Despite its transcendent dullness to date, this year’s World Cup has managed to produce a few results of startling clarity, mostly of the negative kind. There’s England’s lacklustre performance, of course, and ITV’s stunning series of own-goals. But it’s the aggregate performance of the official sponsors I’m going to address here – and their need to get real; especially with FIFA, the organising body behind the tournament.
Exhibit One, a piece of market research carried out by Lightspeed, on behalf of our rival publication. Conducted at the time of the England v US match, it showed that only 8% of respondents thought sponsorship had a positive effect on their view of the brands involved. That, mind you, depended on whether they could identify those brands in the first place. Many could not. Quite a few, for example, reckoned Mastercard was a “partner” (30%), when it is not; only 37% gave the correct answer: Visa. A further 29% were highly impressed with Nike’s performance as a sponsor – except that, notoriously, it is not. The answer should be Adidas. Only Coca-Cola hit the button: a high correlation between correct identification and strong awareness; 65% of respondents got it right.
There is, by the way, nothing anomalous or even unusual in these results. Marketing Week has conducted similar surveys over the years, and come up with pretty similar conclusions. Coke scores well, and all the other sponsors are way down the league table; Nike scores too, but it’s offside.
Exhibit Two, the beer brand Bavaria. If you really want to make a name for yourself, don’t bother with official sponsorship (which would be difficult to afford anyway). Try causing a stir by breaking the silly FIFA-inspired anti-ambush laws and watch your brand awareness ratings shoot up.
Personally, I find the whole Bavaria brand proposition muddled. Orange lederhosen? Is it a German brand trying to cash in on a Dutch pedigree, or a Dutch brand trying to associate itself with the annual beerfest in Munich? In fact, the latter. There’s no denying the value of its stunt marketing, however. Those 36 Dutch female fans dressed in Orange miniskirts, whose presence cost ITV’s Robbie Earle his job, are likely to remain on our minds for years to come. More practically, bavaria.com – whose web traffic was previously undetectable – has been translated into the fifth most visited beer website in the UK. And, according to Bavaria’s UK marketing manager, there has been explosive interest on Twitter and other social media.
Just a stunt whose effects will quickly fade away, you say? I disagree. Thanks to FIFA, Bavaria can now put into play a long-term brand strategy based around “Operation Martyr”.
Handily, the great clunking fist of FIFA has just landed a civil action on the brewer, guaranteeing it the oxygen of publicity for a long time to come. Better still – if not for Ms Barbara Castelein and Ms Minte Niewpoort – is the arrest of the two “ringleaders”, and the preferring of criminal charges against them by the South African police. A show trial, followed by a custodial sentence could not be better calculated to vilify FIFA and curry favour for the beleaguered beer brand. And what about the subsequent “Free the Bavaria Babes” campaign? Plenty of potential there, I think. It’s going to make the official sponsors, particularly Budweiser, appear rather stupid (those few we can remember, that is).
So why do the official sponsors bother? Good question, to which there is no convincing answer. We know why Coke does it. It has a long and consistent association with sport that makes the other sponsors look like dilettantes. As for the rest, who knows? Collective delusion? Brand vanity?