World Cup as Brand Building Vehicle

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 Beyond growing sales, many brands, especially those with a global presence, are leveraging on the ongoing World Cup to sell their brands, writes Raheem Akingbolu

Within and outside Brazil, where the ongoing World Cup 2014 is taking place, the samba beats are getting louder as brands across the world are tying their aprons to the global sporting event to extend their frontiers.

In Nigeria, brands like Verve, a leading payment card brand, Star, from the stable of Nigerian Breweries, Coca Cola and Airtel are riding on it to reward patrons of their products.

As the world set for the tournament last week, Verve announced the 19 lucky winners of its recently concluded Breeze to Brazil promo. Few hours after the unveiling, the company organised a befitting sent-forth party for the beneficiaries-forth party before they went to the world biggest sport fiesta.

In the same way, about 11 winners, who emerged in a similar promotions organized by Nigerian Breweries to reward consumers of Star were also sent forth at the company’s Orile Iganmu head office amid pomp.

At the Verve head office in Lagos, where the promoters of the payment card brand and their partners bid the beneficiaries farewell, the company’s CEO, Charles Ifedi, said Verve Breeze to Brazil was an invaluable platform with which the company reached out to its consumers.

Commenting on the success of the promotion, which lasted three months, in partnership with 13 commercial banks and 2 micro-finance banks, Ifedi said the response was impressive, adding that the international company was delighted that it was able to offer this once in a life time opportunity to the 19 lucky winners.

According to him, the lucky 19 will be treated to an all expense paid 7 day trip and would watch two matches at the tournament, including the opening game for the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Global presence
As the campaign noise from brands builds every day at the tournament, reports from Brazil indicated that it is not only the official sponsors that are topping the engagement polls as many supporting brands are struggling hard to lend their voices.

According to a report, few days before the first match, many brands launched campaigns – both digital and traditional to create awareness. Some of the brands, such as Nike and Adidas that have over the years possess an inherent connection to the event, ran imposing campaigns and adverts by employing their connection to the sport and its stars.

To observers, Adidas, the official sponsor of FIFA, has every reason to target the World Cup; Nike, which is hoping to make Brazil its third largest market behind the US and China, is also believed to have millions of reasons of its own.

But while the big soccer brands are almost obligated to launch big campaigns in the host country, some brands less directly affiliated with the sport are instead using the event as an opportunity to establish brand recognition in many countries, with establishment of big viewing audience to carve out a foothold in their respective countries by leveraging the event.

On Monday, Lafarge WAPCO, a cement manufacturing company in Nigeria that has little or no history of association with Sports sponsorship created a platform for football fans in Lagos to watch the various matches slated for the day through a big screen.

Marketing realities
The subtle war between Adidas and Nike at the event could be a good lesson for brand managers, who are keen at recognising marketing opportunities.

Adidas has been an official FIFA World Cup partner since 1970, leveraging its investment to sell millions of official World Cup footballs and merchandise, driving revenue in the never ending battle of claim and counter claim around who is number one in football.

However, such sponsorship investment limits the amount the brand can subsequently invest in consumer engagement beyond activating their sponsorship rights, leaving the door open to their great rival.

Nike is believed to have taken the view that global tournaments provide the ultimate showcase of their football positioning, investing vast sums behind communications production, media buys and consumer experiences that drive engagement.

By gaining a disproportionate share of voice around the tournament, consumers perceive Nike, not Adidas, as the official partner. The 'Nike approach' is starting to feel one-dimensional and complacent with recent efforts viewed as lacklustre by critics.

Despite that, at the time of writing, this year's "Risk Everything" campaign has been viewed over 50m times on YouTube, admittedly backed by a huge online media buy.

Image tied to that of rights-holders
Sponsorship can be both showcase and straitjacket. An opportunity to be seen by millions but it is how you're seen that can be the problem. Non-sponsors have creative freedom, unconstrained by endless regulations and laborious approval processes that often result in creative being reduced to a shadow of its former self.

As this reporter found out in South Africa in 2010, FIFA initiated legal action against Dutch brewer Bavaria, which employed 36 women to attend a Netherlands game in orange clothing – clothing with such discreet branding that no one bars those in the immediate seats could possibly see.

Yet FIFA ejected the women from the stadium and pursued a high profile case against Bavaria that resulted in the beer brand achieving more social mentions than all of the official sponsors combined – and almost six times more than official beer partner, Anheuser Busch.

If there is any lesson from all these, it is that sponsors have to not only manage their image at the event, but also their association with rights holder. The latter's behaviour can easily rub off on the affiliated brand, often to its detriment.

In a related development, report from London 2012, indicated that the LOCOG "brand police" made headlines for their heavy-handed insistence that small, independent businesses joining in the celebrations remove references to the Olympic rings from their displays to protect global sponsorship deals, effortlessly labeling sponsor brands as killjoys at the same time.

Tourism spend
The Brazilian Institute of Tourism had forecast shortly before the tournament began that visitors to the event would spend over $11bn (£6.6bn) in the country: more than 20 times the earnings of South Africa during the last World Cup.

The cost of media buying is set to soar too, with Brazil’s Globo TV network due to make $600m from regular ad slots booked by sponsors during its World Cup coverage.

FIFA, meanwhile, predicted that it would collect around $4bn for its own coffers from Brazil 2014, with the majority coming from TV rights and around a third from sponsorship and marketing. This would be an increase on the 2010 World Cup, when it raised $3.7bn in total and $1.1bn from sponsorship.

Many sponsors apparently feel they are getting value for money. In January, Visa became the fifth FIFA sponsor to extend its deal and commit to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, joinin Adidas, Coca-Cola and Hyundai-Kia.

Despite the huge sums involved in World Cup sponsorships – FIFA raised more than $1bn from global brands in 2010 – questions remain about how best to derive maximum marketing value from the tournament. The World Cup is four-week frenzy when brands fight for consumers’ attention, so achieving cut-through during the event is a difficult task for all marketers.

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