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Ambush and Amateurism: How Rugby World Cup Sponsorship Began

The closer we get to the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which Synergy is working on for four of the tournament’s sponsors and one of ITV’s broadcast sponsors, the more I’ve been reminded of the very different commercial background to the 1991 Rugby World Cup, the first time the RWC was staged in England, and the huge impact the tournament had on rugby and sports marketing in the UK. So, being (I suspect) one of a fairly small group of people to have worked on both RWC 1991 and 2015, here’s my take on the formative years of RWC sponsorship.

Ahead of RWC 2015, the eighth Rugby World Cup, we have a very good idea of what the tournament’s going to be like off the field – consumer behaviour, media coverage, brand activations, and so on. But ahead of the 1991 tournament, the Rugby World Cup was an unknown quantity for UK marketers.

It was by far the biggest sporting event to have been staged in the UK since the 1966 World Cup, so it was our first taste of a world event for merely twenty-five years.

The first Rugby World Cup, held in Australia and New Zealand in 1987, hadn’t really cut through here at all: rugby was a much smaller sport than it is now – pro rugby was still eight years away – and the Antipodean time-zone meant that pre-Sky, pre-satellite media coverage in the UK was after the fact, and light.

There were no meaningful sponsorship benchmarks: only a handful of companies had signed up to sponsor RWC 1987, almost all of them Japanese brands motivated solely by strong TV coverage of the tournament in Japan. One, KDD, paid more than the others and effectively became the tournament’s title sponsor. And as we shall see, in 1991 another Japanese brand repeated the trick.

A 1987 Rugby World Cup Final ticket. Note the KDD branding.

These were also evolutionary times for sports marketing in the UK. Although the industry was growing fast, the supply of opportunities was still limited, rights holders were old-school and commercially under-skilled (not least in rugby), and among brands, sports marketing was very much a minority activity.

The result of all that was that many of the operating principles we take for granted today just didn’t apply ahead of RWC 1991.

And the biggest difference was how RWC 1991 event and broadcast sponsorships were sold.

Today, it’s well-established practice for rights holders to sell their event sponsorships well in advance, and give their major sponsors a contractual first option to buy sponsorship of the event’s TV coverage. World Rugby been exemplary in this respect, and as a result one of the Worldwide Partners, Land Rover, has exercised their contractual option to become a co-sponsor of ITV’s RWC coverage. Similarly, our client SSE was only able to buy the other ITV broadcast sponsor position after the other RWC Worldwide Partners passed on the opportunity and it went to the open market.

All very orderly. But there was nothing like that in place for RWC 1991. Back then, the ITV broadcast sponsorship was open to all from the off, and taken to market at the same time as the event sponsorships. The broadcast sponsorship sold relatively quickly, whereas most of the event sponsorships were eventually sold at the last minute.

Compared to today, it was chaotic.

Two events above all led to this happening.

The first was the organising committee’s mysterious decision to award the tournament’s commercial rights lock, stock and barrel to a (now long-defunct) company called CPMA. This proved to be disastrous in many ways, not least in relation to sponsorship. CPMA priced each RWC event sponsorship at a deluded £2m, got knocked back by the market, and never recovered. Although Heinz (then run by former Irish rugby international Tony O’Reilly) signed up in 1990 for £1million, there were no other takers, and as a result CPMA inevitably became a price-taker reduced to doing last-minute deals: seven of the eight RWC 1991 event sponsors signed up in the six months prior to the tournament (I was on the buying side of two of these deals) for an average of around £300,000 each, including three in the last month.

The second was ITV’s coup in 1989 of winning the exclusive UK TV rights to RWC 1991, with a bid of £3million which the BBC could not, or would not, match: great business for ITV when you consider that the tournament was a big TV hit (over 13 million watched the England-Australia Final on ITV) and that this success paved the way for ITV to retain the rights to the RWC to this day. And even before the 1991 tournament started, ITV knew they were certain to make a profit when Sony bought the RWC broadcast sponsorship for £2million – two-thirds of what ITV paid for the rights.

This also turned out to be very good business for Sony, as David Pearson, Sony’s UK MD at the time, later recalled:

‘Various [Rugby World Cup] opportunities were presented to Sony including [being] one of eight named sponsors of the competition itself. However, what I felt was of much more interest was the opportunity to become the unique sponsor of the [ITV] broadcast rights…I decided to only sponsor the broadcasting and leave the event sponsorship to others…I believed that far more people would watch the matches on TV than in the stadia and I did not like the idea of sharing sponsorship with seven other parties. So it proved. The majority of people believed that Sony had actually been the event sponsor, giving rise to allegations by the official event sponsors that Sony had ambushed the competition. But that was false. We had chosen legitimately from the choices put to us by the agency representing the World Cup organisers and [ITV].’

I couldn’t agree more: Sony did nothing wrong. They took a brave decision on a new tournament and a new advertising format – paying, let’s not forget, far more than any of the event sponsors – and reaped the rewards. Ambush it may have been, but it was an officially-sanctioned and enabled ambush: the responsibility was wholly CPMA’s owing to their mismanagement of the commercial rights.

As to the ‘allegations by the official event sponsors’, my strong impression at the time was that most of this was driven by Heinz, who were particularly aggrieved: not only had they been undercut by CPMA’s fire-sale of the other event sponsorships, but they’d also seen the main benefit of being the first sponsor to sign up – the highest level of brand association with the tournament – blown away by Sony. (It’s perhaps not entirely coincidental that Heinz has eschewed major sponsorship ever since).

So all in all a painful lesson for the RWC, and a wake-up call for sports rights holders and brands everywhere about how sponsorships should be bought and sold around major events.

But I don’t want to leave you with a negative impression of RWC 1991 on or off the field: quite the opposite. The tournament was a huge success and left behind some very significant legacies.

It turbo-charged the UK sports marketing industry, accelerating its skills and giving it its first experience of activating the multi-sponsor major event model which was becoming the worldwide norm. Without that experience, for example, I have no doubt that five years later Euro 1996 would not have have been the huge success that it was off the field for sponsors in the UK.

But above all RWC 1991 was a watershed moment for rugby’s profile, which took off and never looked back. Quite simply, the tournament electrified the country. Everybody was talking about it, everybody was watching it, and especially in the week of the Final, it was everywhere – back pages, front pages and everything in between. It was glorious.

Here’s hoping for more of the same over the next couple of months. Good luck to everyone involved with RWC 2015.

A year like no other: Synergy’s 2014

As another year comes to an end, now seems a suitable time to reflect on a whirlwind 12 months for Synergy.

Here we outline some of our most innovative work in 2014, what the wider implications are for the industry, and what other campaigns have caught our eye and set the benchmark for what will undoubtedly be another busy and exciting year:

JANUARY

What we did:

2014 kicked off slightly early for some of the team at Synergy, who were at Twickenham activating IG’s inaugural sponsorship of The Big Game. Through the ‘Big Game, Bright Lights’ campaign, we looked to capitalise on the down-time that half-time offers and re-invigorate the crowd for the second half. By innovatively using Twickenham’s LED inventory, fans experienced an audio-visual spectacular that connected IG’s brand with Harlequins and gave fans the chance to win some amazing prizes.

Industry insight:

Half-time at sports games have often felt like a necessary evil for sports fans in the UK; a short break to allow the players to recover and fans to visit the facilities. The Pepsi Half-time show at the SuperBowl in February emphasised that US sport is still the benchmark for half-time entertainment, but IG’s work at Twickenham showed that, with a clear insight and innovative use of standard sponsorship inventory, the half-time break may no longer simply be used as an excuse to get the drinks in.

FEBRUARY

What we did:

The RBS 6 Nations tends to dominate the sporting agenda in February, and is often when Synergy is at its most active. As part of the RBS 6 Nations activation, Synergy helped to produce a series of films based on defining moments from the tournament. These films truly encapsulated the values of sportsmanship, perseverance and teamwork that the brand and the fans love about The Championship.

Industry insight:

Capturing sport’s inherent ‘truths’ like this, and amplifying them to produce content of interest, based on real insight, is a gift that fans want to receive. Guinness also managed this feat, with their films in honour of Jonny Wilkinson, Shane Williams and Bill McLaren, whilst Barclays’s impressively moving Premier League film captured the essence of the match day experience that makes football so special for fans, and so valued by brands.

MARCH

What we did:

The Capital One Cup Final in March saw the climax of Capital One’s season-long campaign focused on ‘supporting the supporters’. As part of the Final activity, Capital One looked to maximise the audience of the final by offering free Now TV passes to those not lucky enough to have access to Sky Sports. This was a big gesture that delivered true value to football fans, who would otherwise have missed the first final of the 2013/14 season.

Industry insight:

Extending the true excitement of an event beyond those lucky enough to attend is a challenge facing a number of brands and rightsholders. However, alongside Capital One’s work, there have been a number of other examples in 2014 of brands bringing events closer to non-ticket-holders. Two that we particularly enjoyed were The National Theatre’s continued commitment to its National Theatre Live programme, which involves live screenings of theatre shows at local cinemas, and Manchester United’s partnership with Google+ that allowed fans around the world to ‘be’ at Old Trafford by appearing live on the pitch-side perimeter boards.

APRIL

What we did:

In order to kick off MasterCard’s partnership with Rugby World Cup 2015, Synergy created a photo moment on the Thames involving All Blacks legend Dan Carter kicking conversions over Tower Bridge. As emphasised on the Synergy blog, a good photo idea has to be reinforced with insight and good management in order to be successful. Both of these boxes were emphatically ticked here, with the resultant images capturing the imagination of the national media and providing one of the most compelling sports PR shots in recent memory.

Industry insight:

Other striking PR shots that grabbed our attention this year included the Yorkshire Building Society dying 150 sheep yellow in honour of the Tour de France and Puma’s water projection on The Thames to launch the new Arsenal kit. Once again, these examples looked fresh and innovative and therefore excited the media and fans alike.

What we did:

BUPA’s ‘My First Step’ campaign looked to get more people running by emphasising the ease with which people could start, or re-start, training. As part of the planning, BUPA and Synergy found that 60% of UK adults believed that their bodies would not be up to running once they reached 60, a myth BUPA looked to dispel as part of the campaign. 63 year-old non-runner Jennie Bond was recruited as an ambassador, as we followed her training journey that culminated in her completing the BUPA London 10,000 event.

Industry insight:

Consumer insight is clearly crucial for a successful sponsorship campaign, with the best examples based on thorough planning. Whilst the success of the ‘My First Step’ campaign was built on a relevant and robust consumer insight, we make no excuses for including another piece of Synergy work from 2014 that emphasised the importance of understanding a target audience. Ahead of Round 4 of the Capital One Cup, Capital One gave Brian Clough-style green jumpers to Nottingham Forest’s away fans at Tottenham as a tribute to their legendary manager. The story and images received widespread acclaim and, whilst the execution was impressive, the success of the story was thanks to the team’s insight around the 10th anniversary of Clough’s death and his unforgettable status within the game.

JUNE

What we did:

June at Synergy signalled the launch of Coca-Cola’s ParkLives project. Following many months of in-depth planning and research, the aim of getting more people more active more often was brought to life through this bespoke programme in partnership with local councils, which provides free activity classes for local people in local parks in cities across the UK.

Industry insight:

The planning for the ParkLives campaign re-iterated that self-created programmes can often be the best way for brands to achieve their CSR goals, rather than simply buying an off-the-shelf proposition. Another great example of this in 2014 was Western Union’s ‘Pass’ programme around the brand’s UEFA Europa League sponsorship. Each successful pass made during the competition signified a contribution of financial support for quality education of young people around the world.

JULY

What we did:

The SSE team at Synergy were up in Glasgow at the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the culmination of the brand’s GoGlasgow campaign. One of our many roles up in Scotland was managing SSE’s experiential activity on Glasgow Green, which allowed fans to capture a unique photo of themselves supporting their nation. Importantly this activity linked seamlessly into SSE’s wider campaign and fed into a digital leaderboard that acted as a real-time tracker on the conversations around the Games.

Industry insight:

Whilst by no means a new trend, by linking the experiential activity to the wider campaign and creating a strong digital output, the reach of SSE’s footprint went far beyond those lucky people at the Glasgow Green live site, and therefore generated significant engagement levels. Another really simple idea that we loved from this year was Nescafé’s activity in Croatia that again blended the online and offline world simply and effectively to create a fun and shareable experience.

AUGUST

What we did:

A couple of crazy days in late August saw Synergy manage the media launches for both the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership 2014/15 rugby seasons, and give journalists, staff and fans unique access to two of the biggest club rugby competitions in Europe. The Guinness launch focused on staff engagement at Diageo’s global HQ in London, which gave employees the chance to quiz the Pro 12 captains; whilst Aviva’s event at Twickenham harnessed the Twitter reach of several of the players by creating the first ever ‘Captains selfie’ which provided fans with a fun, new viewpoint of the launch.

Industry insight:

One of the obvious benefits of sponsorship as a marketing tool is the ability for a brand to give their target audience behind-the-scenes access to something about which they care passionately. Whilst not specifically a launch, The FA’s use of the trophy to promote the sense of adventure around the upcoming third round of The FA Cup is a heart-warming example of a rightsholder giving fans unique access to something special (in this case, young fans being able to take the trophy on a series of their own adventures).

SEPTEMBER

What we did:

2014 has been a massive year for Martini and Synergy, as we have helped take the iconic stripes back to the Formula 1 grid through the title partnership of Williams Martini Racing. In September, at Martini’s home race at Monza, a massive pan-European trade promotion reached its climax, with consumers and trade partners having the chance to experience an exclusive Italian weekend. This included rooftop parties, power boating on Lake Como and, of course, access to the Italian Grand Prix itself, and Synergy were on-hand to ensure this massive operation ran smoothly.

Industry insight:

Global sponsorships don’t get much bigger that a Formula 1 car deal, and Martini have used their sponsorship effectively to create unique promotions that engage with their target audiences. We also loved Coca-Cola’s huge FIFA World Cup on-pack promotion – offering consumers the chance to win one of a million footballs. For a brand that is committed to helping people get more active, this was a bold statement of intent. The additional element of a 10p donation to StreetGames for every purchase showed a brand that is embracing the Social Era and also reiterated that sponsorship, shopper marketing and CSR can work brilliantly together when applied correctly.

OCTOBER

What we did:

October was all about The 2014 Ryder Cup, and the BMW and SLI teams at Synergy used their sponsorships in very different ways to achieve their objectives. BMW focused on generating sales leads and bringing fans closer to the action, with all activity centring on the #DriveYourTeam hashtag, whilst SLI used the tournament to demonstrate their ‘World Class As Standard ‘proposition. Two unique content strategies helped to achieve these objectives, with BMW focusing on using Twitter to create relevant and reactive golf content for fans and SLI creating long-form video content with ambassadors Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange to connect the World Class attributes of The Ryder Cup with Standard Life Investments.

Industry insight:

As we all know, a single sporting platform can be approached in very different ways, and a third brand (this time a non-sponsor) who once again used The Ryder Cup as a prime PR opportunity was Paddy Power, and we loved their approach, using a tongue-in-cheek appearance from Nigel Farage to extol the virtues of Europe coming together.

NOVEMBER

What we did:

The QBE Internationals are always a busy time in Synergy’s calendar and this year we were busy creating fantastic social content for our new client, and England kit manufacturer, Canterbury. Using Canterbury’s innovative new shirt fabric as our literal canvas and creating messaging that linked the product with the team, we were able to put an innovative spin on real-time messaging and put the shirt at the heart of Canterbury’s content.

Industry insight:

As the fan appetite for real-time content continues to grow, the evolving challenge for brands is how to get serious cut-through from their communications. We therefore also liked Virgin Media’s real-time newsroom during the Commonwealth Games, which created fun, amusing and – most importantly – differentiated sponsor content throughout the Games.

DECEMBER

What we did:

December has seen another milestone reached for Synergy, as the first instalment in a series of Royal Salute videos inspired by the world of horsemanship, reached over a million views on YouTube (across four geo-tagged edits for different markets). This visually stunning video beautifully encapsulates the bond between man and horse, and is perfectly in keeping with a luxury brand with a strong heritage in polo.

Industry insight:

We have thought about some of the other content we have enjoyed in 2014 and in no particular order, three of our favourites include:

Beats By Dre – The Game Before The Game

The ultimate ambusher pulled off a masterstroke – brilliantly framing the key moment before a game (the moment when Beats headphones have an obvious and key role for the players) with a little help from among others – Neymar (and his dad), Fabregas, Van Persie, Lebron, Serena and even the two stars of the World Cup final – Schweinsteiger and Gotze. The presence of the pantomime villain Suarez didn’t even detract from it!

Nike Football – The Last Game

We loved how Nike brought out the personalities of their superstars and used animation in a fresh and interesting way, helping them to get around the obvious problems of bringing together a wealth of their talent for a shoot. The medium also opened the door brilliantly to the unique #AskZlatan real-time content series.

Always #LikeAGirl

A very different video – and one that doesn’t rely on any talent costs or high production values – but in an incredibly focused, simple and beautiful way reinforces Always’ commitment to empowering girls globally.

What do all of these videos have in common? All four of them are (in very different ways) tapping into something of genuine interest and relevance – whether a moment or a movement – and therefore people in their millions have actively chosen to watch, talk about and share them.

For Synergy, 2014 has unquestionably been a year to savour in sponsorship – here’s to another great year for the industry in 2015.

Brazil 2014 – Synergy’s Sponsorship & Marketing First XI

Germany’s victory against Argentina on Sunday evening signaled the end of what many are referring to as the greatest World Cup in living memory. The attacking football on show led to matches of the highest quality, with many of the world’s top players rising to the occasion and creating magical moments. However, the action on the pitch was not the only source of interest, with the marketing of the event inevitably leading to a number of worldwide talking points. As part of our Synergy team on the ground in Brazil, Reema Babakhan picked out her highlights:

1. Social media showed just how global the World Cup is

In particular, Twitter demonstrated this like never before during this summer’s tournament. Germany’s demolition of Brazil in the Semi-Finals broke the world record for the number of tweets about a single sport event, with 35.6 million tweets sent about the match, while 618,725 tweets were posted in just one minute following the final whistle of Sunday’s showpiece. And the conversation really is global, as neatly illustrated by this Twitter heat map from the Germany v Brazil match.

Away from Twitter, the World Cup Final became the most discussed event ever on Facebook with 280 million interactions during the game, dwarfing the 245 million set by the Super Bowl last year.

2. Suarez’s bite was the ‘Oreo Moment’

Suarez provided brands with a prime opportunity for some tongue-in-cheek real-time marketing. But, as we wrote on the Synergy blog, no brand managed to own the incident like Oreo at the Super Bowl.

3. Watch this space

Hublot’s huge new watch-style subs boards were a real coup, and they became one of the talking points of the tournament. It also highlighted a trend of World Cup sponsors’ unique activations becoming more and more visible with other examples including Bud’s Man of The Match, Coke’s Happiness Flag and McDonald’s Player Escorts. Food for thought for the IOC?

4. Gillette missed a sitter

We like Goal Line Technology, but we loved the free kick spray and, more importantly, we all talked about it. It also spawned hundreds of Twitter virals almost immediately, so why did Gillette take a week to capitalise on it?

5. Cahill’s lucky escape

Some activity is only seen in certain territories. Gary Cahill will be forever thankful to his agent for ensuring that Premier League fans were spared this cracker from Budweiser that aired hourly in Brazil:

6. All over for Sony?

Although no official announcement has been made, rumours are rife that this will be Sony’s last as a World Cup sponsor. A contributing factor to this decision may well have been how well they were ambushed by Beats by Dre, a move that caused such alarm that the headphones were explicitly banned by FIFA. Despite this, and Sony sending every player a pair of their headphones, some of the most talked about players from this summer’s tournament, including Neymar, Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli, continued to be pictured wearing their Beats away from the stadiums.

The ad for Beats, filmed in Brazil, features the aforementioned players as well as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daniel Sturridge, Mario Götze and Robin van Persie, and has had more than 22 million views on YouTube. Following Germany’s victory at the Final, it was announced that the full squad would receive a set of 24 carat gold-dipped special edition headphones.

7. Will Emirates ever activate?

One film, Pele in a polo shirt and their hostesses at the Final. Is that it?

8. A ball became a celebrity

The activation of @brazuca by Adidas was probably the sponsor coup of the tournament. With its irreverent posts, the official match ball became one of the must followed accounts of this year’s World Cup, with Zinedine Zidane, Samuel L Jackson and Pope Francis amongst the 3 million people to hit the follow button. Not only that, but the brand sponsors both the German and Argentinian kit, resulting in the first all Adidas final since 1990.

9. Nike still rules as an ‘unofficial’ sponsor

The #riskeverything campaign received unanimous nods of approval, a certain Mr Gotze is a Nike man and they still own the most iconic shirt in football, the yellow of Brazil.

10. But most Brazilians don’t buy Nike shirts

Up and down the bars at Copacabana, on the streets of Sao Paulo, on the beaches of Recife, the yellow shirt is worn, which sounds great for Nike, but it’s rarely the genuine article. The price is prohibitive for many Brazilians, costing almost 1/3 of their monthly salary. In response, some outlets reverted to reducing the costs to combat the endless fakes sold openly on the streets.

11. Social Media has made #gotgotneed even louder

In every school playground and classroom, the ‘got, got, need’ mantra has been spoken for years. This year, that mantra became louder as nostalgic adults also got involved like never before. Social media became a giant global playground for dedicated collectors of the famed Panini stickers. It’s likely this will be a world record year for Panini, especially with Brazil as its biggest market (8 million albums are currently being filled by the host nation alone).

And 3 off the bench…

12. The USA sees the light

Has the US finally fallen in love with soccer? The performance of USMNT certainly galvanised the US audiences, and it is clear that 2014 was the year that Americans finally learnt to fully embrace the spectacle of the World Cup. President Obama was amongst a host of high-profile USMNT supporters to articulate their support for the team through social media. Others included Justin Timberlake, Fergie, Kobe Bryant and Hulk Hogan.

13. Football saved FIFA. For now.

It was all doom and gloom in the weeks and months leading up to the World Cup. The infrastructure was not going be ready, the tournament would grind to a halt, there would be violent protests, and England would struggle to get past the round of 16. The predictions were (almost all) wrong.

Football won. It was so good that FIFA, and even Sepp Blatter, were given a break from the corruption allegations surrounding the Qatar World Cup. It remains to be seen how long that will last.

14. Messi wins Golden Ball (sponsored by Adidas)

Messi also happens to be Adidas’s most high profile ambassador. Coincidence? Perhaps, but the general consensus is that Messi didn’t do anywhere near enough to claim the plaudits this time.

#ChangeBrazil: The Implications For Brands & Sponsorship

by Bruno Scartozzoni and Guilherme Guimarães

As Tom Jobim, the great Brazilian musician and composer said, “Brazil is not for beginners”.

When Brazil entered the new democratic period in the mid 1980s, it started to change quickly. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the intellectual president from the social democrat party, took control of hyperinflation, opened the Brazilian economy, reduced government participation in the economy and started important reforms in order to rationalize the state. This was essential to the next phase, when Lula, the charismatic president from the labour party, created all kinds of social programs, giving power of purchase to poor people for the first time in Brazil’s history.

These elements awoke the Brazilian internal market of people hungry for consumption, and, in simple words, that’s the reason why the 2008 global crisis didn’t hit Brazil as hard as it did the rest of the world. And then, suddenly, Brazil was on everybody’s radar, for successful World Cup and Olympics bids.

 

Now comes the bad part of this story.

Despite the economic progress of the last 20 years, our politicians did not achieve other important goals desired by Brazilians.

In contrast to our status as the sixth biggest economy in the world, our public services, especially health, education and security, are at the opposite end of the scale. Add to this corruption scandals with no prosecutions and one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the world and you have the full picture.

The Protests

On 3 June a small leftist group called MPL – Movimento Passe Livre (Free Transport Movement) – which campaigns for free public transport in Brazil’s cities, started protests when the new São Paulo mayor announced a R$0,20 (US$0,09) raise in bus, subway and train ticket prices. To start with, most of the population didn’t care less about it, but each day the campaigners managed to congregate more and more people.

The turning point came on June 13, when policemen treated the protesters with disproportionate force, which triggered the population to use the R$0.20 increase as a symbol for something much bigger. It started to represent the poor public services, corrupt politicians, and the threat of hyper inflation. And just like the Occupy Movement and the Arab Spring, social media played a crucial role in scaling the protests and the protest ecosystem: suddenly politics became the only subject that mattered on Facebook and Twitter, which is really new for Brazil.

Coincidentally (or not) it all peaked at the beginning of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.

For some time Brazilians had been saying in a resigned way ‘Imagina na Copa’, meaning ‘If it’s this bad now, imagine what it will be like during the World Cup’. Looking back, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s not surprising this grew into the protests.

The cost of the new and re-built World Cup stadiums had steadily risen from initial estimates and is more than the last three World Cups combined. They are being paid for by public money, in contrast to the promise, when Brazil won the right to stage the World Cup, that they would be privately funded. Add to that that other improvements linked to the World Cup and promised by government like new subway lines will not be ready by 2014, together with the poor reputations of the CBF and FIFA, and you have a time bomb.

It exploded on June 17, with protests in every major Brazilian city, which are now happening every day and night. In the streets and on social media, people started saying Brazil not only wants stadiums, but also health and education to “FIFA standards”.

 

It’s difficult to predict how and when #ChangeBrazil will end. Ticket raises are being cancelled by the minute, and the President has promised new infrastructure investment and a referendum on political reform, but people are going to the streets anyway. It’s the biggest social movement in the country’s recent history, and probably the first one above party political interests. As the population is claiming, it is democratic, mostly peaceful (until now) and beautiful!

The most visible impact of the protests on brands is that some of the protests’ most-used slogans have been adapted from recent brand campaigns.

Johnnie Walker’s ‘O Gigande Acordou’ (‘The giant is awake’) campaign showed the famous Sugar Loaf Mountain standing up and walking. The line was a reference to Brazilians’ commonly-held view that Brazil is a giant sleeping eternally.

Fiat used ‘Vem Pa Rua’ (‘Come To The Streets’) as its line in a football-themed campaign to ambush the Confederations Cup (they are not FIFA sponsors).

And Vick, the cough drops brand, were also trying to hijack the Confederation Cup, by promoting the hashtag #chupaessa (#suckthis) on Twitter.

As soon as the protests started, people h-jacked these brand slogans, all of which became part of the movement, used in placards on the streets, and on Facebook and Twitter.

There are also examples of brands actively using #ChangeBrazil in their communication.

In fact, almost everyone is doing something about it on Facebook, most of them being more conservative, with generic patriotic posts.

Stores near Paulista Avenue, the epicenter of #ChangeBrazil, are using the movement’s elements in their displays. Store owners said that they are trying to engage with the moment and avoid looting.

However, the most interesting #ChangeBrazil ‘activation’ so far has been by Spoleto, a big Italian fast food chain from Grupo Trigo, who license Domino’s Pizza in Brazil. They released a manifesto on their Facebook fanpage, basically saying that they would be opening that space for political discussion, and any brand activation would would be ceased for a week.

 

The discussion in advertising forums is about the possibility of brands taking a clear stand. Should they? Fiat thought it was better to leave the conversation and ended their campaign ‘as planned’ on June 22. Spoleto went the other way.

It will be interesting as well to see which way Brahma will go. The beer brand, which is a World Cup sponsor, was one of the few sponsors meaningfully activating the World Cup association in Brazil, and the only one positioning itself around discussions of the World Cup being good or bad for the country. Last year they released a very emotional and positive campaign telling Brazilians to care less about problems and imagine the party that will take place in 2014. It was a bold move, and divided public opinion.

Will they stand for this message after #ChangeBrazil? It’s another question impossible to predict, but they could broaden the optimistic message. “Imagine the party. Imagine a new (better) country.”

 

 

FIFA, Big Sport and The Protests

As #ChangeBrazil is partly a reaction to the government’s astronomic spending on the World Cup, many in the international media have questioned Brazilians’ attitude to the World Cup (especially) and the Olympics.

In fact, most Brazilians don’t think the World Cup and the Olympics are the problem. Most dreamed about hosting a World Cup again, and the Olympics are welcome too. Winning the bids is a proof that the world is finally taking us seriously, and it’s very nice for everyone’s ego!

The problem is how the events were ‘sold’ to the Brazilian public, the reality of our infrastructure versus the huge spending on the World Cup, and, as David Owen wrote recently, the evident complacency of FIFA and ‘Big Sport’.

As probably everyone in the world knows now, FIFA has got its PR strategy totally wrong in Brazil, notably when Sepp Blatter told protestors that they should not link their grievances to football, whilst at the same time Neymar was so visibly supporting the protests, and Paolo Andre, the former Corinthians player, recalled that football had been used as a tool of mass control in the past, but now it was the people’s turn to use sport to call attention to their demands.

From here, it’s difficult to see how FIFA can recover its image in Brazil in time for the World Cup, which obviously has big implications for all the FIFA sponsors, who’ll now need to re-think their activation strategies in Brazil.

#ChangeBrazil: 10 Action Points For Brands & Sponsorship

 

 

 

1. Brazil’s sense of its identity is changing very fast, and more than ever before, brands – both Brazilian and international – will need to listen to consumers and re-think their positioning and messaging. Brazilian values have always been attached to happiness, being easygoing, hard-working and, of course, the ultimate clichés: samba, beaches and football. This kind of thing still reflects what Brazil is, but June 2013 has changed it, evolved it, and made it much more complex.2. An example is what’s happening now. People still care about the performance of the Brazilian team in the Confederations Cup, but conversations in bars are split between football and politics, and this is new, very new.

3. Now it’s clear that Brazilians are deeply concerned about social issues, which means that brands will need to increase their CSR efforts, especially if they are going to try to wave the Brazilian flag . Those that already have strong CSR credentials have a big advantage: those that don’t have to move very, very fast to have permission to do business in Brazil, let alone marketing.

4. There is lots of white space to integrate sports with CSR in Brazil. We expect to see a big increase in sponsorship of social development programmes and Paralympic sports, for example, but there’s plenty of room in other causes too.

5. CSR campaigns don’t need to be dull. As we wrote recently, there have been some amazing campaigns fusing sport and CSR in Brazil in the last year or so, one of which recently won one of the top awards in Cannes.

6. Celebrities who are out of touch with #ChangeBrazil are a real risk for brands. The untouchables Pele and Ronaldo lost huge credibility with Brazilians after poorly chosen words about the protests – although to be fair Ronaldo’s were said in 2011. Conversely, others such as David Luiz, Dani Alves, and volleyball player Bruno Resende are in the ascendant after stating they were worried about their performance, but that they were proud and concerned about the Brazilians on the streets.

7. Naming rights sponsorship has started to gain momentum this year and looks likely to keep growing. But brands will be wary of the downsides of associating themselves with ‘FIFA’ stadiums, especially the three potential white elephants in Brasília, Cuiaba and Manaus.

8. Brazilians have discovered social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, as the modern Agora, and that has huge implications and opportunities for brands in Brazil, who activate sponsorships very little in social channels compared to traditional media, especially TV.

9. FIFA sponsors will need to work harder than anybody, but especially in social as their fanpages are suffering daily attacks by consumers.

10. Olympic sponsors have a big advantage. They can watch and learn from FIFA sponsors’ efforts next year, and adapt accordingly for Rio 2016. But how long will it be before the protests turn their attention from World Cup budgets and FIFA to Rio 2016′s budgets and the IOC?

 

Bruno and Guilherme are partners at Ativa Esporte, the Brazilian sports marketing consultancy which is Synergy’s partner in Brazil.