Vuvuzelas, ambush marketing, a nation's proud moment as World Cup host – BrandLine caught it all!.

Vinay Kamath

How come no one has come up with a brand of vuvuzela?” asks one of the members in our team, holding a smaller version of the plastic, trumpet-like instrument which has become an ear-splitting leitmotif of the ongoing Fifa World Cup in South Africa. Like it or hate it, the metre-long South African instrument (ironically, 90 per cent of them are made in China!) and the drone of its plastic horn, which various writers have likened to a swarm of angry bees, has come to dominate the sound (well, literally so) and fury of the Cup.

Tourists scramble to buy the vuvuzela, whose price can vary from 50 rand to 75 rand (approx Rs 350 to Rs 525) at stores in Johannesburg and at the duty-free shops while malls put up notices requesting patrons not to try out the horn in the premises. Not that it helps. In Johannesburg be prepared to hear the trumpet in virtually any public place: in malls, streets, hotel foyers, there's no escaping the rasping blast of the vuvuzela. A colleague suggests that Coca-Cola, one of the partners of the Fifa World Cup, launch its own brand of trumpet and call it the Coca-zula! Our hotel gives us a variant – an elizella, which looks like an elephant horn, but produces a deep grunt. Newspaper reports say the trumpet has become one of South Africa's hottest exports and fans in countries from Britain to Australia are trying to get their hands on the horn that defines this World Cup.

And, we can see why, as we, a media team from India at the invitation of Coca-Cola India to witness the Ghana-Germany league match on June 23, approach the Calabash in Soccer City, Soweto, Johannesburg. The magnificent stadium, shaped like an African beer pot, could well have been a cauldron on the boil. The stadium reverberates to the mesmeric and incessant din of the vuvuzelas and reaches a crescendo as the teams come on to the field. It's match no. 39 of the Fifa World Cup and billed top drawer to salvage African honour after hosts South Africa crashed out of the tournament, the first host country not to qualify for the knockout stage in the history of the Cup. There are 83,391 screaming fans in the stadium, as a flash on the giant display screens inform us, to an accompanying roar from the thousands who have packed the stadium. Beer-swilling, flag-waving fans, in all kinds of head gear, from top hats to toupees in country colours, kick up a guttural storm with their vuvuzelas, adding to the noise.

Ambush marketing

Budweiser is the official beer of the World Cup, and one of the sponsors. So, the brand and Fifa were not amused when Dutch beer brand Bavaria tried some ambush marketing. The local papers were full of the arrest of two leggy blondes who wore orange mini dresses bearing the logo of beer maker Bavaria at a match between the Netherlands and Denmark last week.

At the match at Soccer City, 36 blondes stripped off their outer clothes to reveal orange minis.

Though the beer maker claimed it gave away about two lakh such dresses free with cases of Bavaria beer during a marketing campaign in Holland, it did look too orchestrated to be a mere coincidence. Reports said that Fifa and the Dutch brewery reached an out-of-court settlement and the two blondes who were alleged to have organised the marketing stunt, walked free.

Another, local brand that had a lot of fun with ambush marketing is a budget airline called Kulula. Fifa threatened to sue it for using the World Cup name and it hit back with a funny campaign, which included offering a dog called Sepp Blatter (the Fifa President) free flights. As it says on its Web site, with a picture of a terrier in a Bafana t-shirt: “Sepp, a Boston Terrier from Cape Town, is receiving free flights from low-fare airline Kulula during the next month following an offer to fly the president of FIFA around South Africa. Responding to an advert placed by the low fare airline in the Sunday Times, the dog's owners pointed out that the offer didn't specify which Sepp the ad referred to, so their pet was eligible to take advantage of the free flights. Sepp (the dog) changed his name specifically to take up the offer.

Kulula has agreed to honour the promise of free flights during June and July and will be giving Sepp Blatter (the dog) a seat up front on any flight he wishes to travel on. The original advert was made as a conciliatory gesture towards the human Sepp following well publicised criticism from FIFA of previous Kulula marketing during the World Cup period.”

Brands such as Visa, one of the sponsors, feature comic strips in the papers, using Zakumi, the official mascot of the Cup.

Indian brands

It warmed the cockles of one's heart to see Indian brands proliferating in South Africa, even though one doesn't see much India mention in the local papers. Two of us from Chennai swarm around a driver who alights from a Santro (called the Atos Prime in SA) and proclaim to him that he's driving a Chennai-made car, much to his surprise! Among the top-end cars one sees scorching the roads, from Lexus to BMWs, one can spot Scorpios, Santros, Getzs and even an Indica! Emotions are brimming when you spot offices and dealerships emblazoned with Mahindra and Tata on them! And, of course, Mahindra Satyam boards were on display in the stadium.

Africa's time has come?

Many locals and overseas fans one spoke to are convinced that with this World Cup, South Africa's time as an international sporting and tourist destination has come. As columnist Hilary Joffe in BusinessDay, a local SA daily, points out, the tournament has attracted football fans from around the world and a kind of tourist the country never pulled in before. And, while there is still debate in the country on how many tourists will eventually stream in, she asks what value can one put on those iconic images of SA as they go around the world. There is as yet no clarity on visitor numbers in local media. Though originally there were wildly optimistic estimates that the Cup would attract 450,000 tourists or more to SA, everyone cut their estimates earlier this year when figures on Fifa ticket sales started coming through. The consultancy Grant Thornton estimated in April that the Cup would eventually bring in about 373,000 tourists. So, everyone from hotel groups to retailers are optimistic that the Cup would boost overall spending and justify the SA Government's huge spending on the World Cup. Other reports say SA's economy has seen an initial boost in visitor spending, according to cardholder spending data from Visa. Spending on Visa-branded cards was up by 54 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Coke India does its bit

Coca-Cola has been associated with the Fifa World Cup as a main sponsor since 1978 and has held stadium advertising rights in every Cup since 1950. Coke, according to analysts, has a brute share in the SA market of over 90 per cent. To leverage its football connection, Coca-Cola India partnered with the All India Football Federation to organise the Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy, a grassroots talent hunt initiative rolled out to uncover the most dynamic young footballers in the country. Sixteen promising players were given an opportunity to attend the Coca-Cola international football camp in South Africa during this World Cup. During the camp the Indian footballers played a tournament with teams from Egypt, Mexico, Guatemala, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam. The Indian team lost to Russia in the semi-finals, a tournament which Mexico eventually won.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 1, 2010)
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