Wednesday, May 12, 2010

SA2010: Brutal branding battles

Ghana’s branding experts should sit back, relax and enjoy the inevitable branding battles that would be displayed before, during and after the World Cup.

Let me first say that the many days taken to research the following article has been really eye-opening. For one thing, I have now come to have (even more) respect for the amount of effort and attention to detail that ad executives in Ghana (and elsewhere) put into their campaigns. Respect!

The World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event, and I can hardly wait. There is something special about this tournament. It attracts a wide audience of people from different cultures and very few other sporting events can evoke such emotion and passion from across the globe.

This emotion and passion is the perfect ingredient needed to feed the games of hungry multinational companies that are focusing on the World Cup. The game is ambush marketing. The players are any number of multinational companies who did not fork out the prescribed sponsorship money. The field of play remains to be seen.

As in the past, whether at any soccer, rugby or cricket World Cups or any of the Olympic Games, the world will once again be intrigued and fascinated by the marketing games played behind the scenes and often also in public.

FIFA’s headache
FIFA, football's governing body, is aware of the ingenuity of the official "unofficial" commercial partners and sponsors of their showpiece. When I think of the various ways in which rival unofficial companies are cashing in on the coming World Cup, I laugh at the ignorance of Ghanaian companies (and their ad agencies) who just allowed the word ‘official’ to scare them off during the African Nations Cup in 2008 and African Cup for Nations hockey tournament last year.

Let the games begin. These four words, used as a phrase, is probably the most over-used phrase when launching sporting spectaculars ranging from the Olympic Games to any number of other competitions. However, apart from introducing the pinnacle of the beautiful game for the first time on the African continent, it also exposes the international past-time of brand holders beating FIFA at its own game.

One would have to look at who did not make the list of FIFA partners, 2010 sponsors and 2010 national supporters, to realize that FIFA is probably up against the cream of the crop of international brands and their creative and ingenious marketing teams. These brand holders probably cannot wait to get their slice of the proverbial pie and put one past the goalie!

The very nature of ambush marketing is for a party not to pay any sponsorship fee but to nevertheless associate itself with an event.

The receiving end of ambush marketing
Adidas, Coca Cola, Emirates, Kia/Hyundai, Sony and Visa, FIFA partners for the 2010 World Cup, have all been on the receiving end of ambush marketing by their traditional rivals. Nike, Pepsi and American Express have been very prominent in the past as a result of their creative ambushing tactics.

As a result of these often widely publicized exploits, one has to ask whether the enormous sponsorships payable by the official partners have given them any better exposure than the ambush marketers. Everyone in the sports business industry knows that Nike does not want to become "official", probably because of the aggressive and very successful ambush marketing campaigns it has had in the past.

As with Nike ambushing Converse in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, American Express ambushing Visa in Barcelona in 1992, Nike ambushing Umbro in UEFA Euro in 1996, Bavaria Brewery ambushing Budweiser in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany or PepsiCo ambushing Coca-Cola in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa will be no different.

However, the time has long gone for blatant and unimaginative latching onto such mega-events by ambush marketers.

One only has to consider what FIFA has put into place from a legislative point of view to protect its partners, sponsors and supporters, to realize that the casual, unsophisticated ambush marketer is in for a rough ride.

The protection granted to FIFA finds its legislative support in many very specific laws by the South African government. As part of its public awareness campaign, FIFA published guidelines on its website to illustrate instances of unauthorized commercial association with the 2010 event.

I downloaded it and I must tell you I stopped reading after a quarter of the document. They were very very strict.

Unlike during Ghana 2008 when many local businesses profited on the fringes of the official sponsors, several indigenes in South Africa have felt the brunt of the FIFA brand police.

FIFA considers its trademarks to be "2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa", "2010 FIFA World Cup", "FIFA World Cup", "World Cup", "World Cup 2010", "Football World Cup", "SA 2010", "ZA 2010", "South Africa 2010", "Ke Nako -- Celebrate Africa's Humanity", "Soccer World Cup" and "Zakumi".

FIFA took a Pretoria pub owner to court to make him remove banners and flags that said: "World Cup 2010" and "2010 South Africa”. The manufacturer of a key-ring holder was taken to court because it bore the year "2010", a vuvuzela and the South African flag. Low-cost airline Kulula was asked to withdraw an advert declaring that it was the "Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What".

Public outcry against the strict measures meant that officials had to respond.

There was a roundtable meeting last week to discuss the issues and there, FIFA’s marketing director, Thierry Weil said: “When you buy a car, you buy it completely... you don't let everybody drive the car and it is the same for our partners -- they bought the car, they want the key and they want to be ensured they are the only ones driving the car."

Need I say more?

The time has long gone for blatant and unimaginative latching onto such mega-events by ambush marketers. It has been replaced by far more subtle and ingenious methods

Legitimate ambush marketing?
The very nature of ambush marketing is for a party not to pay any sponsorship fee but to nevertheless associate itself with an event.

The question that must be asked is whether this does not in fact provide actual guidelines to would-be ambushers as to precisely where the boundaries are.

Let me explain with this example. FIFA says the following marks may not be used in advertising, marketing or point of sale displays, which imply an association with the 2010 FIFA World Cup: “2010” or "Twenty Ten" used with the words “soccer, football, South Africa, RSA, SA, World Cup” or with soccer or FIFA World Cup imagery. In addition, "World Cup" cannot be used with the words "soccer", "football", South Africa, RSA, SA or soccer imagery.

I could go on and on and on. My point is that, once FIFA has said all these words cannot be used, are they not opening the door for rivals to use other words loosely associated with the event?

The use of any of the legitimate trademarks of any of the "official unofficial" sponsors would not be a defense to ambush marketing if it is used in any manner or form implying an association with the event. This clearly cannot be the case where any ambush marketer uses its trademark without any reference to FIFA or to the event.

In 1984, Nike created murals near the Olympic Games sites featuring Nike-sponsored track athletes. These murals were all visible from the sites. Later, FIFA countered this kind of marketing by implementing exclusion zones in which commercial activity by any person other than the accredited FIFA partners and sponsors is prohibited.

In 1996, during the UEFA Cup, Nike purchased all poster space and advertising sites in the tube stations leading to Wembley stadium. This has since lead to the organizers of UEFA renting all advertising space within a 1-3 km radius from the venues.

In both these instances, the organizers were unable to prevent the ambush marketing from taking place at the time. Measures were subsequently implemented to avoid this happening again.

The impact of these well orchestrated campaigns on the official sponsors and partners is far greater than the occasional infringement of the FIFA trademarks, prohibited marks of imagery.

The latter is normally easily dealt with by sending strongly worded “cease-and-desist letters.” However, a campaign where internationally well known trademarks are used would be notoriously difficult to stop.

At the very best, the organizers of such mega events can only hope to close loopholes as and when they are encountered. Examples are the efforts of UEFA who bought and controlled all broadcast advertising during matches and made it available only to sponsors.

The scene is set for the likes of Nike, MasterCard, Pepsi, Puma and a host of other international and local brand holders to showcase their marketing genius. Expect to see campaigns devoid of any soccer or soccer related images or themes.

Ambush marketers have come of age
If one considers the development of ambush marketing over the past 15 years or so, it is clear that the art (or science, if you will) has come of age.

It appears that the blatant latching on to a protected event such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup by official unofficial sponsors has been replaced by far more subtle and ingenious methods.

No company in its right mind will design an ad campaign in which any of the prohibited marks, registered FIFA trademarks or imagery is used. It is clear from the examples above that FIFA would successfully act against such unsophisticated ambush marketers.

The scene is set for the likes of Nike, MasterCard, Pepsi, Puma and a host of other international and local brand holders to showcase their marketing genius. Expect to see campaigns devoid of any soccer or soccer related images or themes.

Expect American Express to embark on a campaign that has as a central theme the fact that you do not require a visa to visit South Africa. They have after all done it before, quite successfully.

Expect Nike to embark on a large-scale campaign to advertise their sponsorship of an unrelated international event in the local press. As in the case of American Express, they have done so successfully in the past.

In all this, I hope the MTNs, Vodafones, Guinnesses and other big shot outfits of Ghana are watching with keen interest. The lessons to be learned are many and can be the difference between profit and loss. So, let the games begin!