Thursday, August 12, 2010


World Cup 2010 saw many cheers and tears. Shakira sang, Octo-Paul chose, Spain won, and the other teams taught us some valuable marketing lessons

Last year in South Korea, a parrot was pitted against 10 stock traders. Their performance was measured on returns earned over a period of six weeks. The parrot outperformed most of its rivals, earning a very decent 16% return. So did the parrot have lot of clairvoyance capabilities or was it being more astute than its competitors? Neither, if you ask us. The contest only highlighted the unpredictable nature of the stock market. Taking a cue, the uncannily accurate predictions of the Oracle Octo should be treated as nothing more than interesting coincidences. In any case, Paul the soothsayer has turned a recluse now and is unavailable for making forecasts.

30 days, 65 matches and 32 participating teams. One does not really need an eight-legged creature to draw lessons in management and marketing which were unfolding right in front of one. But if, like most viewers, you spent hours only lazing around drinking beer, watching the lithe body of Shakira singing Waka Waka, Messi figure-skating past defenders, or Diego Forlan producing a goal out of thin air, all this too being half asleep, then let us do the search for you, and give you the enduring takeaways that the teams and the tournament delivered for us. So here goes:

THE TROPHY GOES TO... SOUTH AFRICA: The real winner was Brand South Africa. The initial apprehensions over crime, racial skirmishes and terrorist onslaughts vanished soon. Not even one tourist had a cause for complaint. The infrastructure was excellent. Most impressively the matches were so well organised that there were no annoying queues at the stadia, despite elaborate security checks. Every single citizen seemed to have taken the job of hospitality upon himself. Little wonder then that whereas in a May 2010 poll 56 % had pronounced South Africa ‘unsafe’, towards the end of the World Cup more than half of total respondents declared the host nation to be quite safe. Marketing lesson: If you have a sense of ownership, your brand gains dizzying heights! Hoping against hopes, we wish we could say the same thing about Brand India after the Commonwealth games are concluded in October, 2010.

CHINA: It is not for nothing that China is proclaimed to be a ‘merchant to the world’. The country had a tangible presence in the World Cup 2010. It usurped the contract for making the Jubilanis from traditional football makers in Pakistan’s Sialkot. Vuvuzelas, stuffed Zakumi mascots, wigs, condoms, seats for the stadia – Chinese rolled out all of them and more. Up to 90 % of those honking plastic trumpets sold in South Africa during the World Cup were supplied by China. And mind you, the demand is not merely confined to the African nation or only for the period of the tournament. Marketing lesson: Grab an opportunity when it presents itself. India in contrast became happy supplying only football bladders!

AMBUSH MARKETERS: An analysis of online blogs, message boards, and social networking sites by the Nielson company found that Nike was more frequently linked to the World Cup than any official sponsor, including Adidas. Carlsberg beer attracted four times as many mentions in English messages relating to the tournament than official sponsors Budweiser. Back home many would be able to recollect clarion call of Pepsi – “nothing official about it” – when the company had lost the World Cup in cricket sponsorship rights to Coke. Marketing lesson: Savvy marketing saves millions in sponsorship investment.

Shakira’s anthem-song, translated in English, means: “Do it – get the task done”. Inertia is the enemy of initiative. Colgate kept on procrastinating about standing up to the challenge being offered by Close Up in the gel-based toothpaste market; lost the battle forever. Bajaj delayed upgrading styling and technology of its scooters and became extinct. When it comes to marketing, pace is another P in the arsenal of the marketer. Marketing lesson: The brand which seizes the moment, wins the moment.

HYPE DOES NOT NECESSARILY GENERATE A BETTER PERFORMANCE: Ronaldo, Rooney, Kaka and Messi were supposed to be the stars. Alas, the quartet barely scored enough goals to match even the individual number of goals scored by less famous players like Forlan or Mueller. Edsel from Ford partly failed to move because of the hype created about an unseen, unproven product. A low profile Rock On actually rocked among the movie goers but the Salman starrer much publicised Veer failed to win over the audience. Marketing lesson: Clever publicity can generate a lot of hype – but winners are the ones which exceed the expectations of the buyers.

MARADONAS OF THE WORLD: Argentina faced a humiliating defeat. They concentrated on stellar individual performances but failed to play as a team. They got dismissed 0-4 by Germany. And yet World Cup 2010 will be remembered for Maradona’s charisma, antics, and fiery press conferences. There were more banners and posters of him than of any other player in the matches Argentina played. Even after his team’s disastrous exit, he continued to hog the limelight. The player and the Argentinian govt. are unlikely to let him go. Marketing lesson: Temporary blips fail to make a dent in the fortune of an enduring brand.

SPAIN, THE WINNERS: Keep believing and you will get there in the end. Spain had never been past the quarter-finals ever before. But this time they offered lessons in perseverance. Marketing lesson: Hang on there; don’t give up the faith; you are likely to make it in the end. That’s the reason a Kellog succeeds in India or Tanishq leads in the jewellery market.

GERMANY: Germans were described as dour, even if efficient and methodical; as Italians with worse haircuts. But not this time. They played attacking football, made impregnable defence against Argentina. Most importantly they played as a team, and played to win. Only the ruthlessness of the Spanish defence (and not the clairvoyance of Paul,silly!) snuffed them out. They offered two marketing lessons. Marketing lesson #1: Give yourself a style makeover and the world will love you. That’s why Enid Blyton stories are being rewritten as are mythologies in India being recreated to appeal to the newer target segments. Marketing lesson #2: The brand leadership lies in the ability to turn an organisation of disparate experts into a living, working team. That’s how while Bharti Telecom (Airtel) was scaling new heights , Idea was groping to find, well, a winning Idea.

GHANA: Ghana’s exit brought many to a grief. Perhaps because they fought well and were so near to becoming the first African nation to enter World Cup semis. So remember: Everybody likes a fighter who plays by the rules of the game, even if he loses.

ITALY: Defending champions and four times World Cup winners gave their worst ever performance, not being able to manage a single victory. Remember, a fine pedigree provides no clue as to how you are likely to perform in future. A constant renewal and rediscovery is what is needed. When was the last time you heard someone use a Promise toothpaste?

FRANCE: 1998 Champions and 2006 finalists put up an equally dismal show. The players did not cover themselves with glory. What with Frank Ribery being caught in a tangle with a prostitute and Nicholas Anelka getting the marching orders for abusing the coach. To top it all the players went on a strike! We could put of course more teams under the scanner – the Dutch, South Koreans, North Koreans, and of course the English team – but we would wait for another occasion.

We sign off quoting an example of Indian ingenuity (detractors would, sure, call it illegal imitation): Shakira’s Waka Waka has become Lakka Lakka in Kerala – the desi version of the song sung by Malayali singer Liji Francis; the video is almost an exact replica of Shakira’s video in terms of music, imagery, and choreography. We leave it to you to draw your own marketing lessons from this.