INTERNATIONAL: Letter From America - World Cup organisers suffer 'failure of creativity'

Fifa and its official World Cup sponsors should be more creative if they want to overcome 'ambush' marcoms tactics, writes leading US commentator Paul Holmes.

The World Cup engenders more passion than the Olympics, Super Bowl, and World Series put together, combining a love of the game with patriotic fervour in a way that Americans - whose major sports teams don't compete much internationally - can't understand.

Anything that inspires as much passion as the World Cup presents a wonderful opportunity for marketers, who love to associate their brands with events and personalities that resonate on an emotional level with consumers.

That's why brands such as Adidas, Budweiser and Coca-Cola want to become official sponsors of the event, and that's why they're furious at companies such as Nike and Pepsi, which aren't official sponsors - even though many fans assume they are.

So-called 'ambush' marketing and PR techniques have become the subject of vigorous debate at most major sporting events. The companies that engage in the practice prefer the term 'guerrilla', while official sponsors and event organisers - apparently concerned that the term ambush didn't carry enough stigma - have been trying to persuade reporters to write about 'parasite' marketing.

Some companies do attempt to use the official trademarks of the event organiser, which is why Fifa is able to claim that it is successful in 90 per cent of its prosecutions around the world - more than 500 cases in 51 countries.

According to a Fifa spokeswoman: 'Ambush marketing and PR not only puts the integrity of the Fifa World Cup at stake, but also the interests of the worldwide football community ... Investing money in ambush marketing ... shows not only lack of decency but also creativity.'

Nike has been criticised for running a multi-million pound ad campaign featuring longtime Nike spokesplayers Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry, sponsoring a five-a-side football tournament, and buying billboards on the sides of buses that will show real-time scores from the World Cup.

But at no point does it claim to be an official sponsor, which is why none of Fifa's lawsuits have targeted Nike, and why attacks on the company have taken place largely through the media.

That Nike should be expected to suspend its football-related marketing activities for the duration of the World Cup is absurd.

If there's a failure of creativity here, it's not on the part of Nike, it's on the part of the tournament organisers and the official sponsors, which need to leverage their deals more aggressively if they are truly to add value.

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