News & Views

Sponsors: What’s Your Humiliation Contingency?


Brazil’s biggest brands have worryingly little to say in the aftermath of the national football team’s World Cup drubbing

It is fair to say that with Janaína Borges, Contagious’ brand new Brazilian employee, in our London office this week we felt the impact of Monday’s incredible game with a whole new level of emotional intensity. We were also provided with a unique window into the mood of a nation which, for the last few days, has done little but sought solace in what has to be the darkest time in its sporting history.

It was only on Wednesday (after she’d had a day to recover) that Janaína posed an extremely pertinent question – how were brands, sponsors, reacting to the defeat back in her native Brazil? The rather shocking answer is… they weren’t.

In all fairness, her question was sparked by one brand that had been brave enough to stick its head above the parapet – Coca-Cola. Opting for a simple, social-media based reaction, Coca-Cola Brasil tweeted a picture of the neck of a Coke bottle, in which sat a knotted straw. The accompanying copy translating roughly to: ‘One feeling: a knot in the throat.’ McDonald’s – an official FIFA sponsor like Coke – also had a go, but settled on a rather puzzling tweet that translated to ‘That feeling when you run out of fries but still have BBQ sauce left.’ Ah yes… that feeling.

The prevailing response from sponsors, however, has been one of silence. In fact of the 14 official sponsors of the Brazilian team, at time of writing, only one has chosen to invest in a response via traditional media. Food company Sadia is currently running a TV spot that follows on from their pre-tournament ad with kids looking forward to their first World Cup. The post-defeat film shows the same kids explaining how, despite the loss, they still experienced their first World Cup game, their first goal, etc… the gist being that losing is inevitable and they have now completed an important part of their training as football fans.

But why the silence from all the other sponsors? It won’t surprise you to hear that most had contingency plans for Brazil losing at some stage of the tournament. The problem is that none had a plan for Brazil being humiliated. Fair enough, you might say. Well, we (me and Janaína) disagree, and here’s why.

Sponsoring a sporting team, when done properly, is not purely an investment in the team winning. It should be an investment in the complete journey that team takes, as well as the lessons and stories that come from any result – good or bad.

In the UK we have an expression for football fans who only support successful teams – Glory Hunters. By showering the Brazilian public with gushing messages of support for the national team when they were still in contention, but falling silent after their brutal dispatching by Germany, far too many of these brands have undermined the vast investments they made in sponsorship by positioning themselves as corporate Glory Hunters. Brands who were there for the team – and indeed a complete nation – when they were winning, but left them high and dry when they weren’t.

There are, therefore, a couple of final lessons we can learn from that historic match (beyond not letting your fullbacks play too far up the field after you’ve already conceded three goals): There is more to great sponsorship than monetary investment. A great sponsor is part of the team, and unless you’re willing to lose with them as well as win, you probably shouldn’t even be in the squad.