The branding of football #worldcup2014

The World Cup is underway, and for five weeks, whatever the time of day, a global audience will be tuning in to watch the best national teams compete for the ultimate footballing prize.

Football was once the working mans game, but now it is a big business. It has global appeal, with more than 3.2 billion people expected to watch at least part of the tournament live on TV. Not surprisingly given its global reach, the FIFA World Cup is now a brand in its own right, a brand that corporates want to be aligned with.

US$ - The most influential football supporter

Estimates are that the 22 official sponsors and partners of the tournament have each spent between US$ 14m and US$ 200m to tie their brands to the World Cup. Interestingly, this outlay does not guarantee official sponsors the halo effect that they would automatically expect. Research released by Global Language Monitor this week shows that four of the five brands most associated with the 2014 World Cup are not actually official sponsors.

More troubling is the fact that the ‘unofficial-four’ are actually direct competitors of official sponsors. Beats by Dre have ambushed Sony, KFC has ambushed McDonalds, Nike has ambushed Adidas and while Continental top the chart as the brand most linked with the World Cup, Bridgestone, their unofficial challenger sits just three places behind them.

Beats appear to be the big winner of this World Cup, to try and protect Sony’s sponsorship investment, FIFA banned Beats headphones from the World Cup, despite this the likes of Brazil’s Neymar and Italy’s Mario Balotelli have been seen wearing them during training sessions.

Its film, “The Game Before The Game” now has nearly 19 million views on Youtube and has received extensive media coverage. Beats have been successful due to the rawness of its communications. Unlike the super-slick and corporate feel of many sponsors communications, Beats has captured the intensity of the game and provided an insight in to the minds of football players by telling the unseen story of how the match starts in the changing room. In short, the brand has generated relevance with player and public alike.

Brand Football still engages the masses

Despite the money that pours in to football and concerns about its governance, ethics and transparency, the game endures.

Whilst the business of football may be tarnished, in its purest sense the sport still has the ability to connect with the masses and generate unrivalled levels of passion. Whilst brands have fallen over themselves to be associated with the sport, arguably the strongest brand at this year’s World Cup is one of the competing nations.

Consider Brazil as a brand for a moment, Brazil are more than a football team, they have a unique personality and represent a clear set of values, and beliefs. They have global appeal. For decades they have produced the most talented players and entertained football fans. Their consumer audience, or the Brazilian public demand a certain style of play, success on the pitch isn’t enough, winning with stylish football is the prerequisite. These ‘brand’ associations appeal to all fans of the game and transcend nationality.

The winning brands of the World Cup – whether product, player or team - will be the ones that strip back the game to its fundamental components of raw emotion and passion. Capture these emotions and you can capture a global audience.

The writer is Dominic Twyford is client director of Landor Kuala Lumpur.