Beats Headphones Banned at World Cup (Which May Be Exactly What They Wanted)

It’s been a surprising week for World Cup fans, with reigning champion Spain eliminated, heavily-favored Brazil struggling and the U.S. somehow beating Ghana, despite Jozy Altidore’s hamstring injury. But perhaps more unexpected is Beats By Dre's headphones being hamstrung by a ban from FIFA at the global sporting event. Or perhaps that was the plan all along.

According to a Reuters report, the soccer governing body FIFA is not allowing players to wear the cans with the lowercase "b" in all World Cup stadiums during official matches and media events because of an official licensing agreement FIFA has with Sony Corp, which reportedly provided tournament players with their brand of headphones.

FIFA and Beats did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The dustup comes just as Beats launches the biggest ad campaign in its six-year history, with its “Game Before the Game” short film. The World Cup spots the company has bought coincide with Beats' launch of Solo 2, a new version of the company’s best-selling headphones. The brand is rolling out several short-form versions for the campaign with a series of TV commercials in more than nine countries and in five different languages. 

The marketing term for running an ad campaign that harnesses an existing campaign’s momentum -- without actually being an official sponsor -- is "ambush marketing." Beats employed a similar strategy during the 2012 Summer Olympics, when it sent athletes their headphones, despite not being an official sponsor. The practice, while not uncommon, is a delicate balance, risking both infringing on official sponsors' territory and provoking a lawsuit while getting its message out.

When Billboard recently asked Beats president Luke Wood about the supposed ambush marketing strategy for the World Cup and Olympics campaigns, a p.r. representative quickly interjected, calling for another line of questioning. “We don’t ambush market,” the rep said. “Music and sports are our sweet spot, so we just end up having a place there.”

While the “place” would seem exquisitely timed to major sporting events with official sponsors, another marketing theory suggests getting called out for an ambush marketing campaign and having your product “banned” from official events only helps further said brand's visibility and authenticity.

Beats is also using the "Game Before the Game" campaign to promote its  Beats Music streaming service. Earlier this week, Jay Z released an exclusive remix of the campaign’s theme song “Jungle” by the X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons that ran within a Beats ad (below) during the NBA finals. The song is only available exclusively for its first week of release through Beats Music. Both the X Ambassadors and Jamie N Commons are signed to Alex Da Kid’s KIDinaKORNER label, a subsidiary of Interscope -- tied to the Beats brand via Jimmy Iovine, the company's former head and a co-founder of the Beats brand.

Perhaps the reported Beats ban can help shift song units, too.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboardbiz

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