As we head towards an all-Europe World Cup Final, I have noticed a trend in the failure of marketing campaigns to build off the FIFA World Cup, which prompted me to ask if marketing is scoring too many own goals in football-based promotion? Or is it more to do with the shine of the ‘celebrity footballer’ becoming too tarnished to carry major brands any more?
Even prior to the start of the World Cup, there was much criticism of the Nike adverts. Linking their brand so closely to the footballers themselves proved to be a risky business, especially when they display non-sporting behaviour off the pitch (certainly not setting the type of example that would be expected), followed by low-key performances in the arena where they are paid to be spectacular. Stephen Armstrong in his Guardian.co.uk article How could Nike get its World Cup ad so wrong?) summed them up: “Nike commercials before a World Cup are a bit like C-list celebrities switching on the Christmas lights: they promise the arrival of a wonderful event but often turn out to be a bit of a shambles.”
Vanity Fair went all out in their June issue to promote world-famous photographer Annie Leibovitz’s portraits of “The Stars of the Planet’s Biggest Sporting Event”: two of whom weren’t even picked to go to the World Cup, three couldn’t play through injury and the ‘real star’ Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t achieve anything of note in the tournament (but seems to be setting himself up to become an underwear model!). Pringles haven’t fared much better with their “Dance your way to victory with Peter Crouch” campaign – and if I hear their “Pringoooal” shout one more time……
The FA haven’t helped themselves either – by over estimating their value to Nationwide in hoping to entice a better sponsorship deal, only to lose out altogether. Nationwide certainly seem to stay true to their strap line of “Being proud to be different” by pulling away from their association with Football, as I think it would have been an interesting conversation with their members to justify continuing the £20m sponsorship deal in light of the savings that all the financial institutes are having to make.
In fact the only brand who seems to have benefitted by their connection with the tournament is Bavaria Beer, the Dutch brewery that hit the news with its ambush marketing campaign in defiance of the official sponsors Budweiser – a product that most of the world will not have heard of until those “36 women in orange” appeared. And you can guess that this unofficial campaign will have cost a fraction of what Budweiser will have poured into their advertising.
The key problem has been the linking of globally known brands to the fate of the footballers, who, despite the astronomical amounts of money that they are paid, are still human. Like the rest of us, they will still have all the foibles and weaknesses in their character that will bubble to the surface when under stress. Which is where Bavaria Beer have been psychologically so clever – 36 attractive women all dressed alike will attract attention wherever they go.
So what can those of us involved in marketing for the smaller business learn from all of this? Can you afford to link your brand with anything (human or otherwise!) that is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Have you got a ‘back-up’ plan to protect your brand (or mitigate the damage) when external forces impact your business reputation? Let me know your experiences (positive and negative) or if you want to discuss how to get your brand into sporting shape, contact me at PPG.