Close-Up: How selling South Africa 2010 is an uphill task

With a poor national team and negative press from all sides, Derek Carstens has his work cut out.

Riven with internal politics, petty rivalries and a stop-start coaching strategy, South Africa's football authorities have been unable to arrest the decline of the national team - possibly the weakest ever from a Fifa World Cup-hosting nation.

Bafana Bafana, as the team is colloquially known ("The Boys"), has become an object of national embarrassment as its world ranking has plunged from 21 to 86 in a few years. It's only in the World Cup thanks to the free pass afforded any host nation.

It presents Derek Carstens, the 2010 World Cup's chief marketing officer, with a problem. Winning, as every sponsor knows, is vital if a sports team is to maintain its support base. But what do you do when barely a fan in the country believes the team will win a single game?

Carstens has an answer: the "African six-pack". Five African countries - Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Algeria - are there on merit, and perhaps three have a real chance.

South Africa is unlikely to be one of them, but miracles do sometimes happen. (It's not a nation without talent. In 1996, freshly democratised and readmitted, it won the Africa Cup of Nations, and two years later was a losing finalist.)

"The performance of the host team is critical," Carstens says. "We want everybody behind Bafana. But we want people to migrate to the rest of the African six-pack if (or when) South Africa gets knocked out. Your default team must be an African team."

A marketing campaign to do this will be launched in late February by Carstens' old agency, Ogilvy Johannesburg, and, under its umbrella, a local black-run start-up shop quirkily called Mother Russia.

2010, Carstens says, is "without doubt the biggest and most important challenge I have ever had. I didn't appreciate the expectations people had. And even for a project this big, the resources are limited."

Budget constraints are one reason why visitors remark on the apparent lack of pre-championship fervour. But Carstens is confident the excitement will build up closer to the event. "South Africans tend to leave things to the last minute."

He worked for nearly 20 years in the Ogilvy network in London, Sydney and Chicago, becoming the chief executive of Ogilvy South Africa, the country's biggest agency group.

Carstens, a marketing and psychology graduate of Stellenbosch University and Cambridge (where he earned an MA in politics), is seen as a "boykie" ("good ole boy") with brains and an intellectual with the common touch.

From Ogilvy, he joined FirstRand, the country's largest banking and financial services group, as brands director, and is on secondment to the World Cup. He concedes that not everything has gone according to plan but, so far, he believes, "we're ahead on points".

"He's a seasoned marketer who knows what he wants," Julian Ribeiro, the managing director of Ogilvy Johannesburg, who works with him on the World Cup campaign, says. "He has strong, considered views. We don't always agree, but we know where we stand."

Gisele Wertheim-Aymes, the head of media at FirstRand, adds: "In many ways, he's the perfect man for the job. He's a passionately proud South African, very knowledgeable about sport, has a solid background in advertising and overflows with energy."

However, this has not helped him tackle media negativity. He recalls with a mixture of bemusement and frustration a weekend of South African sporting success a couple of years ago. "In one weekend, Retief Goosen beat Tiger Woods, Hendrik Ramaala won the New York marathon and the Springbok rugby team beat the All Blacks," he says. "So what did The Star (a leading Johannesburg daily) run as its front page lead on Monday?" He pauses melodramatically. "'Wife murders husband's lover.' In Australia, they would have been lauding their triumphs to the skies. Their press is much more appreciative of their successes.

"The media is so important in this country, but parts of it are unremittingly negative. It's easier to understand foreign negativity, but we get it at home too."

Carstens goes so far as to blame media hostility in Europe on "north-south" rivalry, with wealthy more advanced nations threatened by the newly assertive developing world. "There's been a lot of naysaying and unwarranted negative reporting," he says. A lot of this about security fears.

"We're dealing with people who have a very jaundiced view of that. But this year we had four major international sporting events - the British Lions rugby tour, the Confederations Cup, the Indian Professional League and the ICC Twenty20 World Cup - and there was not a single incident.

"The only way to counter this is to bring people here to see for themselves. You can't fight it in the media. A group of British journalists came out and wrote outstanding reports about the quality of the stadiums, the facilities, the kind of experience fans could expect. Our stadiums are magnificent, designed and built by South African companies, and finished well ahead of time."

Carstens sees the World Cup as a series of major milestones that mark the building of momentum. The first test was the Confederations Cup. Measured by ticket sales, TV audiences and establishing the brand, it was deemed a success.

"We learned a lot about basics like ticket sales and signage, but the public needed more education about ticketing procedures and categories. We could have built better on the momentum coming out of the Confederations Cup," he says.

The final draw was the next major milestone and Carstens is excited about the size of teams that will be travelling to the Rainbow Nation.

"One thing I have learned is that marketing an event is totally different from brand marketing, where we tend to think in traditional terms. There are so many more things to do," he says.

The hardest part, he observes, is the three-tiered strategy pitched at international, local and Africa region fans. A key focus now will be to ramp up African activity.

South Africa's World Cup legacies will include the infrastructure and the potential to grow tourism. "New tourist markets such as the US and South America will get a taste of what we have to offer. The US is the second-biggest purchaser of tickets, but supplies only 4 per cent of our tourists," Carstens says.

"Our stadiums are magnificent advertisements for our construction industry. Brazil is hosting the 2014 Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympics and will have to build at least ten stadiums. We have shown we can do that."

But more important and more long-lasting, he believes, is the repositioning of South Africa as "a contemporary society, rooted in and juxtaposed with a rich diversity of cultures". And his involvement allows him to align his personal beliefs with a business opportunity while at the same time operating in the national interest: "That, to me, is the Holy Grail."


- Reversing media negativity, both at home and abroad

- Altering foreign perceptions of crime levels in South Africa

- Galvanising support for the national team, despite its poor quality

- Marshalling support for the "African six-pack" of nations taking part in the competition

- Managing a three-tier marketing programme

- Working within tight budget constraints

Born: 1949
Family: Divorced, two adult children
1968-72: Stellenbosch University (BA Marketing, Psychology, cum laude)
1972-74: Cambridge University (MA Politics)
1975-78: Management trainee, Anglo American Corporation
1979-86: Account executive in Johannesburg agencies, including Ogilvy &
1986-89: BMP London; co-founder, Tilby & Leeves
1990-92: Chairman, Ogilvy Australia and New Zealand
1993: President, Ogilvy Chicago
1996-98: Group managing director, Ogilvy South Africa
1999-present: Group brand executive, FirstRand banking group
2005: Board member, Fifa