Brands get set for Greatest Show on Earth

As fans around the globe get ready for the World Cup in Brazil, brands and businesses can play a part in pushing their agendas beyond pure marketing considerations.

Photo credit: Adidas
Photo credit: Adidas

The biggest sporting event in the world starts next Thursday in Brazil – the 2014 World Cup will be played out in the home of the most successful nation in the tournament’s history.

From the rainforests of Manaus to the favelas of Rio via the capital Brasília, the entire nation will be willing its team to go one better than last time the World Cup was held in their country. In 1950, their tiny South American neighbor Uruguay spoiled the party in front of 210,000 fans at the legendary Maracanã stadium in Rio by defeating the home favorites 2-1 to lift the trophy.

It was one of the biggest upsets in football (soccer) history and the Brazilian nation took years to recover, with some saying it never fully has.

The nation will no doubt mourn if their team doesn’t fulfill its favorite status in the final on July 13, but the citizens of Brazil also have other things on their mind this time around. The prequel to the global football festival has been beset with controversy about unfinished stadia; protests against the cost of putting on the tournament in the context of widespread poverty; and concerns about crime, violence, and security.

World Cups are one of the maxi-quadrennial events identified by WPP CEO Martin Sorrell as big drivers of spend on advertising and other marketing services. In WPP’s 2013 results statement Sorrell professed himself optimistic about the impact of both the World Cup and the forthcoming Olympics in Brazil, set for 2016. He predicted the World Cup should be a "great tournament," despite the concerns over social unrest and unfinished infrastructure.

Brands attach themselves to the World Cup in several ways, from the top-tier official sponsor status procured at high cost by Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony, and Visa, down to guerilla marketers such as Nike, which try and piggyback on the buzz around the tournament without breaking the strict marketing terms and conditions imposed by football’s global governing body FIFA.

It’s a very complicated playing field with, for example, the official status of kit suppliers like Adidas running up against individual deals that some players might have for things like boots (cleats) with rival manufacturers such as Nike and separate national team deals for shirts and so on.

As our web editor Brittaney Kiefer’s piece last week outlined, social media has leveled up the playing field and made it harder for top-tier official sponsors to retain their exclusive hold on the tournament.

Amid the scare stories about poverty, stadia, and civil strife, I hope Brand Brazil comes out of this tournament with added luster. It is a wonderful, spirited country full of fantastic, passionate people who stay positive in the face of all sorts of adversity. I hope this narrative drives the next few weeks and that, if England can’t win it, the Brazilians are rewarded with the victory they so crave.

I then hope this positivity can be turned into better outcomes for the general Brazilian population as they turn their attention toward the Olympics in two years’ time. And it is incumbent upon the businesses and brands associating with the World Cup - and Olympics - to help play a part in this, alongside their drive for increased awareness and sales. After all, as our conference in New York City in September will demonstrate, Good Business is Better Business.

I’m leaving for Brazil myself next week to follow the fortunes of my home country England, full of hope like the fans of the other 31 teams, including those of my adopted country the US, which I will also follow with interest. The first two weeks are always the most exciting of the World Cup, because everyone is still involved and has hopes of progressing to the latter stages of the tournament.

If previous experience of England’s efforts is anything to go by, I will return with shattered dreams at the end of June. But I’m sure it will have been the experience of a lifetime just being a part of the Greatest Show on Earth. See you in July.

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