I recently looked into the World Cup because as a football fan and media writer, who also writes about business issues, the themes go hand in hand. The overarching question is: why do brands pay to be associated with a major event, such as the Fifa World Cup, and do they get value? I mainly focused on small businesses. The kind of guys making beers with names that sound like footballing terms or producing radios with team-themed colours but, of course, no Fifa sticker. These guys are taking on the big boys who will have spent fortunes to put Fifa on their products and services -- with, according to those SMEs I talked to, very little to show for it other than an acronym they have to remove shortly after the World Cup.
This question of brand value is, of course, a very different from the issue of whether the Brazilian people actually get anything out of the competition. At an estimated $14bn, it is the most expensive World Cup ever to be hosted -- Germany's 2006 hosting is in second place at $6bn. Ask a Londoner whether once the excitement of London 2012 was over if the GBP12bn was better spent on a huge party or instead building grassroots sport facilities and you may well get a different answer now than those heady days nearly two years ago.
No -- the issue here is whether you actually get a commercial advantage through being an official sponsor. It is impossible to track down the figures for what individual companies gave to sponsor the World Cup, but one can imagine it ran to the tune of many millions at Coca-Cola's top level. While smaller brands known only in Brazil in the lower levels of sponsorship will almost certainly develop a wider audience through inclusion in a global event, there remains the question mark over the top-level sponsors. Coca-Cola will obviously reinforce its global leadership position in selling a particular type of fizzy drink and underline its inclusive world view through a very moving global campaign in which four football teams who have endured civil strife or natural disasters are invited to attend the World Cup. That can only come from sponsorship.
But what about Pepsi? It knows the game. It can't mention Fifa or the World Cup, and it's steering away from football with #FutbalNow. It doesn't need to cheapen itself with event hijacking stunts, such as sitting people in seats with Pepsi placards, although somebody will almost certainly try the equivalent in their industry. No -- Pepsi has gone the opposite route. It's all about the stars who are venerated for making the beautiful game so stunning -- all of whom, of course, are shot enjoying a Pepsi. Interestingly, viewers can click on the video campaign online to interact with the footage.
So there's no answer right now. But you can bet your bottom dollar it will be the key question
marketers ask about this year's competition. Will Pepsi circumnavigate the system and do as well as Coke without the sponsorship expense, or will towing the official line pay off?
In the meantime, the only thing we know now is that half a dozen multimillionaire football stars have probably earned more for sitting at a table drinking a Pepsi than any of us will probably do in a lifetime.