Revolutionary Measures

World Cup marketing – is it worth it?


With the domestic football season nearly finished (though, as an Ipswich Town fan, it has felt over for a long time), attention is turning to the World Cup. While the hosts Russia don’t kick off the first match against Saudi Arabia until 14th June, brands are already launching their campaigns and trying to grab a piece of the action.


Yet, they face some significant marketing challenges:

1. Location
Relations between Russia and the west are at a post-Cold War low, and there will be no high profile attendees from the UK government or royal family following the Salisbury poisoning. And, given the reputation of Russian hooligans (as seen at the last European Championships) and the vast distances involved in attending matches, only the most dedicated fans are likely to spend their cash to follow England.

2. Local colour
As several marketing gurus have pointed out, what makes a major sporting event like a World Cup is the local colour. This meant sponsors spent a great deal of time and effort linking themselves to Brazil for the Olympics/World Cup, adopting local imagery and using that to market their brands. Think shots of brands in front of palm trees, beaches or the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Given Russia’s reputation this is going to be more difficult – photos of your brand outside the Kremlin don’t have the same positive connotations. Therefore, most brands are going to focus on the football itself, which leaves them open to the vagaries of how teams actually play.

3. Competition
There are bewildering number of ways to become a sponsor involved in the World Cup. At the top end there are official FIFA partners (the likes of Visa, Hyundai, Coca-Cola and Gazprom), then World Cup sponsors and Regional partners. Each team has its own sponsors, and individual players have their own endorsements. Add in those brands that then try and sneak on board with ambush marketing, and the field looks very crowded indeed.

4. Picking the right horse
Given the costs involved it might therefore seem cost-effective to base your marketing around a particular player. But you have to be prepared if things go wrong – what happens if he fails to hit form, gets injured and doesn’t even play or is sent off? The perfect example of this was when Ireland captain Roy Keane was sent home from the 2002 World Cup after a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, before a ball was even kicked. Pity the Irish sponsors that had based their whole campaigns around Keane………

5. Social media makes everyone an expert
We’re all aware of media fragmentation and that the days of following a World Cup solely on TV and through daily newspapers are long gone. The internet and social media now means that everyone can share their views and comment on not just the matches, but your marketing campaigns. In our hypersensitive age, expect people to pick faults in your approach, or even to complain about any involvement in a tournament held in Putin’s Russia. All it takes is a slip of the mouse or an unfortunate turn of phrase and you’ll be facing a potential boycott – particularly if the on-field action isn’t that exciting.

After all this it would be easy to ask why sponsors bother. But the World Cup is one of the largest global sporting events, attracting millions, if not billions, of viewers. Get it right, and you’ll link yourself to sporting success, meaning you’ll be loved and admired by your audience – but remember that, as pundits frequently say, football is a funny old game………

May 16, 2018 Posted by | Creative, Marketing, PR, Social Media | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sports sponsorship own goals

Sport seems to bring out the worst in companies and how they spend their money. Organisations with otherwise well-thought out and laser targeted marketing plans suddenly decide to pour huge amounts of cash into sports sponsorship on what seems like a whim (or more cynically it’s the CEO’s favourite team).

Autonomy’s current sponsorship of Tottenham Hotspur is a prime example – I don’t think that many of the denizens of White Hart Lane are responsible for buying high end enterprise search solutions, but nevertheless the company has splashed £20 million on plastering its name across the front of Gareth Bale.

It got me thinking about other misguided sports sponsorships, and, while I’m sure there are plenty more, here’s my top 10:

1.Waitrose and Reading FC

Waitrose is pretty good at marketing to middle England – so why sponsor Reading football club when few of its target audience support it or are that bothered by Championship football? Waitrose HQ isn’t far away from Reading, but surely there’s a limit to what can be spent on employee motivation?

2.US Postal Service and Lance Armstrong

A brave move by the US equivalent of the Royal Mail to move away from its reputation for poor service and frequent office shootings (hence the phrase ‘going postal’). But sponsoring a cycling team that raced 99 per cent of the time outside its domestic market isn’t be that effective a way of reaching your target audience.

3. Durex and Surtees F1

The testosterone-filled Grand Prix scene and sex sounds like the perfect combination. Hence Durex’s sponsorship of the Surtees F1 team in the 1970s. Then the cars began to suffer from punctures – not the right message for a condom maker……..

4. Austrian football

Such is the parlous state of Austrian football finances that teams are forced to name themselves after sponsors, no matter how silly they might be. Glatter’s Quality Turkeys versus FC Concept Schnitzlplatz anyone?

5.Hafnia and Everton FC

Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones spoke for the nation ahead of the 1984 FA Cup final when they asked who (or what?) was a Hafnia, then sponsors of Everton FC. Extensive research reveals Hafnia to be a Danish canned meat company, but even Wikipedia isn’t quite certain. Given the Toffees featured Welsh man-mountain Neville Southall in goal, Hafnia’s products obviously had a big following in the dressing room.

6.Paris Hilton and MotoGP

Working on her normal subtle self-promotion socialite Paris Hilton is sponsoring a MotoGP team in 2011. Good for the team and sport, but can’t really see how it helps her brand – even if the bikes are a lurid shade of pink.

7.Cercle Brugge and the Roman Catholic Church

One that didn’t happen after the Belgian football club Cercle Brugge turned down sponsorship from a leading Roman Catholic newspaper, for fear of ridicule. If it had been 30 years ago, they could have put Pope John Paul II in goal…………

8. Norwich City and Lotus Cars

The Lotus factory is in Norfolk, but the rural county isn’t exactly bursting with potential sportscar buyers, making the company’s upmarket sponsorship of the Budgies a trifle optimistic. More realistic when they stuck parent company’s Proton’s brand on the shirts.

9. Millwall FC and Lewisham Council

It’s fair to say that Millwall FC (and its fans) has a certain reputation, and it isn’t for flower arranging. So if you were looking to raise the brand of your area and show it as go-ahead and welcoming they wouldn’t really be your first choice of channel. But the Lions’ local council sponsored the team on not one, but two occasions in the late 80s/early 90s – hardly the best use of its marketing budget?

10. Livingston FC and Intelligent Finance

Surely, if you are a finance company sponsoring a football team, the first thing you think you’d do is check out the club’s solvency? Not in the case of Intelligent Finance and Livingston FC – the club duly went into administration. And to add insult to injury the main creditor was Halifax Bank of Scotland, Intelligent Finance’s parent company.


I’m sure there are plenty of other misplaced sponsorships – feel free to add them through comments.


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January 14, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment