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January 19, 2019

World Cup Remains The Most Powerful Brand

President Uhuru Kenyatta admires  the 2014 FIFA World Cup Trophy after unveiling  it during the Presidential viewing ceremony of the Trophy at Coke Plaza, Upperhill, Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta admires the 2014 FIFA World Cup Trophy after unveiling it during the Presidential viewing ceremony of the Trophy at Coke Plaza, Upperhill, Nairobi.

So, for a month, the world is enveloped in the World Cup. Every screen, from smart phone to tablet to TV to I-Max offers glowing access to some aspect of the soccer action.

The dwindling appeal of print media receives an electric shock that spawns colour supplement after glossy pull-out. Huge sections of the world's biggest newspaper titles are given over to Association Football.

The sober London Times thunders daily in a separate paper called The Game, reproduced online in a huge nod to its inevitable digital future. The radio is alive with punditry. The merchandise men are counting their cash. So are the FIFA fat cats. And the Qataris rub their hands in eager anticipation of future yields.

I am poorly equipped to discuss the tournament in detail. I am part of what seems today to be a very small subset of the human race. Male. Born and raised in England and Scotland. Resident in Africa for decades. Not interested in football.

This is time for men likely me to go quietly into that long, dark night. Heads turned, lest we get swept up in the joyous babble and forced to reveal our ignorance. And the heresy that is "Footie, am I bothered?'

I do have some of the credentials to qualify me as a soccer fan. I attended one of the planet's earliest football-playing schools. My antecedent fellow pupils had been kicking round objects around the quadrangle since the early 1400's. The rules of Association Football were first codified by the football masters of two London schools, one of them mine. I remember the 1966 World Cup. I remember collecting aluminum promotional coins, featuring the England squad and sundry exotic Latin American heroes of the game, every time my father fueled his Sunbeam Rapier.

But, truth be told, it never captured my imagination. Which perhaps qualifies me to be wholly objective about the World Cup as a brand.

And what a brand. Any marketer would trade both grandmothers with Boko Haram for the chance to influence its destiny. But once there I suspect he would find himself a passenger because the World Cup brand clearly has a life and momentum all it's own.

It is the best expression of an almost perfect brand. It lives in the hearts and minds of its consumers far more powerfully than in the boardrooms of its creators. It is inclusive. It is egalitarian. It is healthy to play soccer and it is stimulating to watch the summit of soccer achievement. It makes a pleasant alternative to warfare as a way of channeling aggression to some purpose. It sells a cornucopia of merchandise from flags and capes to trumpets and sports strips. It effortlessly attracts less engaging brands – fizzy drinks, banks, credit cards, airlines, who clamour to bask in its reflected glory. It needs no Corporate Social Responsibility policy to salve its conscience.

But then again, perhaps it does not have a conscience.

If the allegations are to be believed, FIFA officials have been handsomely bribed to stage the next World Cup on a patch of sand less hospitable than Mars. The temperature this morning in Doha is 105F/ 40C and rising. May to September is their summer, when no rain falls. However 80-90 per cent humidity prevails. Sub-optimal footballing climate - who cares? Insufficient football stadia - no problem! The South Africans pulled it off magnificently, the Brazilians so-so. The enormous excitement and positivity of the global fan base seems to mean the brand can do no wrong. And when the next tournament is over and the crowds leave, vast arenas will be available for the 280,000 strong Qatari population (plus the 1.5 million migrant workers who do all the work). I wonder what they will do with them? Apparently the local camel brand is Dromedary, so maybe we can look forward to the best-resourced Dromedary Derby hitting our screens in the autumn of 2023.

Anyway good luck to them. And to you, and the team you support. Enjoy the world’s most powerful brand for one month of this year.

Now, when does that Tour de France start?

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company which helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

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