NY Times: Drogba & Nike placing their stamp on the games for good (and good exposure)

The New York Times recently (Dec. 2) published an article about Didier Drogba, Chelsea striker and Arsenal killer, teaming up with Nike and Bono to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.  Drogba, also a star player for the Ivory Coast, and probably the highest profile African player in the English Premier League, in this past weekend’s game against Arsenal, celebrated a goal by taking off a shoe, showing his red laces to the crowd.  As the article states:

The significance of those laces became clear Monday when Drogba and the singer Bono launched their “Lace Up. Save Lives” initiative with Nike in London.

On the eve of World AIDS Day, and four days before the world focuses on Cape Town, this was a commercial hijacking laced with genuine charity.”

Bad timing for Arsenal fans.  Great timing for Nike and for World Aids Day (this past December 1).

As the article continues, Droba,

As a Nike front man… leads a band of soccer stars joining up with Bono’s known crusade to do something about diseases across the continent. The tie up with Nike and the Global Fund is aimed to coincide with World Cup year, and to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Nike is pretty brilliant.  While they know they can’t place their ubiquitous “swoosh” on any FIFA World Cup 2010 related gear, they are still taking full advantage of the opportunity to place their stamp on the upcoming games in South Africa.  And likely in parallel to product marketing and athlete sponsorships, they are doing it with some good old cause marketing.  The Lace Up, Save Lives campaign asks supporters to buy a pair of Lace Up, Save Lives red shoe laces and the proceeds will go to support efforts providing anti-retrovirals, AIDS education, etc. for those suffering with HIV/AIDS in Africa. And as the article states,

The commercial element comes with Nike’s noninvolvement on any official level with FIFA, the owner of the World Cup. The governing body of world soccer has an exclusive partnership with the German sportswear company Adidas. That means that if Nike wants to be seen around the tournament it has to think up imaginative ways to trump the “official sponsor” Adidas can stamp on its products.

Nike’s publicity machine is as smart and as forceful at marketing as Drogba is in the goalmouth. But when the cause is as worthy as this one, when commerce and charity can be blended to such needy effect, it would be churlish not to applaud it.

I couldn’t agree more.  Some would argue that more money could be sent directly to organizations than that raised through this cause marketing initiative.  Other critics would likely say that more money is being spent to publicize the effort (and Nike) than will go to help those in need.  Some of this may end up being true.   But knowing Drogba’s track record of using his celebrity AND riches to help his fellow African (he recently committed the $5 million sponsorship he gained for being the African face of Pepsi to build a hospital in Abidjan, Ivory Coast) I think his motivation is genuine and, in turn, I hope Nike’s motivation is also to do good, while also doing a little brand profile raising in Africa.

This is a great and creative example of a company using CSR (cause marketing in this case) as a marketing tool during the build up to the first World Cup hosted in Africa.  This a smart way to increase their brand awareness in an African football market dominated by competitors, Puma and Adidas.  And this is a particularly creative way of getting past FIFA’s stringent ambush marketing regulations.  Let’s hope some of the other companies (sponsors or not) take notice of Nike’s efforts and creativity.

To read the full article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/02/sports/soccer/02iht-SOCCER.html?_r=2&emc=eta1

To join the Lace Up for Lives campaign on Twitter, click here: http://inside.nike.com/blogs/nikefootball-en_GB/2009/11/30/join-the-fight-on-twitter

To post info about the campaign on your Facebook wall, click here:  http://www.nike.com/nikefootball/red/home?locale=en_GB

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