Playing ball on the African continent

20 May 2010|Added Value

Ke Nako! It is time to celebrate Africa’s humanity.  The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ is about to begin.  And despite a global recession, pretty harsh skeptics and a some political upheaval, hordes of South Africans are gearing up to welcome the world.

It’s undoubtedly the biggest sporting event on the planet. According to most sources, almost half a million international visitors are expected to attend Africa’s first hosting of the event and a billion more will be watching through TV, mobile and online sources as the struggle for the cup unfolds.

The mood in the country is infectious.  There is a real sense that this is Africa’s time to shine.  That the continent is on the cusp of an important moment in its history.  That despite a media fuelled reputation for turmoil and unrest, the world will now get to experience the warm welcome and hospitality of the African people.

Not just about soccer
The opportunity to leverage the event for more commercial gain is obviously a big part of hosting the 2010 Fifa World Cup™.  FIFA partners and official sponsors have invested serious sums of cold hard cash to have as much exposure as possible.  And the evidence of that is everywhere.

Telecommunications business MTN  particularly seems to be using the event as a way to consolidate its African footprint, and is covering every available channel with its distinctive yellow – using the distinctly South African phrase “Ayoba” as it’s catchphrase.  MTN is the first African company to be a global sponsor of the event, and has exclusive mobile content rights for Africa and the Middle East as well as global marketing rights, a clever move in the battle for Africa’s soccer crazy cellular market.

(Images via Ayoba MTN)

First National Bank (FNB) one of the national supporters of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, is hoping to build on its rich heritage of soccer sponsorship, spanning 20 years in the region.  FNB was the first corporate in South Africa to invest massively in South African football when it assisted the NPSL to fund the construction of the FNB Stadium at the height of political turmoil in 1986.  And they’re hoping that investment will entrench their reputation in the upwardly mobile black market.

Watch an early FNB “start imagining” 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign

But the brands that are really winning local ground are those that are either tapping into national pride or sneaking in with some cheeky ambush marketing.

Local pride
South Africa is a challenge for any marketer.  11 national languages, cultural and economic diversity, and a confusing mix of first and third world mean that mass communication seldom works to reach all levels of the market.

But when it comes to global events such as the FIFA World Cup, the vast majority of South Africans, regardless of language or origin, unite and call themselves the Rainbow Nation.  The World Cup is seen as the ultimate nation-building event. Our insight work in the market suggests that consumers are fiercely patriotic and that brands who become ‘citizens’ of the nation, and who seek to unite South Africans in spite of their diversity, will win hearts and minds.

Of course, there are a whole raft of brands jumping on the bandwagon.  Hardly a single print, TV, radio or online ad is without a soccer ball or a national flag.  But brands that have found a way to connect emotionally and with deep local cultural relevance are standing out and mobilizing consumers.  If they can cut through the clutter, and use this one off event to help consumers express their pride, enthusiasm and optimism, they could become part of the cultural legacy of the event – and build their own cultural capital.

Brands like ABSA (banking), BP (British Petroleum), Mini Cooper and Castle Lager are tapping straight into the zeitgeist.  ABSA, the official sponsors of the national team, Bafana Bafana, have publicly supported the government’s ‘Football Friday’ initiative, which encourages people to wear Bafana Bafana t-shirts on Fridays and learn the national anthem.  The initiative has gone viral, seeing even some of South Africa’s most conservative corporates supporting Football Friday dress codes.

BP have also capitalized on the theme with a campaign titled “a nation united”, featuring unlikely teams of stereotyped South Africans playing football against each other (taxi drivers and divas being one of the variations).  The brand’s communications around the Confederation Cup in 2009 won them a Gold at South Africa’s premier Advertising Awards, the Loeries.

Watch BP’s Mama’s vs Café Owners ad

Castle Lager, one of SABMiller’s top local brands, has struck straight at the heart of soccer mad fans.  Their clever “different tribes, one voice” ad campaign uses a range of strong, local cultural cues to build communication that suggests that no matter what regional team you might support, that everyone is a supporter of the National team.

Watch Castle Lager’s ‘different tribes, one voice’ ad

Cheeky ambushing
Of course, one of the other challenges marketers face in capitalizing on the FIFA event, is not to fall foul of its many trademark and marketing rules and regulations.  But the South African advertising and media industry is well known for pushing boundaries.  Most notably, low cost airline and their ad agency King James.

The brand is known for its quirky humour and recently released print ads with the tag line “the unofficial national carrier of the ‘you-know-what’”, along images of soccer balls and vuvuzelas (a kind of trumpet).  FIFA threatened the airline with legal action, but rather than back down, Kulula just reissued the ad, with all offending balls and trumpets removed, and copy tweaked to read ‘Not next year, not last year, but somewhere in between’.  And consumers have loved the witty, David and Goliath type exchange.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge)

“Laduma!” is the euphoric response of the African crowd at the scoring of a goal.  The question, of course, is what will happen to brands after the final whistle has blown.  Brands that really want to build lasting traction on the continent are going to have to learn to play by Africa’s rules.

Western centric communication won’t always work.  Markets are fragmented and diverse.  And consumers are looking for brands that really understand their needs; functionally and emotional.  Executing a big budget campaign over single event will not build the kind of credibility needed for long term growth.  But if brands are serious about the market, Ke Nako!

Written by Sifiso Zondi and Harsha Gordhan of Added Value South Africa

PS. For those of you that might be visiting South Africa  for the event, you might want to learn the diski dance…

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