As the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa approaches, brand activity around the world's most watched sporting spectacle has reached fever pitch. Official and 'unofficial' sponsors, celebrities, charities and entire nations have been final-ising strategies to capitalise on the tournament's almost universal appeal, with mixed levels of success.
Indeed, success is not always guaranteed. Recent research suggests that some sponsors are still failing to connect with football fans, despite hundreds of millions of pounds already spent.
The study by Van Communications from 7 to 9 May showed Coca-Cola (see overleaf), Adidas and McDonald's were among brands that stood out, while Sony and Visa performed less well.
'Traditionally, sponsors want marketing campaigns to make an impact before the start of the tournament because once the first ball has been kicked, little gets in the way of the action on the pitch,' explains Van Communications director Mark Cooper.
Brands not sponsoring the tournament are also competing for consumers' attention. The use of celebrities is proving a popular marketing strategy, with ex-footballers fronting campaigns for the Royal Mint and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
Social media is also playing a big part in how brands target fans. 'Football fans around the globe are using social media as a platform to talk about the World Cup and find out more information on football,'says Adam Lewis, head of the new Total Sponsorship team at Burson-Marsteller.
Coca-Cola and charities including United Against Malaria and 1Goal have been using the global spotlight of the World Cup to roll out CSR campaigns in Africa, while South African brands have been promoting themselves around the world.
Using former footballers is a good way to generate buzz around a campaign, argues Porter Novelli account director Kate Fairclough. The agency signed up England World Cup legend Sir Geoff Hurst to front a campaign for the Royal Mint's 150,000 free World Cup media giveaway.
Hurst hosted a blogger evening last month to launch the campaign, which gives away free souvenirs to England supporters.
'Geoff is arguably the biggest name in English football history, a national hero,' says Fairclough. 'Our decision to bring him on board was to generate buzz around the giveaway, based on his popularity and the level of interest he receives from print, online and broadcast media during the World Cup.'
Concurrently, high street restaurant chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen has enlisted the help of former England goalkeeper Gordon Banks for a football-themed campaign, supported by Threepipe. 'Gourmet Burger Kitchen' will become 'Gordon Banks Kitchen' for the duration of the World Cup. The promotional menu will reinforce the concept that you can make 'great saves', as well as associate GBK with a World Cup winner.
'Former footballers are available, unlike the current ones who will be busy for the duration of the World Cup,' points out Threepipe co-founder Jim Hawker. 'Working with members of the 1966 squad is obviously advantageous, as they have won the World Cup. Until a later generation of footballers match that effort, there will always be demand for the '66 winning team.'
Long-standing World Cup sponsor Coca-Cola has been keen to highlight the charitable work it does in Africa through this year's tournament.
Supported by M&C Saatchi, the Coca-Cola Replinish Africa Initiative (RAIN) 'Water for Schools' project helps to provide safe drinking water for schools in Africa. 'We have been promoting our "Water for Schools" initiative, which we highlighted in March when the World Cup trophy was in London,' says Coca-Cola GB citizenship manager Liz Lowe. 'It's the first time the event has been held in Africa, so we thought it presented an opportunity to amplify the work that Coca-Cola is doing for sustainability.'
Meanwhile, United Against Malaria, which is a partnership of footballers, charities, governments and firms backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have united ahead of the World Cup to raise awareness of malaria. International stars such as Kolo Toure, Landon Donovan and Patrick Vieira are backing the campaign, supported by Hill & Knowlton.
'With the World Cup in Africa, it's a perfect time to draw attention to malaria,' says Gabrielle Fitzgerald, interim director of the global health policy and advocacy team at the Foundation.
The 1GOAL football charity campaign is also using the World Cup to put pressure on governments around the world to deliver the extra $16bn a year that is needed to pay for every child to attend school.
1GOAL already has 100 ambassadors including England captain Rio Ferdinand.
Clever brands will have been quick to note that this year's World Cup is the first in which social media is playing a significant role, claims Hill & Knowlton board director, sports marketing and sponsorship, Steve Bradley. 'It's the first World Cup where everyone can be a pundit because of social media.'
Lubricant company and sponsor of the World Cup, Castrol, has been working on a two-year PR programme in the run-up to the event, implemented globally by M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment, and across EMEA and the UK by H&K. The campaign lets fans share analyses of player performance through Facebook and Twitter
Castrol also ran a separate consumer competition in conjunction with brand ambassador and Portugal international Cristiano Ronaldo to analyse player performance to see why they are so good and whether fans would have the ability to match them.
Another official sponsor, fast food chain McDonald's, has seen the value of engaging fans online by rolling out a competition to enable consumers to become a McDonald's Ultimate FIFA World Cup Fan. An elite team of football fanatics from around the world will win the ultimate prize of trips and tickets online to the World up semi-finals and final.
Not all digital initiatives have been well received, however. England team manager Fabio Capello was accused of scoring a PR 'own goal' last month after launching a private commercial venture that will rate his players' displays online after every World Cup match.
The 'Capello Index' was heavily criticised by the media and the negative press and apparent pressure from the FA led Capello to postpone the launch until after the tournament.
While the media spotlight falls on this year's host for the competition, South African brands and other firms have been quick to push their South African-related links.
Thomas Cook has been promoting its relationship with the tournament as an official participating tour operator.
The firm's PR activity has revolved around supporting sales of travel options to fans to the games in South Africa, while building further recognition of Thomas Cook as a sports tour operator, through Thomas Cook Sport.
As a well-known name in travel, the brand has worked with journalists on their guides to the Word Cup, with travel tips, city guides and ideas on what else to do while in South Africa.
'We're taking more England fans than anyone else, and PR has played a key role in bringing travel to the sports pages, as we have tailor-made guides and responded quickly to getting prices out,' says Thomas Cook director of PR Bronwen Griffiths-Barrasso.
The operator has also been working with sports PR specialists Hatch Communications to update journalists on what the brand is doing.
South African wine brand Arniston Bay has also been quick to use the media attention on the country to promote the brand. Arniston Bay is launching a summer football promotion to leverage interest around the World Cup and South Africa by offering consumers the chance to win a trip to the country.
The campaign, supported by Green Row Communications, includes a PR push and will run throughout the summer.
Meanwhile, First National Bank brought on board Fleishman-Hillard in South Africa to promote its sponsorship of the World Cup.
The agency built an online community with blogs, podcast interviews, a Facebook group and YouTube channel to update consumers on key infrastructure projects and 2010-related news.
'The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world,' says Exposure CEO Raoul Shah. 'It is not only for brands with football in their DNA. There are a whole series of points of engagement, from electronics to food, drink and clothing. It's not too late to get involved, but the sooner you plan the better.'
Littlewoods is among the many brands that have looked to jump on the World Cup bandwagon, with a project aimed at both football enthusiasts and those hoping to avoid the tournament. The campaign, supported by Shine Communications, will aim to promote the brand as a 'One Stop Shop' during the key trading season for those looking for themed or patriotic products, or an alternative activity while games are played.
Separately, The Pukka Pies England Band, sponsored by Pukka Pies, also launched a campaign last month, aided by sports specialist Macesport.
The band has been present at every England game over the past 14 years and for the first time football fans will be able to follow the exploits of the band on a regular basis with a daily video posted online.
Former player and media pundit Steve Claridge joined the band at Villa Park to give the band a rousing South Africa send-off.
Meanwhile, Lloyds Pharmacy joined the World Cup action with a campaign to promote its vaccination service ahead of the competition.
A brief was given to TNR Communications to highlight the importance of having appropriate vaccines before travelling to South Africa, to protect against typhoid, polio and other diseases.