Why FIFA’s sponsors are going nowhere


It’s a PR calamity right?  But a great story.  On Wednesday at around 5.30 AM Swiss police arrested nine FIFA officials and began proceedings to extradite them to the US.  The FBI and the Justice Department described a long list of indictments including racketeering, money laundering and bribery.  Colourful stories emerged about former FIFA Executive Committee member Chuck Blazer who, after being exposed for tax fraud, turned informant and wore wire taps in meetings with FIFA executives at the London Olympics.  Back in Switzerland, a separate investigation has begun into the awarding of the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, likely to be re-elected today, talked of FIFA’s reputation being “dragged through the mud” – but refused to resign.

But from a marketing perspective – where does that leave FIFA’s sponsors?

VISA quickly issued a strongly worded statement: “Our disappointment and concern with FIFA in light of today’s developments is profound…it is important that FIFA makes changes now”. “Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed it that we will reassess our sponsorship.” Similar, though less threatening statements emerged from Adidas, Coca Cola (“This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup”) Hyundai (“extremely concerned”) and McDonalds (the news from the US Department of Justice is extremely concerning”).

So will any of these giants pull their support from FIFA?  Marketing web site Brand Republic ran a story this morning entitled Who will replace FIFA’s ‘tarnished’ sponsors?  The sums involved are considerable.  It is estimated that each of these players is investing at least £20 million a year for their various sponsorship rights and deals, mostly relating to the World Cup.

The answer is almost certainly no.  That’s because the property they are sponsoring is not FIFA.  That is merely the administrative facilitator.  They are supporting the game and the events.  Note how Coca Cola’s statement refers to the mission and ideals not of FIFA but of the World Cup.  Nobody is saying the World Cup is less important because FIFA is corrupt (which is hardly new news in any case).  The real properties being supported have not been tarnished, even if the people who govern them have.

Interestingly, recent World Cups have been sometimes referred to as ‘The FIFA World Cup’.  This was always a mistake.  And nobody in the real world (fans rather than broadcasters given an official script) has ever referred to it as the FIFA World Cup.

There is a caveat.  If the furore over FIFA reaches such a frenzy, there could be a point where the reputation benefit from publicly and loudly walking away from the sponsorship achieves more good for the sponsoring brand than the sponsorship itself.  This is frankly unlikely.

I predict that the only sponsors who walk away from FIFA will be those who are disillusioned at the economic returns they are getting.  It is already difficult to justify these sponsorships in terms of ROI, they tend to be more ‘vanity’ or ‘profile’ driven.  The current furore woud offer a neat story around  a withdrawal.

But these are strategic associations rooted in long term brand building, not short term grandstanding.

Frankly, if I had been advising any of these brands, I would have advised the association with football is at best a risky reputational  investment and at worst, a negative association.  The beautiful game has in recent years become the cynical game.  But if you want to create an association with the biggest, most prestigious, universal and popular asset in the sporting world, buying into football at the highest level is the biggest game in town.  And that’s got very little to do with FIFA, however much we, in the chattering classes love to hate them.


Cavaliers versus Roundheads

This weekend sees the grand final of the English Rugby Premiership.  It’s not the final people were expecting.  Bath, the champions of free-flowing colourful, expansive rugby, face Saracens, the masters of the arm-wrestle.  It’s an epic battle of the creative versus the dour,  flair versus brawn, beauty versus the beast.  Backs versus forwards.  Guess which side I’m on.


Frankie says “Go to Protein World”


Protein World eh?  What’s that all about?  The whole (non-protein) world – and possibly beyond – is outraged by this evil, sexist diatribe by the monsters at Protein World.  Their poster advertising is so sexist as to be, well, splutter, really really sexist.  So there.  As Father Ted would have said: “Down with this sort of thing”.

If people had read the more grown up marketing press twenty years ago they would have found Roderick White,  Editor of Admap explaining, in a ‘best practice’ paper, how to get more out of a limited advertising budget.  As I recall (it was a long time ago) he identified three proven strategies. 1) Target a very niche group.  2) Generate huge talkability (now understood as ‘going viral’ or 3) Get your ad banned.  Ahhh, now I get it.

The same used to be true for singles and the music chart – would Frankie Goes to Hollywood have been so popular if their biggest single ‘Relax’ hadn’t been banned?

They’re laughing at you.  The publicity generated by Protein World has multiplied the marketing spend many times over, probably many dozens, even hundreds of times over.  I saw the marketing Director of Protein World being interviewed on television for goodness sake.  Protein World – a brand I had never heard of until a month ago.

I say congratulations to the marketing team.  Still a bit evil though.  I know we shouldn’t be encouraging this kind of thing.  But you have to admire the marketing chutzpah.

And if you like that sort of thing, you’ll love this……


This really really is the final word on the election this time

There’s been a lot of hot air expended on the ‘polling fiasco’ (you have to say that in a shock ‘horror probe’ newspaper headline voice) evident at the recent British general election.  OMG – the polls taken before the day of the vote didn’t reflect the final outcome.  But – and this is truly amazing – the exit polls did.  OMG again.  It’s very obvious to anyone who has worked anywhere near market research, so it’s a bit mystifying to hear respected pollsters floundering as they’re quizzed by grinning pundits.  In research, we often ask people how they feel about things.  Sometimes we ask them about their behaviour.  If we’re sensible, we don’t get the two things confused.  So there’s cunning insight number one – duh, people don’t necessarily (or even very often) act according to their stated opinions.  Cunning insight number two – political strategy involves the incumbent trying to scare the pants off us by asserting a change would be a calamity.  The behavioural scientists call it loss aversion, discounting future outcomes and many other things.  We can call it fear of change.  That’s what the Conservatives did very explicitly (” A Labour government held to ransom by the SNP – they’re evil you know”) and very successfully.  So people who were considering change ended up reverting back to the status quo when it came to the crunch.  Add to that the way voters fell back into the normal pattern of tactical voting at the booth, despite their avowed commitment to one of the (wasted vote) minority parties.  So it really is no surprise that the polls overstated the vote for the opposition parties but the exit polls were reasonably accurate.  Stating the bleeding obvious, as I said.


Last word on the election – honest

As we all race to claim we were the only person who saw the unexpected UK election result coming, here’s my favourite bit of analysis:

From the day they were deemed to have betrayed us over student fees, the Lib Dems became the Tories’ very own portrait of Dorian Gray.

As David Cameron’s pampered face remained podgily youthful, they withered in the attic.  From that moment, they became the public face of every nasty policy as the Tories emerged unscathed.

(My thanks to peskykid.)