5 branding lessons from the FIFA World Cup 2014

For the last one month or so, the world has been talking about one single event, the FIFA World Cup. It has shadowed all other news, from those related to international politics; the murky world of business; the glitter of Hollywood, the ever unpredictable stock markets and even other major sporting events like the Wimbledon.

As the world’s most watched event comes to a close, let us take a look at some of the key lessons in branding that it taught us. (All opinions stated are completely personal and can always be countered by other personal opinions.)

  1. Brand promises are often bigger than brand offerings:

World Cup is the biggest stage for the top players, who are nothing less than individual brands themselves. And Brazilian superstar Neymar was probably the biggest brand coming into this major tournament. While Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were not very far behind, Neymar Jr. was the crème de la crème. His performance, even though solid and vital for Brazil’s progress till the semi-finals, was still less than the hype and expectations around him, according to many. With him out for the rest of the tournament with an unfortunate injury and with Brazil out after a humiliating defeat, that is the last of brand Neymar we saw in this event.

  1. Brands take time to build, but can falter at the big stage:

Consider Cristiano Ronaldo, the FIFA Ballon D’or winner of 2013, who finally won the coveted award, after being over-shadowed by rival Lionel Messi for three consecutive years. With Real Madrid also winning the UEFA Champions League after 12 years, it was a stage perfectly set up for CR7 to consolidate his dominance as the world’s best player. But cometh the hour, never cometh the man! Portugal started with an embarrassing defeat to Germany and followed up with a draw against USA which meant that even before their last match against Ghana, they were allowed to book their tickets back to Lisbon.

  1. New brands can capture hearts, if they have an honest offering:

Every World Cup delivers some heroic efforts by teams which were expected to just make up for the numbers. Iran, Australia and USA played their hearts out against teams which were far bigger in stature while Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Costa Rica made everyone lean forward on their couches. While it came down to the unsurprising foursome of Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany in the semi-final phases, minnows like Colombia and Costa Rica refused to blink till the last moment. That is how a new and small brand can capture hearts, through their honest offerings. However, for these success stories, there are also the ones who failed to do so, like Cameroun, Japan, S Korea, Ghana and Honduras.

  1. Controversy spikes  interest, but darkness erodes brand value eventually:

It is impossible not to mention Luis Suarez in this context, having been an ardent fan of the Uruguayan myself. The fiery ‘El-Pistolero’ made a heroic comeback from surgery, scored a brace to lift his team after their shocking first match defeat, to keep them in contention and then gave it all away with an unsporting behaviour, the third bite of his career. Banned for the rest of the tournament and for 4 months beyond that, Suarez has let down his team, his country and his club, Liverpool. Uruguay crashed out in the next round as the striker was sent back home. And all this happened just after he had finally overcome his negative image with a scintillating season, which saw him win multiple awards. While he remains a supreme player, his off-the-field antics are too many and too often and it has definitely harmed his personal brand.

  1. To create a timeless brand, consistency is the key:

There are loved teams and there are hated teams, depending on which side you are on. While most neutrals in the world are supporters of either Brazil or Argentina, their detractors are generally supporters of Spain, Italy or Holland. But one very successful team that has a relatively lower fan following among neutrals is Germany. And yet, no one has ever dared to rule the Germans out from a World Cup. The only team to have qualified for the semi-finals in four consecutive world cups, Germany is a symbol of consistency and discipline. Rarely the favorites among non-Germans when the tournament starts, but Germany grows its followers with every step as more and more loved teams bow out, not to mention now that it has emerged as World Cup champion this year.

The writer is Amitabha Das, director, Asia, Relevance