Date published

Jun 04, 2015

Corporate sponsorship and endorsement marketing has had its fair share of bad publicity, luckily for us, far more so than integrated marketing and direct marketing, – especially in the world of sport.

There’s Go Daddy’s increasing appetite for using semi-naked women during the Superbowl, despite the stat that, according to The Vancouver Sun, ‘sexy ads make consumers like brands 10% less.’

The quick end of EA Sports’ and Nike’s love affair with Tiger Woods after his extra-marital affairs were uncovered.

Going back a little further, there was OJ Simpson’s relationship with Hertz, abruptly cut short after his arrest for domestic abuse, which two years later, unchecked, became arrest for murder.

Before that first arrest, Hertz must have recouped a return on Simpson being the face of Hertz as, in the 1970s, he reportedly earned over $550,000 a year until that fateful police intervention.

Or at the very least, Hertz must have thought such a big sporting celebrity was worth it. They must have done the cost-benefit analysis; the risk assessment.

But as you probably know, and probably can recall many more instances yourself, that risk can be high stakes indeed.

And in this type of ‘association’ marketing, there’s one thing that’s more likely to put a spanner in the success works: control.

Trouble is, you can’t control the other party.

Brand endorsement or sponsorship is a 24/7, 365 engagement. Whether the brand or celebrity likes it or not. Even if your celeb is only booked for a couple of 30 second TV spots and one or two photoshoots to fuel a year’s campaign.

You endorse Hertz, you become Mr. Hertz. You become the face of L’Oreal, you are Miss L’Oreal.

Until you become human again.

You do human things like breaking the rules; dabbling with illegal substances; saying something you later regret; acting out of character.

Things that brands aren’t really geared up to manage.

Then the cameras roll and the bulbs flash again–for all the wrong reasons.

The same principal works not just in relation to hiring celebrities, but brands also need to be aware of what they’re getting into when they sponsor events.

How will that event behave? How will it live its ‘life’ when not in the public eye?

Or more to the point, how will the people in charge of such events behave?

Football and in particular, Fifa, is so awash with money, it makes people break the rules. It corrupts them into flouting the law, as many of us have suspected for years, but we’re now seemingly finding out.

Money makes them human. But more crucially, it also makes them inhumane.

The tragic figures already associated with preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar already suggest that those in charge have gone off the behaviour rails and left common human decency way behind in their tracks.

As recent as December 2014, Time was reporting one Nepalese death every other day as the World Cup infrastructure was being built.

More recently, after pressure on the Government, a new set of standards for migrant worker welfare has been implemented by major clients of the state, including the Supreme Committee for the 2022 World Cup and the public works authority.

However, those-best-swept-under-the-rug deaths aside, the appalling conditions, the recruitment agency rip-offs and the Victorian hours facing migrant workers in unbearable heat (remember, many of these guys are used to the sub-zero temperatures that swirl around Everest) have cried out for further ‘corrective’ action. As The Guardian states, the International Trade Union Confederation, Play Fair Qatar and the NewFifaNow group have launched a campaign to shame Fifa’s sponsors by highlighting the desperate conditions suffered by labourers trying to earn a crust in Qatar.

Play Fair Qatar says, “If the situation doesn’t improve, more than 62 workers will die for each game played during the 2022 tournament.”

I love football. But I don’t love it this much. My conscience has already performed the necessary cost-benefit analysis.

I don’t know about you, but one death a tournament is one too many.

Organisers and indeed, sponsors of massive sporting events, especially spectacles that Sepp Blatter says can change the world for the better, will probably call me naïve.

But maybe I’m just human.

You may have noticed a big campaign on social media, which includes mock adverts for the World Cup’s biggest potential sponsors, but in a negative manner, highlighting abuses of human rights. Abuses, that in 2015 looking forward to 2022, are downright crazy. It seems to me right now, that despite what the public is saying on social media, traditional media is kicking-off with more of a fuss about financial fraud, as Blatter’s gang are seemingly being found out, one by one and the great man himself becomes the main target for investigations.

Money talks. And it’s tragic, but it talks much louder than death.

So what of those big brands? The companies that make this big global melting pot of people that little bit smaller each time we see them during the ad breaks? The corporates flashing up on hoardings around every pitch, transmitting to billions of homes and communities? Talking to billions of fans–all those kids like me, who love the game as much as I did? The McDonald’s, the Coca-Colas the Sonys and the KIAs of this world? What about those with true sporting roots, like Adidas?

When the marketing people in charge of those brands sit round the boardroom table to run through the cost-benefit of backing Qatar 2022 at what point, will the human side of the story factor in to their calculations?

Will it become a death-benefit analysis? Will they decide that 62 fatalities per match are acceptable, offset by huge media exposure? Will they put a cap on those fathers, sons, mothers and daughters dying at some arbitrary figure? Shall we say maybe, 70 deaths, given Blatter’s Machiavellian stance that the greater good football can bring to the world will out?

Or will they decide now that enough is enough?

And even though we, as marketers try our damnedest to give brands personalities, it won’t be brands that make that decision, but the people behind them.

After all, to err is human.

But doing the right thing is infinitely more human.