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FIFA's ambush dilemma

Jun 25 2010 13:00 Tony Koenderman

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Johannesburg - Nike, a non-sponsor of the World Cup, is advertising massively and imaginatively during the event – and winning huge awareness.

It's not ambush marketing, because it doesn't attempt overtly to pass itself off as a sponsor. But research shows that most people think Nike is an official sponsor.

And it does this without having to put up the $125m that topline FIFA "partners" reportedly pay for the privilege.

Which goes to show how tough a job FIFA has in protecting the exclusivity of its partners and sponsors.

According to the Nielsen Company, the online buzz of the ten sponsors/partners with global footprints showed more people link the World Cup with Nike than with any other brand.

Nike got 30% of English-language references, Adidas (the official partner and Nike rival) got 14%, and Coca-Cola 12%. (However, thanks to heavy, continuous global branding, Coke's awareness was five times the level of its big rival, Pepsi).

"Nike wasn't the only brand to successfully ambush a World Cup sponsor or partner," says Nielsen's executive VP of digital strategy, Pete Blackshaw.

"Carlsberg, a sponsor of the England national team, had almost four times the level of Budweiser, the official beer sponsor."

Blackshaw puts it down to "creative marketing", adding "it's natural for a company with a large global footprint to associate itself with a major event.

This study shows that compelling, savvy marketing can establish this sort of connection in the eyes of consumers without having to write that expensive sponsorship cheque."

For most of the sponsors, however, their official relationship has been a success.

For example, Twitter "retweets" to Visa's FIFA YouTube page and its campaign to create the longest "goal" shout contributed to World Cup association levels 15 times as high as MasterCard's.

The study looked at Cup-related messages on blogs and social media sites from May 7 to June 6.

Other insights come from Matt Cutler of Visible Measures, a US online tracking service. He told Advertising Age that only one of the five most-viewed as "brand-driven online video ads related to the World Cup" was a sponsor.

That was Coca-Cola, sharing space with Nike, Pepsi, Carlsberg and Puma – hot competitors of sponsoring brands.

All managed to imply a connection with the event, but without infringing the FIFA rules restricting any mention or visual image of FIFA, World Cup, the Jabulani football, the mascot and the like.

They countered with triggers like sponsored football stars of teams competing in the World Cup; creating an environment that could be a World Cup dressing room or hospitality tent; or using Africa scenes and music.

You can stop them using trade marks, but you can't stop them marketing themselves to sportsmen and Africans.

Nike's three-minute-long "Write the Future" commercial (with 23 million views) showed soccer stars like Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo competing on the field while varying visions of their future flash before their eyes; Puma produced a feel-good campaign, "Love Equals Football", about the sport in Africa; Carlsberg's "Team Talk" focused on the weight of expectations facing each player in a big competition; Pepsi's "Oh Africa" features stars like Lionel Messi and Didier Drogba playing against African village kids for a Pepsi Max – and losing because the field, outlined by spectators, keeps moving.

In South Africa, FIFA missed a trick by not putting the vuvuzela (a plastic trumpet) and makarapa (ornamental headgear), the Cup's most potent symbols here, on its list of no-noes.

All you have to do to make an instant connection is show a vuvuzela-blowing group of dancing fans in yellow shirts and funny hats.

These triggers must have been used in anything up to 10 ads – and there's not much FIFA can do about it.

FIFA is understandably paranoid about the ambush, because genuine sponsors want their exclusive rights protected. Without sponsors there'd be no event.

But its ruthless trampling of small transgressors – and, arguably, on our constitutional rights to freedom – wins it few friends.

 - Fin24.com

puma  |  adidas  |  nike  |  fifa  |  ambush marketing  |  fifa 2010 world cup
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