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World Cup Branding Lessons

After the incredible, inspiring performance of the US team last Monday and the ongoing delights provided by my former countrymen from the Netherlands, I hope you’ll forgive me for staying with the World Cup for a second consecutive post!

From a marketing perspective, this global tournament really does provide a great deal of food for thought, especially as regards World Cup branding.

At a macro level, host nation Brazil has had a well-documented PR battle with the social costs suffered by some of its poorest citizens, more of which can be read about in an excellent article on BleacherReport.com here. The country has also faced criticism regarding the state of the stadiums, with one soccer pundit wryly commenting that the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paolo will “be great when it’s finished.” One might suggest that ‘Brand Brazil’ has been fortunate, therefore, that with many surprise wins and losses, it’s the games themselves that have been dominating the press. With two years to go until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, there are plenty of hard lessons to be learned from this World Cup.

More positively, Brazil has implemented a number of game-changing sustainability initiatives in both its preparations and implementation. A 2011 Ernst & Young report, titled “Sustainable Brazil” outlined the key areas to be addressed, focusing on four aspects: water, waste, energy and transport, which Brazil has certainly acted upon. Initiatives include the ‘Organic and Sustainable Brazil’ campaign with the aim of developing sustainable food systems, the ‘Green Passport’ program to support eco-tourism, and the creation of an infrastructure for more effective waste management – all of which should continue to benefit Brazil long after the tournament has ended.

Away from Brazil, a welcome beneficiary of the World Cup has been Bangladesh. According to a report from BBC News, clothing manufacturers there have won export orders for World Cup t-shirts, caps and flags from major sponsors such as Adidas, worth an estimated $500m. In addition to this, the companies placing the orders have committed to ensuring better working conditions for the factory workers with regular factory inspections and with the assertion that orders will be canceled if standards are not adhered to. After a dreadful few years for the Bangladeshi factory workers, hopefully this marks a sea-change for the positive.

For me, Adidas’s pitch-side sponsorship and Microsoft’s Surface ads on TV have been the dominant brands of this World Cup so far. However you don’t need their marketing millions in order to take advantage of the popularity of the World Cup.

The One World Futbol Project has scored some great coverage this week, despite having been around since 2010. The Bay Area-based company makes durable soccer balls designed to never puncture, wear out or go flat. The ball is the brainchild of co-founder Tim Jahnigen, who was inspired to create the ball after seeing a heart-wrenching news report about refugee children in Darfur having no option but to use bunched-up trash as a soccer ball.

In an unlikely twist, the rock musician Sting turns up in this story. An associate of Jahnigen’s, Sting got fully behind the idea, funding the research and development and becoming the public face of the brand. As with Tom’s Shoes, One World Futbol operates on a ‘Buy One, Give One’ system, where for every ball sold, one will be donated to organizations working with disadvantaged youth worldwide. This is a really great example of a brand using an authentic connection with a much larger event to re-tell their story, with the context making the narrative that much stronger.

Finally, I’ll leave you with the words of US Goalkeeper Tim Howard. Altogether now, “I believe that we will win!”



 

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