We are not here to cast FIFA and the sports marketing agencies in question in guilt. That's not our place. Like the rest of the public, we only know what has been released. But for the brands that have partnered with FIFA, as well as the companies and brands that sponsor the huge tournaments, country teams, and the World Cup? We are sure they are waiting for more positive news. We try very hard not to act "holier than thou" because that it not how AdLand actually works. Could we condemn what's going on? Sure. Would we be adding any value to the conversation? No, because every "professional" who wants to tout morals and values has already done so. We stick with what agencies and brands will actually do. So here it goes.
When anything negative happens, consumer groups immediately point to the heavy hitters to join their side. Only hours after the news broke, consumer groups and advocates were calling for Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa, and Nike to issue responses and even distance themselves away from arguably the most powerful sports organization on the planet.
Of course, the big brands played the game. Coke issued a statement exclaiming its support for a just system, Visa denounced the criminal indictments, and Adidas sent a statement saying that its mission is to uphold a beautiful and fair game, or something along those lines.
It is an interesting dance to perform. Of course, the brands that partner with FIFA need to show that they have strong moral standards and abhor anything wrong or wicked with the organizations they partner with.
On the other hand, the last World Cup brought in 900 million viewers; nearly nine times that of the Super Bowl. And as far as fans go, we highly doubt that a little bribery and racketeering are going to stop them from watching and attending matches to see the beautiful game.
There's the rub. If the (majority of) fans don't care, why should the brands?
Everyone thought FIFA would stop in its tracks in Brazil. The government situation was awful; people were crying out to bring their sick to the stadiums instead of the hospitals because that's where the money was going. Yet the fans went where the money went. How soon we forget about the troubles in Brazil. How interesting.
These brands have seen some scandals, and though they are not fun to go through, they realize what they need to do: feed the restless consumers what they want, and act slow on the support until the fans start to drown out the resisters.
Now, as for the sports marketing agencies involved — yikes. We know that crisis communications can be fun to do, but this is a case that we might pass on. Sports marketing is an incredibly tough field to break into; people know people, there are only so many rights to claim, and only a small group that really know how to do it very well.
When the people know what every other person is doing in order to win business, without penalty, we can see the allure. We can see the high in participating in risky and gray transactions.
Yet, as marketing is the language of business, if our language is foul, the acts and consequences are not far behind. Unfortunately for those agencies, in order to keep their clients and partnerships, they have have to play the "blame game" and oust a few prominent people. Advertising and marketing are and will remain a people business, and people must be able to trust the people they do business with.
Will all is blow over? Eventually. The upcoming election (or, re-election) of the FIFA President will keep stoking the flames, but once the presidential election in the U.S. heats up, this will be backpage news.
Which will be a godsend for the sports marketing world. The U.S. sure loves election season!
Until then, brands and agencies. Until then.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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