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The brand that dare not speak its name

Whisper it softly but there’s a massive sporting event of international importance about to take place and points are already being scored before a ball is kicked in anger!


The 2014 World Cup is such hot property, publicity wise, that everyone wants a part of it. But the exclusivity deals tied up by the official sponsors are so tåight that I’m taking my professional life in my hands by merely mentioning the words ‘World’ and ‘Cup’ in the same sentence.

At up to £400,000 for a thirty second slot, wannabes have as much chance as getting a piece of the action as a poor kid has of cutting in on a rich guy’s date. Although having said that, charm can sometimes triumph over the chequebook, as the current crop of World Cup ads shows.

First up there’s the novelty ads. The Sun has come up with a kind of football chorus line: a chain of players heading a ball one to another to the tune of the Seekers’ ‘There will never be another you’. The lyric is emblazoned word-by-word on the backs of their shirts, so as the ball bounces from head to head they become a human karaoke machine. Fun, but forgettable, other than by other advertising creative who are desperate to spot the editing. 

McDonalds, although an official sponsor, plays it cool and light hearted with a medley of trick shots to the backing of an upbeat soundtrack. Fast-paced and funny, especially when a wheelchair bound oldie bounces out of it and brings off a bit of fancy footwork and young Ciaran Duffy the 'Irish Messi' shows his skills!

Then come the big hitters, Pepsi and Coca Cola, who can – and do – buy celebrity endorsement by the iced bucketful. Add a bit of local colour: Pepsi has a self-consciously cool young dude ambling through the back streets of Brazil improvising their ‘We can be heroes’ anthem. Purely by chance he bumps into Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, David Luiz et al at cafés and street corners.  In reality he’d probably be tearing the shirts from their backs as souvenirs, but hey, everyone’s a hero in a Pepsi ad.

By contrast, Coca Cola’s offering is solemn and self-righteous. They’ve moved on from buying the world a Coke: they now want to give away World Cup tickets to the disadvantaged villagers in the Third World. Well, one or two of them anyway, while the cameras are rolling. It rather backfires on them though, because the villagers’ honesty and simplicity is in pointed contrast to Coca Cola’s self-serving philanthropy. But who knows, perhaps it’ll inspire a cargo cult following in the slums of Rio.

Of course, the advertising equivalent of the World Cup final is the play off between Adidas and Nike. Both have come up with ‘big ideas’ that elevate what is essentially a selection of footballing clips into dramatic stories.

Adidas, the official sponsor, have done rather better this year than last, when they were soundly trounced by Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ commercial. This time they’ve build their ad around Lionel Messi’s dream, or should that be troubled sleep.  We see him tossing and turning on his bed whilst flashing through his mind (in a series of cross-cuts) are anxious moments on the field as his rivals – another gallery of all stars – threaten to out manoeuvre him.  At the climax, however, he sweeps to victory and glory in his Adidas kit.

However, Nike, for my money, has kicked Adidas into touch once again. In their ad a bunch of kids meet for a friendly kick about, each living out, as kids do, the fantasy of being their heroes. And, what do you know; as they play they magically turn into their heroes, with more footballing clips to illustrate their imaginings. It’s nicely seasoned with humour, too.

Cut to the cup final, where Messi is about to take a decisive penalty. There’s hush and then bewilderment as a young unknown steps up to take the penalty in his place. He shoots, he scores, and Joe Average becomes the World Cup’s most lauded champion!

And if that doesn’t get them more exposure than the opposition, then the release this week of a five-minute animation featuring cartoons of some of the biggest names in football as part of its 'Risk Everything' campaign, should ensure it.

Hang on a moment though. Did I just say World Cup?  What I really meant of course was ‘A Massive Sporting Event of International Importance’.