Fizzy snub from Sultan of Stepover

Meenakshi Verma Ambwani | Updated on June 27, 2021

Making a point: The Ronaldo brand stands for certain values and he is driving his own content marketing strategy   -  REUTERS

Ronaldo shook the world of branding when he moved two bottles of Coke for water; how will the action impact brands

It took soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo literally 20 seconds to remove two bottles of Coca-Cola from a table. But did it shake the very foundation on which iconic brands have been built for hundreds of years?

In this social-media era, obviously the Ronaldo snub didn’t go unnoticed. It sparked a debate. It triggered a tsunami of puns and memes. It helped other brands strike gold with their cheeky moment marketing moves and also led to a minor meltdown on the New York Stock Exchange (though that bit is being re-evaluated now). As if that was not enough, more players emulated Ronaldo’s gesture, and even brand Heineken got caught in the cross-fire.

Is it just a nine day blip? Or should fast-food brands and fizzy drink companies lose sleep over this? The answer is a big “Yes!!!” They should be concerned.

Long-term Impact

Brand experts say that even if the impact of the viral video is erased from our collective consciousness, it may take a while before the spotlight shifts away from celebrities’ endorsement decisions and how brands decide to leverage on sporting event sponsorships. After all the world is coping with a pandemic and the focus on health and wellness has never been more important.

N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA, believes by a single gesture Ronaldo made the discourse around the paradox of high calorie or high sugar food brands associating with sporting events more overt. “In the past, a celebrity has at best refused to renew a contract quietly if the purpose of a brand was not aligned with what he or she stood for. But this becomes a significant moment because it has been done publicly by a celebrity who is well-known for having one of the most regimented dietary habits. This will definitely force celebrities to rethink their decisions and re-evaluate their endorsement strategies,” he said.

In her company blog, Jessie Paul, CEO, Paul Writer, wrote that celebrities turning against a brand could well be a leading indicator of trouble ahead. “In 2006 — possibly when sugary drinks were still cool — Ronaldo featured in an ad by Coca-Cola Japan. In keeping with his new healthy brand image and as a responsible parent, Ronaldo now wants to use his clout to make Coke uncool. He’s both reflecting and shaping the purchase preferences of his audience. His brand stands for certain values and he is driving his own content marketing strategy independent of UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations),” she says.

Marketers also believe that at a time when consumers increasingly expect authentic and purposeful messaging from brands, the incident has fuelled the debate around how they need to fit the current narrative further.

“Categories like fast food and sugary drinks have been in the spotlight for their impact on people’s health for quite some time now. While football superstar Ronaldo’s removal of the Coke bottles at a Euro presser has attracted huge attention, it is not the first time that this category has been under fire. Increasingly voices are being raised against brands that do not fit in with the current narrative on health,” says Lloyd Mathias, Business Strategist and Angel Investor

He adds, “Given the nature of media storms, the issue will soon move off the news cycle, but the question this incident has raised on the larger concerns around celebrities endorsing unhealthy products will intensify in the days ahead.”

Social Media Minefield

The incident also throws the spotlight on the potential external risks posed to brand reputation that can snowball into a full-blown crisis thanks to social media platforms. To be fair, the Coca-Cola bottles had earned the right to be placed on the table as the beverage major has invested big bucks to be associated with the tournament. The brand’s contribution to helping scale up sports cannot be negated. It has been, for instance, the longest-standing partner of the Olympic Games, having supported every edition since 1928.

“With an increasingly woke generation, brands should tread carefully and examine the fit and relevance of their products to the events they sponsor. In an increasingly polarised atmosphere, brands will need to be more circumspect but not shy away from doing what is right,” Mathias cautioned.

The impact of social media on the financial health of a company has gained even more credence in recent times. It is also now being listed among the potential external risks in Draft Red Herring Prospectus (DHRP) filed by consumer goods companies with SEBI for initial public offering. “The dissemination of inaccurate information online could harm our business, reputation, prospects, financial condition, and operating results, regardless of the information’s accuracy. The damage may be immediate without affording us an opportunity for redress or correction,” read one such declaration.

Ambika Sharma, Founder & MD, Pulp Strategy, sums it up best. “Social media and its volatility is a double-edged sword. The same social media saves billions in advertising costs when a small budget thoughtful brand video goes viral. Brands need to find a balance and look at ways to use social media to their advantage. Understanding and appreciating shifting social mindsets is important to make the most of these platforms,” she says.

Published on June 27, 2021

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