Brazil’s defender David Luiz has to dash across London on foot after the traffic police clamp his car. Meanwhile in Madrid airport, his Brazilian teammate Marcelo has been forced through security so many times that he is now stripped down to his boxer shorts.
The scenes are from a television commercial, by Brazil’s largest airline Tam, that fell foul of regulators. The one-minute clip depicts various attempts to stop Brazil’s expat footballers from flying back to their home country in time for the World Cup. “Our rivals won’t like it one bit but Tam is bringing Brazil’s football stars home,” went the tagline.
It has been hailed as one of the edgiest campaigns yet in the particularly cut-throat battle for World Cup advertising this year – a battle that, just like the 2014 tournament itself, has been marked by surprise wins, shocking exits and embarrassing own goals.
Gol, Tam’s biggest rival and the actual carrier of the Brazilian national team, complained to regulators in April, accusing Tam of wrongly presenting itself as the tournament’s official airline. But regulators did not rule against the commercial until May – after more than a month of precious airtime.
For John Grady, an associate professor of sport and entertainment management at the University of South Carolina, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is turning out to be a golden opportunity for so-called ambush advertising – attempts by brands to associate themselves with a particular event without paying to be an official sponsor or partner.
Prof Grady says Brazil’s relatively innovative advertising market has long encouraged ambushers and cheeky campaigns – noting that these techniques will not be as easy to pull off in Russia and Qatar, the tournament’s next, more heavily controlled, host countries.
Brazil’s thriving social media scene has also proved fertile ground for ambush marketing techniques because popular online campaigns can be taken down rapidly if required by regulators.
“Because it’s soccer, the event itself also seems to lend itself to a more humorous type of advertising,” adds Prof Grady. Last week, for instance, brands around the world such as Nando’s and Listerine were quick to take advantage of the controversy surrounding the biting of an Italian opponent by Uruguay’s Luis Suárez. Philips produced an ad for its new dental flossing system with the tagline: “Perfect if you have a bit of Italian stuck between your teeth.”
You are associating your great brand with a brand that might have a lot of baggage and you might actually suffer for it.
This year, advertisers that are not Fifa partners have also been helped by the fact that the World Cup’s official sponsors have been wrongfooted by widespread protests in Brazil over the past few months against the amount of public money being spent on the World Cup – underlining the difficulties of pitching campaigns for countries undergoing deep social transformations. After all, few could have expected the football-mad nation would oppose holding the sport’s biggest tournament.
After paying significant amounts for the privilege of associating themselves with football’s governing body Fifa, several sponsors have been forced to distance themselves from the tournament because of the protests and focus instead on the wider theme of football or the national team. Criticism of Fifa, which is facing corruption allegations over the 2022 tournament, have not helped either. “You are associating your great brand with a brand that might have a lot of baggage and you might actually suffer for it,” says Michael Fernandez, founder and chief executive officer of Factory 360, a marketing agency in New York.
Nike has been particularly fortuitous. According to Jornal Propmark, a Brazilian advertising and marketing magazine, Nike is the brand Brazilians most associate with the World Cup. Yet, not being an official partner at the tournament, it has been able to distance itself from Fifa.
“As a fan of football, because we’re not a sponsor, we think it is something they need to address,” Trevor Edwards, a Nike executive, says of the corruption allegations.
However, in some cases, the tournament’s imposters have been too successful. The Italian carmaker Fiat was forced to cut short its Vem pra rua, vem! (“Come to the street, come!”) World Cup-themed campaign last year after its catchy slogan was adopted by protesters as a political call to arms.
One of the most devastating own goals, however, was probably scored by Adidas, the tournament’s official partner, says Luiz Fernando Turatti, a professor at São Paulo’s Insper business school. The company’s T-shirts featuring a bikini-clad woman and the phrase “looking to score” were withdrawn in February after Brazil’s tourist board claimed that they encouraged prostitution. The Adidas campaign caused immediate outrage in Brazil, underscoring the market’s complexity. “It was considered an affront to the whole country,” says Prof Turatti. Adidas has since apologised.
There was an extraordinary change in the Brazilian mood as the World Cup started and the teams started arriving
But with two weeks to go until the World Cup final, the advertisers’ battle is far from over. As football fever has taken over in Brazil and protest movements have lost some of their initial popularity, official sponsors now face a race against time to capitalise on the tournament.
“There was an extraordinary change in the Brazilian mood as the World Cup started and the teams started arriving,” says Sebastião Bomfim Filho, the head of Centauro, Latin America’s largest sports retailer and one of the World Cup’s six Brazilian sponsors. The company signed its contract with Fifa – the basis of its R$100m World Cup advertising campaign – only two months before mass street protests broke out in June last year. “It was a moment of much tension for us,” he says.
Meanwhile, other official sponsors such as Apex, the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency, say the hospitality perks of backing Fifa have been worth it, giving them an allocation of seats for clients and contacts, allowing them to generate new business.
To some extent, the advertising victories will depend on the football teams themselves. For example, the Italian sportswear manufacturer Lotto, Costa Rica’s sponsor, has been able to divert valuable airtime away from larger rivals thanks to the surprisingly strong performance of the Central American team.
However, it is Brazil’s performance that will perhaps prove to be the most important, not only for national sponsors, but for the Fifa brand itself and its global backers. If players such as Luiz and Marcelo can perform just as well on the pitch as on camera – and more importantly if star striker Neymar keeps scoring – it will be easier for Fifa to keep the home nation on side, analysts say.
Centauro’s Mr Bomfim Filho and his executive team are praying particularly hard for a Brazil victory – sales already took a hit after Brazil’s disappointing draw with Mexico in the first round, he says. “Neymar has never had so many fans.”
Tricks for piggybacking on big events
London, a minuscule French village in Burgundy, had been unknown to the outside world for centuries. But in August 2012, the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power chose it to host an egg and spoon race, offering the winner a betting account with €100.
It was all in the name of ambush marketing. The company used the event as an excuse to put up advertisements around London, England, in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics with the slogan: “Official sponsor of the largest athletics event in London this year!”
As the organisers of big sporting events have taken ever stricter measures to protect their official sponsors, ambush marketers have had to get more creative.
As well as searching maps for happy coincidences, companies have signed up sports stars to their cunning plans. Sprinter Usain Bolt gave Puma the upper hand in 2008 by repeatedly holding up his running shoes for the crowd at the Beijing Olympics.
But gymnast Li Ning inadvertently pulled off the biggest coup. As Ning was the final torchbearer that year, many of China’s domestic viewers believed it was his own well-known local sportswear company (of which he is the public face), rather than Adidas, that was sponsoring the games.
Fonte: Financial Times – 30/06/2014