ever again.

"It is now for the ISSA executive to review their laws and guidelines that govern the management of ISSA competitions and to arrive at a position."

But marketing director for Digicel Jamaica, Peter Lloyd, has sought to defend his company's actions, saying it did nothing wrong.

"The Michael O'Hara agreement is not a new agreement; it is not something that happened overnight," Lloyd said. "We did not do anything that was illegal. Everything that we did yesterday (Saturday) was a celebration of Michael O'Hara, who embodies our brand promise, which happens to be 'Be Extraordinary'.

"There was no reference to Digicel at any event that ISSA had, and we did not refer to ISSA in any of our executions in the last couple of weeks."

It is now left to see how ISSA will handle this extraordinary fracas, as the organisers had only a day prior to the incident sent out an email to all stakeholders threatening "legal action against individuals or companies making unauthorised affiliation of their brands with the Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships ... . ISSA is warning that such actions are illegal and directly contravene the rights of approved sponsors of Champs 2015."

George Forbes, ISSA's competition director, said Digicel's move on Saturday was "wrong and unprecedented".

"We are going to be vigilant and if anything like this happens again, we can bet you that the athlete and the school will be severely punished."

>> See related story in Sports.