Has Bavaria’s ambush marketing backfired or is FIFA pursuing diminished returns?

It was announced last week that FIFA is to file a civil case against Bavaria, the brewer behind the now famous ambush marketing activity at the World Cup, as well as filing potentially very serious criminal charges against two Dutch women who are alleged to have organised the stunt.

Clearly commercial sponsorship should be taken seriously. A lot of time, effort and money goes into these agreements, 35% of the budget of an event like the World Cup can be made up with sponsors’ cash, and FIFA absolutely has a right to protect its own revenues and the investment of its offical event partners.

However, and this is what makes it so fascinating from a PR perspective, obviously FIFA are risking negative publicity for being too draconian – we now have two women who have a jail term hanging over their heads for wearing  orange dresses at a Holland match. But also, the greater the vehemence with which they complain, the greater the value of the stunt itself as it will only create more coverage. So the more FIFA try to discourage ambush marketing, the more they encourage it.

What will ‘the man on the street’ think about the above image?

One thing that must also be considered by FIFA’s PRs is the nuances of the situation. Ambush marketing, (other examples being Linford Christie’s Puma branded contact lenses at an Adidas sponsored pess conference, or cans of Pepsi being handed out by attractive women on rollerskates outside a Coca-Cola branded stadium) is more likely than other activity to appeal to the general public. It’s creative, generally amusing, and more often than not, a little bit clever and a little bit fun, and can be seen as contributing to the celebratory occasion.

FIFA must proceed with caution. It will be all too easy to see things from their sponsors’ perpective alone, with Budweiser certain to be calculating the financial value of another beer brand getting five seconds of abstract airtime. But from the PR perspective it’s about considering the impact on the public consciousness in the real world.

In fact, had FIFA kept their response a little further behind the scenes,  the cameras may have merely lingered on the group of striking Dutch supporters before moving on and the vast, vast majority of the watching public would have been none the wiser.

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What’s next for Celebrity Endorsement?

The last six months have not been good for Tiger Woods. Revelations of his private life were sprawled across the press resulting in three major sponsors pulling the plug; Accenture, AT&T, and most recent recently sports drinks company, Gatorade.

 

Following this, it seems that more companies are coming to understand the potential drawbacks of the celebrity spokesperson paradigm; Tiger Woods is simply the most obvious example of what can go wrong.

But let’s take a step back and have a look at what actually makes celebrity endorsements so powerful?

Celebrities transfer their positive qualities in adverts, such as their talent, reputation and likeability, onto the product. In numerous ways, they also act as the brand’s spokesperson, providing credibility and the thumbs up in the eyes of their hero worshipping public.

Celebrity endorsements can and do raise awareness across the public sphere whilst increasing a product’s appeal. The endorsements also influence the buying decisions of fans wanting to emulate their favourite stars – hence the reason so many brands are happy to pay millions for a brief share of a celebrities’ limelight.

Take Barack Obama as another example, Brand Obama is still regarded as the World’s number one brand due to the global popularity of the president. His unofficial endorsement of Blackberry is even estimated to be worth over 30 million dollars in marketing – and the best part is that he hasn’t been paid to do it.  

New deals are continuing to be rolled out, including Olympian Michael Phelps staring in the new Subway commercials, with industry experts believing, if anything, the use of celebrity endorsers seem to be making a comeback, with the draw of big names being stronger than ever – partially as result of so many stars using social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to establish one-to-one connections with consumers.

It’s been just a little over two weeks since Tiger Woods’ cringing public apology for being unfaithful to his wife, and he is already back on the golf course working on his long-time swing and preparing his comeback. Amazing isn’t it? I can’t help but think Woods’ comeback to golf may prove easier than his return to the heights of celebrity endorsement.

Needless to say, the fact still remains that the idea of having a famous face to front an advertising campaign can give brands that extra special ingredient that can help it stand out. But as more and more stars pull down their brands, is another kind of celebrity endorsement in order? Tiger Woods may survive the criticisms fired at him over the past few months, but will his individual brand fight through? I’m not convinced.