Friday, July 04, 2014 12:01 am
Stealth World Cup ads raise sponsorship questions
As the ad closes, cameras close in on Neymar's determined face for soccer's grandest tournament.
What's missing are the actual words "World Cup." That's because Beats Electronics, recently acquired by Apple for $3 billion, is not an official sponsor of the event. Soccer's international governing body, FIFA, closely holds the World Cup brand as intellectual property.
It hasn't stopped the company from marketing its way around sponsorship. And is isn't the only one doing it, prompting questions over how far soccer's international governing body can go in preventing non-sponsors from capitalizing on the World Cup, and whether pushing the boundaries of so-called "ambush marketing" diminishes the value of formal sponsorships.
Samsung's Galaxy 11 ads feature Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Landon Donovan playing a match against aliens with the fate of the universe on the line. Volkswagen USA uses legendary soccer announcer Andres Cantor to introduce the new VW Golf GTI. Gatorade has its #winfromwithin campaign featuring Messi set to the song "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo."
None of the companies are official World Cup sponsors.
"Obviously the big events are being watched by hundreds of millions of people, and (the World Cup) is the kind of event that everybody wants to be a part of in some way," said Bob Dorfman, a sports marketing specialist for Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. "The ambush marketing becomes a way of getting in there and doing what you can without having to pay the big price, and maybe looking a little more clever in doing so."
Nike sponsors several soccer stars playing in the World Cup, including Neymar and Ronaldo. The company has produced several spots that also imply a connection to the tournament. But adidas is the official FIFA sponsor.
So far Nike is scoring big with its non-World Cup World Cup campaign #RiskEverything. Three online ads the company released have had over 380 million online views through different platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, Nike reported. Two of the spots are ranked among the top 20 all-time for such brand campaigns.
To be fair, Nike isn't really going guerrilla in its marketing as much as some other companies piggybacking on the worldwide appeal of the World Cup. The Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic company is tied to the event because of its athletes, the shoes they wear, and the national team uniforms it designs.
"Although we're not a sponsor of the World Cup itself, we connect where it matters — by partnering with clubs, federations, and elite and everyday players," Dermott Clearly, Nike vice president/general manager of global soccer, said. "Ten teams at the tournament will wear Nike on the pitch in Brazil, including the hosts, along with hundreds of the players who will wear Nike boots. We're confident we will stand out on and off pitch better than any other brand."
In addition to adidas, other official partners include Visa and Coca-Cola. FIFA sponsorships vary in cost, but it has been reported that adidas is paying nearly $80 million a year. As a result of its deal, adidas creates the official game ball of the World Cup — this year it's the widely-praised Brazuca, giving the company endless exposure from television close-ups.
FIFA strongly condemned ambush marketing following an incident in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when a group of 36 orange-clad women crashed a Netherlands-Denmark match to ostensibly promote a Dutch brewer, dubbed by many onlookers as "intrusion marketing." FIFA rules strictly prohibit any advertising at sanctioned events by non-sponsors.
Two of the women were detained under South African laws meant to protect intellectual property, but all charges were later dropped and the beer company agreed to respect FIFA's guidelines against such acts until 2022.
"FIFA strongly disapproves of companies who employ ambush marketing tactics to promote their brands at big sporting events without having contributed to the organization of those events," the sport's governing body said in a statement following the incident.
FIFA vowed to crack down on non-sponsors again this year, going so far as to tape over the band name of the hand dryers in stadium restrooms. Sponsors are the second-biggest source of revenue for the organization, behind broadcast rights.
FIFA banned players from wearing Beats in World Cup stadiums and official media events, distributing headphones made by official sponsor Sony instead.
There was also talk that FIFA was looking into whether Neymar's patriotic underwear — revealed when he went to swap shirts following a match with Cameroon — was a case of ambush marketing. The Brazilian undergarment maker, Lupo, sponsors Neymar.
FIFA declined requests for comment from the Associated Press about non-sponsor advertising until after the World Cup.
Given the increasingly blurred lines, FIFA can try to regulate it as much as possible. But in the end, there are other ways to make sponsorships valuable, Dorfman said.
"There are a lot of things that you probably don't see up front that can be included in a sponsorship deal, things like tickets to the event, opportunities for franchises or top customers to be involved, more business to business-type things," Dorfman said. "And those things always end up being very attractive to sponsors and help give them more reason to pay that big expense up front."