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Nike neatly sidesteps Olympics brand sponsorship rules with Paula Radcliffe ad

August 1, 2012

Here’s Nike cocking another snook at those pesky International Olympics Committee and Locog rules on sponsorship:

Had Paula Radcliffe not been injured, Nike – unlike arch-rival Adidas not an official sponsor of the Games – would have been prohibited from running this ad, featuring one of Team GB’s athletes.

Nike hints there may be more ads featuring British athletes if the opportunity arises.

During the games, athletes can only promote official Olympic sponsors, meaning they are banned from endorsing even their own.

Still more surreptitiously, Dr Dre – the rapper and music entrepreneur – has succeeded in skirting the rules with an ambush marketing campaign that persuaded British athlete Laura Robson to endorse his Beats headphones range.

Dr Dre sent Team GB members special versions of the Beats range branded with union flag colours.

Tennis player Laura Robson tweeted about receiving her headphones, although the post was subsequently removed from her Twitter account. Goalkeeper Jack Butland also responded to the gift, tweeting: “Love my GB Beats by Dre.”

For those not in the know, Beats headphones are near universally available at the Aquatics Centre. Swimmers including Michael Phelps use them to block out background noise before races.

IOC guidance published before the Olympics states that athletes are not permitted to promote any brand, product or service within a blog or tweet or otherwise on any social media platforms or on any website. This particular stunt is a smack in the eye for Panasonic, which is an official sponsor.

Nike’s and Dr Dre’s ambush marketing comes shortly after US athletes, including 400m runner Sanya Richards-Ross, roundly condemned Rule 40 of the IOC code of conduct, which forbids athletes from mentioning their personal sponsors on social media during the games.

Last Friday, legal advisers to Locog decided not to take action against a global ad campaign by Nike that featured everyday athletes competing in places around the world named London.

Lastly, ambush marketing, how not to do it. An object lesson from PepsiCo. This in-game ad for Mountain Dew Energy drink seen on various gaming-apps, a video sharing and a social media website, features what appears to be a teenager on a snowboard doing unrecommended things on the Underground. Catchline: “Don’t Dew this at home.” Not entirely surprisingly, the ad – devised by Impact BBDO – has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority, on the grounds that it is completely irresponsible. Just getting into the Olympic spirit, eh, Pepsi?

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FIFA’s Sepp Blatter and Max Mosley are two of a kind

June 1, 2011

Will the sky fall in on Sepp Blatter, much reviled president of FIFA, just because Coca-Cola and Adidas, Visa and Emirates Airline – 4 of football’s 6 biggest sponsors – have fired a shot across his bows?

Will the English and Scottish football associations’ vociferous appeals for a postponement to FIFA’s presidential election – which currently leaves Blatter dribbling up to an open goal – make an iota of difference?

No and no. The contest between FIFA and its critics is asymmetrical precisely because, unlike Coca-Cola and its fellow sponsors, FIFA is not a brand. It is not vulnerable, in the first degree, to public criticism – however merited or angry that criticism may be.

Indeed, as Matthew Patten recently pointed out, FIFA resembles nothing so much as a medieval guild. It owes allegiance to no one other than the 208 merchant adventurers who make up its membership. Nothing, culturally speaking, could be more removed from the modern corporation. There is no transparency in its business dealings, because the daylight of accountability is not an element in its constitution. The anonymous men in blazers ply their trade in a way that is endemic to all closed mercantile organisations: through mutual back-slapping, nepotism and, let’s face it, financially lubricated manila envelopes – if they think can get away with it. And lording it over them are the merchant prince oligarchs: men (they are always men) like Sepp Blatter and Mohamed Bin Hamman.

FIFA is part of a pattern which, if not peculiar to the administration of world sport, is certainly highly characteristic of it. Remember the cleansing of the Augean Stables at the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after the corruption scandal that was the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics bid came to light in 1998? That was a relatively benign outcome. Less satisfactory have been the consequences of the more recent shenanigans at Formula One. Despite the engulfing stench of scandal, and the twittering of vocal criticism, its twin ringmasters Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone managed to protect the integrity of their power base. Admittedly Mosley eventually went, but it was at a time of his own choosing and on his own terms. Ecclestone, meanwhile, continues to crack the whip without let or hindrance. He is currently said to be negotiating an exit deal with Rupert Murdoch.

Blatter, a man who once fronted an organisation dedicated to stopping women exchanging their suspender belts for pantyhoses, is more likely to draw his inspiration from Mosley than the aftermath of the Salt Lake City scandal. He will brazen the “crisis” out.

And there is little, in the last analysis, the sponsors can or will do about it. On the surface, that might seem a strange thing to say. After all, they are bankers to the organisation and provide its marketing pot. Each contributes between £100m and £300m to a FIFA revenue estimated at £2.4bn in the 4 years up to and including World Cup 2010. Surely that gives them more clout than most stakeholders in the struggle to wring reform from the World Cup organiser? Only up to a point. Let’s not forget that FIFA is less dependent upon sponsors these days to the extent that it can dip into billions of dollars worth of syndicated worldwide TV rights. Moreover, rather than presenting themselves as a united front, the sponsors perceive themselves as embattled and vulnerable competitors (rather like the constructors in the F1 equation). Blatter, like Ecclestone, is a supreme tactician in exploiting such weaknesses. There’s always someone else, he will say, to take their place if they don’t want to play ball. A Pepsi for a Coke, a Nike for an Adidas, a Delta for an Emirates, a Mastercard for a Visa.

And do you know what? He’s right. The only chance the sponsors have of effecting change is if they stand united. My suggestion is not that they threaten to defect, merely that they withhold some of their funding until tangible reforms, prime among them greater transparency and accountability, are in place.


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