Guest Post: An Expert’s View on Branding and Sponsorship Activation for World Cup Sponsors


Ken G PhotoKen G Kabira, a friend and former colleague was kind enough to write a guest post concerning branding and sponsorship activation around the World Cup.  He is an expert on the subject (and fellow football fan!) having been the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) of McDonald’s Japan.

A short bio on the author: Ken G Kabira is a veteran consumer marketing executive with a background in building strong brands as a chief marketing officer both domestically and abroad. He is one of the few CMOs who have served in all three of the private (McDonald’s), nonprofit (NLU), and public sectors (CTA).   He was McDonald’s Japan’s CMO in 2003 and 2004.  Click this for more on his background.

A huge thanks to Ken G!  His post is as follows:

Next year’s FIFA World Cup has twelve top level sponsors signed up.  They are:

FIFA Partners for 2010

  1. Adidas
  2. Coca Cola
  3. Emirates Airlines
  4. Hyundai-Kia
  5. Sony
  6. VISA
World Cup Sponsors

  1. Budweiser
  2. Castrol Oil
  3. Continental Tires
  4. McDonald’s
  5. MTN (S. African mobile telecom company)
  6. Satyam (Indian business and IT service provider)

These brands have forked over a significant sum of cash to FIFA to be the only brands in their respective categories to be associated with the event. They will spend even more in the execution of their activation plan. But, what is the point of being a FIFA World Cup sponsor?  The conventional answers would be:

  • To raise brand awareness
  • To build the brand
  • To show that the brand is a winner

Needless to say, these are important objectives of any sponsorship, or, for that matter, marketing program. The real questions are, what kind of awareness?  Build the brand to mean what?  So you’re big enough to sponsor the world’s biggest sporting event.  So what? It is a waste of money not to have these questions sorted out at the most strategic level.  Only then can you develop and execute sponsorship activation plan. The following three principles must be kept in mind in shaping a sponsorship program which maximizes the positive impact on a brand.

  1. Activate your brand feature: Be clear about what aspect of your brand’s attributes you want to highlight by being part of the World Cup. The key brand feature for McDonald’s that the World Cup sponsorship can take advantage of is Cares for Kids. It wouldn’t make much sense to focus on other features such as its food and affordability. That is why McDonald’s critical activation tactic for the World Cup is the Player Escort program. 1,408 children aged 6 to 10 from around the world will have the opportunity to walk on to the pitch with the players on the starting lineup prior to kickoff of all 64 matches. The children will be recruited globally, and the kids and their parents will travel to South Africa at McDonald’s expense. What better way to showcase that McDonald’s cares for kids?
  2. Make it a proof point of your brand value: What does your brand stand for?  How can the World Cup sponsorship be a good way to prove it?  These are the questions to ask when developing the sponsorship activation plan. McDonald’s brand value is to be forever young. Forever, meaning timeless and predictable (familiar menu I never tire of).  Young, meaning always fresh, full of energy, and surprising (a new Happy Meal toy every few weeks, limited time offer menu items, etc.).  They seem contradictory, yet an enduring brand like McDonald’s allows itself to be seen by its customers to be predictable and surprising at the same time. McDonald’s involvement in football in general, and the World Cup in particular, is an important way to express this brand value. The World Cup is forever, but every tournament has a new drama; the narrative may be the same, but we love being part of how it unfolds.
  3. Be true to your brand personality: Nothing is a bigger waste of marketing dollars than doing something that is incongruent with who you are.  McDonald’s brand personality is Fun. The execution of the World Cup sponsorship program has to be done with this personality in mind.  It would be wrong for McDonald’s to leverage the competitive aspect of the event.  The joy of victory and the agony of defeat would be the wrong expression for McDonald’s to use. McDonald’s is an egalitarian brand, it exists for everyone.  It’s not a brand that needs to worship heroes, so the activation plan will not involve any specific player or winners of an award (e.g., Golden Boot).  The Player Escort program is meant to bring joy and to be exciting for kids and their families before and throughout the World Cup.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks for the insight on brand. I have always wondered why certain companies choose to (or not to) sponsor certain events. McDonald’s… makes sense. Budweiser… makes sense. But Conti Tires and Castrol Oil? Am i going to buy their petroleum and petroleum based products because I saw their banner on the side of the Italy v. Brazil pitch (for the championship, BTW)? I could understand being a part of a motorsport, like F1, but not soccer. But I am an engineer, not a marketing exec so I am probably missing something major. I understand eyes are eyes but shouldn’t there be at least some synergy?

  2. J.

    That is a good question. Do I necessarily want to buy the brand that I see on the pitch-side billboards? You are right in saying that seeing a banner of a brand in a stadium probably will not directly entice anyone to buy a product. However, sports marketing isn’t about having a one-step link to purchase. Yes, it must impact both the top line and the bottom line of the business but the connection happens at several levels.

    Let’s take Continental Tires, for example, and assume that one of the key brand features is “unparalleled traction.” Footballers also must have good traction on the pitch to play at their best. So there are creative ways to link football with tires. Also, it is vital for Continental to entice retailers to stock their products. World Cup would be a great way to develop a dealer/retailer focused programs as well.

  3. Helpful info. Lucky me I found your web site unintentionally, and I am stunned why this accident did not came about in advance! I bookmarked it.

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