Once every four years the whole country goes a bit crazy for a few months. Flags get attached to cars, people with little or no interest in football suddenly get wrapped up in pub debates about who exactly should be England’s third-choice goalkeeper, and businesses the length and breadth of the country rack their brains as to how best tap into this collective delirium.

Yes, 2010 is a World Cup year. Having been starved of an England appearance in a major football tournament for four long years, this summer’s tournament in South Africa is already looking set to be one of the most heavily branded and marketed ever. Adidas, Coca Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony, Visa, Budweiser and McDonalds are amongst the official sponsors and partners.

However, being an official sponsor means you have to observe FIFA’s draconian rules. Doing your own thing and not even mentioning the World Cup can open a bit more creativity. Toshiba will refund the price of your TV if England win the tournament, whilst Currys show a little less (or is it more?) faith by giving ten pounds cash back for each goal scored by the Three Lions. James Hall at The Telegraph has already looked at these in more detail: they’ll only be worth analysing if England win the tournament, scoring a bucketful of goals along the way.

Online, Sure are heavily promoting their ‘last eight’ sweepstake, which mentions nothing about a World Cup. It vaguely mentions ‘your team’ in ‘South Africa’, but everyone knows what they’re referring to. Pepsi have combined their offline and online marketing in an attempt to derail official tournament partners Coca Cola. Africa-themed TVCs featuring Leo Messi and Frank Lampard run concurrently with the www.MAXITLEGENDS.com video competition and a digital game called Football Hero. Pringles have targeted their 3 million Facebook fans with a Peter Crouch endorsed ‘Pringoooals’ mechanic – cheesy, but ingenious and 100% unofficial.

Offline, the Sun has gone down its tired jingoistic route, recruiting former England manager Terry Venables. Yawn. More effective are Kit Kat’s Cross Your Fingers commercials and billboards, mixing a unique brand identity with football (again, without mentioning the World Cup once). Facts and figures are behind Nestle’s marketing drive – the last World Cup in 2006 resulted in a 16% sales hike for four-finger bars and a 38% boost for Chunky. This might explain why Nestle have doubled the amount of money invested in the campaign.

Ultimately, it comes down to ROI. How much money are you going to make back from the investment you’ve put in? If you’re banking solely on the fortunes of a football team, I wouldn’t expect too much.

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