Millennium Post

Brand wagon 2014: The ball never stops

The Kashmir valley comes to a swing when the mercury dips to its lowest. Hundreds of locals throng the playgrounds when seven-a-side annual football tourney gets underway braving the sub-zero temperatures in the month of  December. Curiously enough, snowfall halts everything except football. Just one ball brings to life the rat-infested playground, engages all. Any sport arouses more passion when the going gets tough, the weather gets rough, situations become unfavourable. Be it the tense Kashmir valley or the gangwar-inflicted Brazilian favelas, sporting culture witnesses fever-pitch contests and in turn becomes a tool of poverty alleviation. 

With Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup starting today, for this soccer-crazy nation of 194 million people ‘the beautiful game’ is a sure-shot ticket out of poverty for millions, its youths particularly.  Interestingly, soccer has been turned into an instrument of socio-economic development in the country. It has resulted in millions of Brazilians escape extreme poverty in recent years, whose ‘elevation’ into lower middle class has now made them the largest population group in the country.
 Sensing the high football fever all across the world, business giants are all set to cash in on the popularity of the game with whopping sponsorships reflected in football merchandise. Sales of FIFA merchandise this year have doubled compared to the previous event held four years ago in South Africa. ‘Compared to 2010, we have sold close to five times the number of official match balls and the sale of our football boots has doubled,’  Tushar Goculdas, brand director at Adidas India, was quoted as saying by a news report few days back. Even in India, which is undoubtedly a cricket-crazy nation, football and the FIFA World Cup enjoy a huge fan base. It’s a sport that we all play in schools and colleges. A lot of excitement is brewing across the country over the ‘Cup, Brazil.’ Though, one cannot compare the IPL to football, we also cannot do away with the fact that FIFA is one of the greatest soccer extravaganza on television today and states like Maharashtra, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Karnataka boast of millions of soccer addicts.

The fervour and excitement around the event and its youth-centredness have turned into an irresistible bandwagon for every brand under the sun. One just has to be associated with it, taking cue from from its visual excesses and immersive experiences, among others. It’s a great way to drive awareness campaigns on one hand and to influence purchase decisions on the other. Brands are bringing in a host of innovative, engaging and personalised campaigns and activities for the FIFA 2014 fans across the country to build up the revelry. For instance, Coca-Cola ran a global consumer promotion campaign across 207 countries, and the response they say has been overwhelming. With 10 million FIFA cans on shop shelves, Coke is hoping to generate an unprecedented buzz around the tournament. Meanwhile, the country’s top television makers such as Sony, Samsung, Panasonic and LG, which together control more than 80 per cent of the market, are pumping in over Rs 30 crore on marketing expenditure for the next 45 days targeted at the World Cup, hoping to cash in on the soccer mania.

Adidas, which is a FIFA brand partner is rolling out a World Cup jersey, and has started selling kit packs for its sponsored teams as well as street wear labels like retro team jerseys. E-Commerce players like Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra and Snapdeal are on a roll, furiously selling FIFA merchandise and the Brazuca ball. Food and music joints like Hard Rock Cafe, TGIF and few others are also planning special menus to go along screening of special matches. Multi-Screen Media (MSM) launched LIV Sports, the first and only digital destination to offer a unique mix of ‘live sports, live statistics, sports analytics and consumer engagement modules’, targeted at the avid sports fans as well as the fence sitters. LIV Sports is the official mobile and internet broadcaster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, according to reports.

‘Football, especially at the World Cup, is a spiritual experience for millions. But it’s also a global commercial carnival every advertiser worth his soccer wants in on. The numbers are reason enough. For South Africa 2010, out of the gadzillions who called in sick at work and neglected their spouses during the month-long tournament, roughly 63 million were Indians, that’s few more than the population of Australia and Canada combined,’ says Vaibhav Sharma from Chandigarh, who has been studying sport management with a Spanish football club.

Then there’s the new generation of the sport lovers. With Brazil 2014 in mind, seven-year-olds are already making their mothers buy the No 10 shirt in Argentinean colours. And although it’s no samba in the sun, teenagers in Ronaldo and Neymar kits have kicked off their Qatar 2022 fund raising! Closer to the big date, every football fan, and even the friend who isn’t otherwise keen on the footy, buys an official shirt, brushes up on the cup and player trivia, and pins up a World Cup flow-chart on the office notice board. Naturally, brands are paying more attention to the swelling population of football consumers across the country and not just in traditionally football fanatic places like Cochin, Kolkata and Panjim. However, the quality of their conversations, around the World Cup particularly, doesn’t quite do it justice. Here, activities on the brand pitch are usually restricted to sponsorships and contests of just-scratch-the-card-and-fly-to-Rio kind.

By any standard, World Cup 2014 is the largest and most exciting stage for these brands to showcase their marketing prowess. It’s the one deserving the most extraordinary brand-building tales and promising unparalleled range of communication. However, global brand campaigns’ Indian iterations are a much watered down adaptation of these elaborate plots. Other FIFA partners like McDonald’s is content to send a young fan and parent to Brazil through its Player Escort Program (PEP). Hyundai has its version: the ‘Ball in Brazil’ offer for two winning lotteries. The auto major is also considering replicating its T20 World Cup fan park activities for the FIFA World Cup.
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