In roughly two months, the 2010 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup Soccer -- or "football" for everyone outside the U.S. and the sake of this writing -- matches kick off in South Africa.
While not entirely familiar with football due to my sheltered-Yank upbringing, I know it's the most popular sport in the world, making the World Cup a huge opportunity for advertisers, as it draws bigger crowds and more viewers than the Super Bowl.
Think of the Super Bowl played out over a month, in this case from June 11 to July 11, with each match being of extreme importance to its home country. While the FIFA countdown clock shows that we're officially 59 days away, advertising and marketing efforts are already in full swing in an effort to capitalize on the estimated 3 million viewers expected to attend the games. According to World Cup Tickets, one-third of these tickets are reserved for residents of South Africa, and 2.2 million tickets have been sold.
During the month-long period, 64 matches will be played in 10 stadiums covering nine South African cities (Johannesburg has two venues). The host cities include Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Nelspruit, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, and Rustenburg.
Tickets for the final and semi-final rounds have sold out, according to a FIFA press release. Since tickets first went on sale in February, 655,000 tickets have been sold for individual matches, an "incredible demand for individual match tickets," according to the FIFA. The opening match, featuring the South African and Mexico, has sold out as well.
Believe it or not, the World Cup attracts more attendees and viewers than the Olympic Games. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the estimated cumulative audience for all matches was 26.3 billion people. The final match was viewed in some form by 715.1 million people, roughly one-ninth of the planet's population. Super Bowl XLIV in February was the most watched program in U.S. television history, drawing a whopping 106.5 million viewers.
While we hype our own top sporting event, never peering outside our own fish bowl, the Super Bowl isn't in the competition when compared to the World Cup. For advertisers, sponsors, and the host country, taking a fair share of the revenues is a huge deal. Thus, it's easy to understand that advertisers shelling out big bucks for their brand association with the World Cup tend to be a bit protective of companies that don't spend "World Cup" money while receiving the same attention.
Time reported Kulula Airlines, a local budget carrier, ran a full-page newspaper ad that was meant to highlight the inexpensive fares during tournament time. Due to the protective nature of FIFA over it's advertisers and sponsors, absolutely no reference can be made to the World Cup in any way, shape, or form. Kulula then decided to run an ad depicting soccer balls, a nondescript stadium, and the headline, "Unofficial National Carrier of the 'You-Know-What.'"
Although no specific reference was made to the upcoming matches, FIFA was clearly upset and stated the ad created a clear association to the tournament, "which contravenes South African legislation." The company then dropped the ad.
In an obvious ambush marketing attempt, Kulula successfully associated their brand with the World Cup and didn't pay a cent to be an official sponsor. Whether the brands that try to associate themselves with high-ticket events are seen as shady or extremely creative media depends on whether your company's a sponsor.
Don't think it's the smaller companies that are using this type of "guerilla marketing." During the 1984 Summer Games in L.A., Nike placed full-size banners of their sponsored athletes in and around the Olympic grounds without paying sponsorship costs, upsetting Converse, then the official Olympic sponsor.
In response, sporting-event governing bodies, like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), have begun to protect official sponsors and advertisers, not out of loyalty, but out of necessity. The monies gained from official partnerships bring in a large portion of overall revenues. Therefore, legal sanctions are being instituted to keep ambush marketers from associating their brands with the sporting-event hype. The Kulula ad actually broke South African ambush marketing laws instituted in 2003 for the Cricket World Cup, so Kulula could be held liable for their "creative" association.
Due to the swelling population in Olympic and World Cup cities, non-sponsoring companies aren't allowed to blanket a city with ads in or near event locations. During the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, the IOC put a stop to the practice after Nike (hmm) covered the city in advertising, stealing attention from Reebok, then the official sponsor.
Local laws introduced for this summer's World Cup prohibit any type of advertising in a 1 km radius (five-eights of a mile) of each of the nine stadiums, official sponsor or not. This same law was used in Germany for the 2006 World Cup. This includes spectators as well; Dutch fans that wore Lederhosen provided by Bavaria beer were forced to watch the cup matches in their underwear or had to leave.
South Africa and FIFA have their work cut out for them, as it's nearly impossible to regulate advertising over such a large area. During the opening round of the Masters, small aircraft flew overhead and taunted Tiger Woods in his first game in 18 months. The FAA is investigating the event.
Kulula got off easy, simply having to pull their ad and issue an apology, yet they received global publicity for it.