Close-Up: Horns aplenty ... few sparkling brands

World Cups always have winners and losers - both on and off the pitch, Bruce Crouch discovers.

Welcome to the Fifa World Cup 2010, sponsored by vuvuzela!

You have to laugh. All the corporate millions spent on marketing strategies, advertising and schmoozing, and the brand walking away with the trophy is a hollow tube that sounds like two elephants mating.

Make no mistake, there isn't a marketing director alive who wouldn't die for the free PR coverage and column inches that this humble Horn of Africa is getting: "Blatter refuses to ban vuvuzela", in response to the broadcasters' plea that it was drowning out their commentary; "One million vuvuzelas sold in UK"; "Carragher packs vuvuzela in bag for kids".

Coca-Cola, Nike, Visa, Hyundai and McDonald's, eat your hearts out - the people have spoken. A word that not many of us had heard before is now part of the language. If only all those marketing budgets had been spent on handing out free branded vuvuzelas.

So, how have the also-rans fared in the World Cup?

I have to be fair to Coca-Cola. It owns O.R.Tambo airport in Johannesburg, where its upbeat colourful graphics are completely in tune with Africa and the vibe this World Cup is generating.

Arriving at the airport with happy expectant fans from around the globe feels good. Coke follows this up with sampling, and I have to admit the free cold drink was very welcome at the ungodly hour I landed.

On TV, the "open happiness" graphics work in the same way and the music has that "new Africa" feel. As an aside, everyone has remarked on the quality of the tracks played before the games, particularly at The Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Please someone release the CD.

I also read a story in the South African Times about township kids in Bloemfontein collecting cans and bottles of Coke in exchange for tickets to the opening game. Fair play.

No wonder, then, that in Lightspeed's research, Coke was the most recognised brand at the World Cup so far (the research did not include "vuvuzela").

Visa? Knocked out in the first round. Make no mistake, this a happy World Cup, but endlines like "Go fans" and visuals of smiling spectators on the way to the games make me want to behave like a Chelsea headhunter.

Go where? To the bar? The bog? To hell? What are you on about? Where do you want me to go?

Thirty per cent believe that Mastercard is a World Cup partner (it isn't), while 37 per cent think the same of Visa (which is) - statistics that reveal just how well Visa's campaign is working. Even Visa has given me a chuckle, though. It has guides with illuminated Visa signs leading their poor corporate guests to the night games. The people following these signs are directing their heads to the floor in embarrassment as they make their walk of shame to the stadia.

It can get worse, though. If only Hyundai had followed its plucky Korean countrymen's example against Brazil. "Feel the game" is hardly back-of-the-net and the ads are a poor imitation of the big bouncing ball commercials for the Uefa Champions League.

Every fat cat rides around in a Hyundai limo (yes, there is such a thing), which winds up the ordinary fans, and the company even plasters its logo on every coach, regardless of whether it's a Hyundai (which is a tad confusing).

McDonald's has come in for the usual criticism for associating fast food with sport. The South African National Consumer Forum and the World Cancer Research Fund branded Fifa irresponsible for its choice of sponsor.

Nike's celebrations of the individual are becoming less and less relevant as the tournament progresses. I like "write the future", but on the pitch this is a World Cup where organised teams are triumphing over those with great individuals. Witness North Korea against Brazil (okay, the underdogs didn't actually win) or New Zealand against Italy (a shock draw). Football is a team game and Nike will have to adjust.

Brazil, of course, has great individuals who are becoming a great team, so I am sure they will be the way forward for Nike.

I must, however, temper my criticism of these major sponsors because without them there probably wouldn't be a tournament. Like Sky and the Premier League, they are joined at the hip.

We could end up with more guerrilla activity - like the 36 gorgeous Dutch girls in orange mini-skirts advertising a beer in contravention of Fifa rules and upsetting Budweiser. I cannot condone touting, and if Robbie Earle did sell his tickets, that is wrong, but if those girls had asked me for my ticket, I would have given it away in a heartbeat.

I really don't want major corporate sponsors to disappear just to raise their game and find a better way. I will put my money where my mouth is and say I am working on this at the moment for a sponsor connected with England's bid to host the Cup in 2018.

If only these brands could find a way of making a connection. Without wishing to sound like Bono, World Cups really do bring people together.

One day our hotel is Mexican, the next Australian. Argentinians chat football with Englishmen. People come and go, mix and talk about something they love, but corporate sponsors always somehow feel on the outside of the conversation.

The South Africans are putting on a great World Cup. The consensus is that it hasn't sparkled on the field yet, with few great games. Off it, though, there is a great atmosphere and all the pre-tournament concerns have vanished.

Yes, an Italian film crew has been robbed of its equipment, but, for some reason, an Italian film crew loses its equipment at every World Cup. This lot brightly opened their ground-floor hotel room to a knock on the door at 3am.

I have also been robbed in my room. In true English style, I ignored the warnings, left my window open and four baboons swung in and nicked the contents of the fruit bowl. They also made off with the cushion I bravely threw at them.

And I have been dragged from my car. The return journey from picking up my tickets in Rustenburg coincided with the opening South Africa game. We stopped at traffic lights and I was hauled into the street - to dance.

The manager of Sun City went white. He didn't understand my explanation of downtown Rustenburg presenting no fear if "you've been down the Old Den, mate".

Unlike Germany in 2006, of course, the trains and planes don't particularly run on time and there is the odd traffic jam, but that somehow adds to the charm of this very African tournament.

On the way out, I read a brilliant article in The Economist about how South Africa is a nation of huge contrast.

Crime levels are scary, but living standards are better than they have ever been - two-thirds of South Africans feel unsafe after dark, but more people than ever now have electricity and live in a "formal dwelling".

There is huge mineral wealth (the world's two largest platinum mines are located near the England boys' training ground in Rustenburg), yet the unemployment figure of 25 per cent is the highest in the world.

And it is not much better if you are in work. I spoke to a security guard earning ten rand an hour - less than a pound.

Despite those realities, however, this is a great experience. Everybody here is desperate for people to have a great time. Off the pitch, it's been fun, and I make no apologies for repeating the word vibrant.

Now, if England could get it right on the pitch ...

- Bruce Crouch is a founder and creative partner of Audacity. He is also the father of Peter.

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