There was an amusing World Cup story the other day- one of those situations where the lofty ideals of the game itself meet the cold hard realities of commerce. The result, as expected, is unlikely to be a triumph of the human spirit.
A group of Dutch women entered the stadium wearing an outfit identified with Bavaria Beer. The problem is that Bavaria was not an official partner of the World Cup and was not entitled to advertise its’ products even in such an unconventional way.
The women were unceremoniously ejected, the people who dreamed up the stunt were arrested and everyone involved was charged with the somewhat amusing infringement of ‘Ambush marketing.’ It appears South Africa- not just FIFA- takes this very seriously indeed.
Of course from a legal point of view FIFA had a point- they have organized this tournament and plenty of companies have contributed quite a lot of money to ensure the world cup goes smoothly.
They have the right to decide what brands can be shown in the stadium to ensure that companies don’t piggyback off them to get all the benefits of advertising without paying any of the costs.
One can see how a non-contributing company would be taking unfair advantage of the tournaments’ high-profile by advertising itself in this way. That said, FIFA and South Africa’s subsequent overreaction was a PR nightmare. And I have serious doubts as to how ‘Ambush marketing’ can be considered a crime.
But it was an interesting reminder of how powerful the image of a brand is. Advertisers take for granted the idea that advertising is an extremely powerful tool, not merely to build awareness but to change consumer habits.
The irony of FIFA’s high-handedness (and the stream of increasingly pompous press releases) was that they inevitably gave Bavaria more advertising coverage than they could possibly have dreamed. In a twisted way, the brand became an unofficial World Cup partner, at least for a few days.
But FIFA was unknowingly providing a commentary on our brand-driven world today. They were not merely applying the letter of the law with regard to their agreement with the South African authorities and their sponsors, but were also making an indirect commentary on the power of the brand.
It was more than just a principle and legal and contractual issues at stake- FIFA were acutely aware that advertising is basically a hotline to the psyche. One could even argue that ‘ambush advertising’ is pretty much what all advertising is.
Unless you are going to a company website, you are unlikely to be voluntarily being exposed to advertising. If companies didn’t ‘ambush’ you on the road, on TV, in newspapers and everywhere else, they would struggle to get their message across.
Many consumers like to think we are immune to the constant barrage of advertising. The common conception is that ‘Yes advertising works on many people, but it doesn’t affect me.
‘Yet we overestimate our own rationality here. Advertising and brand awareness is so tied up in how we lived our lives that it would be naïve to assume we somehow live above it all. We are all susceptible to being nudged, tempted and encouraged to expand our consumer horizons.
We react consciously and subconsciously to the barrage of images and sounds that provide a kind of tapestry to everyday life.
It is a reminder of how far we have come and how much we have progressed, but it is also a reminder that we don’t have quite as much individual autonomy as we might think.
So when I saw the Dutch story, I could not help thinking it was a good commentary of the branded world and the all-powerful megaphone of advertising. In its’ own way, FIFA was reminding us that it’s’ a world of brands- we are just living in it.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer