My dear friend Adam, who’s been living in Johannesburg for almost five year now, has agreed to be a guest correspondent, providing an in-country/on-the-ground perspective on the World Cup and CSR in South Africa. Below is what I hope to be the first of many posts from Adam as well as a few other friends living in South Africa.
By Adam Boros
June 2, 2009
JOHANNESBURG – On the way to work today, I drove past one of the numerous ‘countdown’ billboards here in Johannesburg. All over the city, different companies have put up electronic signage counting down the days until the World Cup 2010 kickoff on June 11th next year. Yesterday was an especially exciting day, because the sign read 374. In other words, less than 10 days until we are one year away from the big show. This may seem like a rather pointless signpost, but as we get closer to the one year mark, emotions are starting to swell in every direction here in South Africa.
The positive emotions, of course, center on the pride and excitement that South Africans feel about hosting such a prestigious event. As you hear over and over again, this is not the country’s tournament alone, but Africa’s as a whole. As SAFA officials step to the podium at whichever event might be happening on the day and assert that this will be the greatest world cup in history, people – including myself – truly believe it. There is no understating what it means to this country to host the world. And it will be ready.
The negative emotions mostly focus on the intense amount of construction taking place around Joburg. In nearly every corner of the city, there are roadworks and other improvements happening. Lanes are closed everywhere, traffic is horrific (even more so than usual) and some are certainly frustrated. These inconveniences can be annoying, but it is these improvements that will (hopefully) have a lasting impact on South Africa many months and years after the tournament has ended. The economic impact of such mega-events as this have always been a point of controversy, but there is no denying that the commuter train being built from Pretoria to Joburg to the airport, or the bus-rapid-transit system being erected in several major cities, will make South Africa an easier place to live and, ideally, do business. And it is business, of course, that is the focus of this blog.
The World Cup is a huge opportunity for businesses of all kinds in South Africa. From the tiny tuck shop in Orange Farm – an informal settlement south of Joburg – that has renamed itself ‘2010’ to ever-present ‘official sponsor’ giants like McDonald’s, everyone is trying to grab their slice of the pie no matter how large or small. What is striking to me as I drive around the city, however, is how few companies are building marketing campaigns around the tournament itself. Plenty of companies have locked down official sponsor status and the World Cup logo is nestled comfortably in the corner of every one of their advertisements, but the advertisements themselves rarely say anything about the tournament. There are few catchy slogans or inspiring photos that aim to use the World Cup – which inspires such pride and excitement in people – as a way of driving business.
Fortunately, there is one glaring exception. MTN is one of the (if not the) largest mobile phone operators in Africa. Their footprint covers most of the continent, and at least in South Africa they have tried to promote their brand as a young, hip one. Their bright yellow billboards, spreads and other advertisements are eye-catching and funky, even in normal times. Unlike many other companies (including their competitors), they have built an entire ad campaign around the build-up to the tournament. Throughout the city (and the airport – where a lack of World Cup advertising is especially strange – but that is a topic for another day), their billboards jump out at passers-by. Groups of fans painted and dressed in the countries of any number of countries – Argentina, Cameroon, Bafana – scream out. “My heart can’t believe what my eyes will see!” “Africa is Loud!” and “We’re Ready! are just a few of the exclamations. There are pictures of vuvuzelas (the plastic horns that are sure to grab the world’s attention in a year’s time) and some that simply read “Woza 2010” (woza means ‘come’ in one of the local languages – isiZulu). It is a slick campaign, and to me an obvious one.
I’m just not sure why it seems less obvious to most businesses here in South Africa. Perhaps they feel that the tournament is still too far away to throw marketing money at it. Or maybe there is a lack of understanding just how powerful the World Cup really is. Whatever the reasons, it is puzzling to me that the corporate world isn’t publicly punting their support for this huge event (there very well may be lots of things happening behind the scenes). To me, now is the time to build your name around the tournament, before the field gets incredibly crowded. MTN has set itself apart, and regardless of what happens in the next 12 months (or 373 days), everyone else will be following its lead.