CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/WORLD CUP SPONSORSHIP - Sponsors discover World Cup is fair game for all. Will the official endorsers find their huge spending defeated, John Tylee asks?
By JOHN TYLEE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 12 June 1998 12:00AM
Gazza may not be the only person to have shed tears by the time the final whistle blows on this summer’s World Cup. A few multi-national companies may also be left rueing their involvement in the great soccer extravaganza.
Gazza may not be the only person to have shed tears by the time the
final whistle blows on this summer’s World Cup. A few multi-national
companies may also be left rueing their involvement in the great soccer
It’s clear that the monster is untameable by even the biggest official
sponsors. Turn on the TV or go shopping and there’s Alan Shearer selling
everything from Big Macs to Braun shavers. Almost every advertiser you
could name wants to hang on to the World Cup’s bootstrings and is
getting trampled in the process.
The event has become such a universal property that sponsorship of it
has almost become an irrelevance. As Graham Bednash, a managing partner
of the media strategist, Michaelides & Bednash, puts it: ’All
advertisers using football imagery are now sponsors. Whether they are
official or not is of no interest to consumers.’
For the dozen official sponsors, each of whom have spent an estimated
pounds 20 million, these are testing times in which the main event has
become almost a sideshow to their own knock-out competition.
It will be a gruelling battle. One survey has already shown that most
consumers don’t know who the World Cup’s official sponsors are. (Answer:
McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Snickers, Adidas, JVC, Budweiser, Canon, Fuji,
Gillette, MasterCard, Opel and Philips.)
Matthew Patten, the chief executive of M&C Saatchi’s sponsorship
division, says: ’In any event, where there are more than three sponsors,
the likelihood is that only one will generate a significant increase in
awareness. There’s going to be an awful lot of losers.’
Worse, all of them are at the mercy of ’ambush’ marketing. International
Sports & Leisure, FIFA’s Switzerland-based sponsorship agency, has very
limited powers to control either the sponsor-ships offered by the
tournament’s broadcasters or the advertising built around national teams
and individual players.
An agency group executive working for a couple of the official sponsors
agrees that ’policing’ sponsors’ rights has become a contentious
’Major sponsors are getting fed up,’ he says. ’But there isn’t much ISL
can do because it has no control of national teams off the pitch.’
So are the official sponsors being taken for a very expensive ride? It’s
easy to believe so when Adidas can only look in dismay at Nike’s
sponsorship of Brazil - the team most synonymous with the skill and
spectacle of the World Cup - even if its involvement has provoked
allegations that it is influencing team selection and fixtures.
But paying a sum roughly equivalent to Shearer’s current transfer value
can’t be said to be entirely wasted when it gives advertisers the
opportunity to reach two difficult and fickle audiences - young people
and the AB consumers being drawn into the game as it moves upmarket.
What’s more, it may be wrong to assume that the World Cup ad clutter in
the UK - where Carlsberg’s sponsorship of the national team is at odds
with Budweiser’s role as an event sponsor - is reflected elsewhere. Nick
Walford, managing director of Vision 40, MindShare’s specialist
sponsorship subsidiary, says: ’The World Cup is one of the few real
opportunities to present a simultaneous and consistent global message
This is specially important in developing markets such as Africa where
football is hugely popular.’
Official sponsorship also pays dividends in a less obvious way. Alex
Fynn, the ex-deputy chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, now a football
industry consultant, believes Fuji’s purchase of 11,000 tickets for the
tournament is just as important as its licence to use the World Cup
’Not only can it use its World Cup associations to give its products an
edge but the tickets can cement important business relationships with
buyers and suppliers,’ he points out.
The problems arise when advertisers isolate their sponsorship from other
marketing activity and give too little thought to whether synergy exists
between their products and the game. Euro 96, in particular, brought
home to companies the importance of extra investment to underpin their
association with the competition.
’Advertisers like McDonald’s are leveraging their involvement in the
right way because they have a natural affinity with football,’ Bednash
comments. ’But Fuji’s sponsorship fits oddly with its brand - and some
companies confuse awareness with branding.’
Laurence Munday, managing director of Drum PHD, the Abbott Mead Vickers
Group sponsorship specialist,which has been working on World Cup
assignments for Gillette and Snickers, says: ’You can’t just buy the
licensing rights and expect everything to happen.’
At Publicis, which handles the MasterCard and Coke business, Dan
O’Donoghue, the UK group’s deputy chairman, acknowledges that the credit
card company has an easier job than the soft drinks manufacturer.
While MasterCard can build on what is likely to be a big upswing in the
use of plastic in France by visiting fans, ubiquitous brands such as
Coke and Snickers have a tougher task, he says. ’It’s harder to justify
sponsorship for a mass-market brand whose marketing strategy isn’t built
around a sporting event.’
It seems the worst any World Cup sponsor can do is to get complacent,
drop the work rate and expect fame alone to see it through. Gazza made
that mistake - and look what happened to him.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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