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2014 World Cup Sponsorship Rules: Humanity, Humility, Help

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The 2014 World Cup has gotten a lot more complicated for sponsors and other marketers wanting to use the event to connect with consumers.

We live in a world in which the lines between "us" and "them" are increasingly blurred by technology. Social media has already played a role in toppling governments over the last few years by connecting people all over the world to those involved in protest and struggle. The same is happening with the protests taking place in Brazil today; people from all over the world see what is happening, and much more so than in years part, they have the opportunity to understand it from the protesters' perspective, to empathize with them and even to talk with them about it.

Top down media with big corporate sponsors no longer dominate the way a narrative unfolds. Citizens do. The very citizens that brands want to connect with. Which raises difficult questions about how those brands should behave in Brazil next year. Does sponsorship or involvement in the World Cup, given the current level of protests in Brazil, leave room for a brand to show that they care about the people protesting?

Brands must demonstrate that they understand the people they want to connect with. The Brazilian government is a brand that failed to do so and is paying the price. They had a story to tell, about the investment they planned to make in infrastructure, which in turn would lead to hundreds of thousands of new jobs for Brazilians. And yet, in part because of the perception that FIFA is benefiting much more than that from Brazil's investment, people are in the streets all over Brazil, protesting the tournament (and the government in general). And everyone else is watching them, and hearing the story from their side.

Marketers can still be there for the World Cup, they just need to be very thoughtful in how they approach the event. Programs and communications need to acknowledge the context of the games; Converse's recent program in Brazil turning blighted urban lots into usable public spaces is an interesting example of how to be present in a way that should feel appropriate to fans and citizens alike.

If I had to offer three simple rules for making sponsorships smart this World Cup they would be:

  1. Humanity: remember the reality of the people in the country, even if your program is regional or global. No matter what happens between now and then, when the Cup starts next year, people all over the world will sit down to watch and remember what they are seeing. And they will wonder if Brazilians got a fair shake out of the whole thing.
  2. Humility: It can't all be Messi, Christiano Ronaldo and Neymar as superheroes aligned with your brand. It has been the perceived arrogance of the government and FIFA that has brought people into the streets. Don't let your brand feel like another opportunistic elitist.
  3. Help: Show that you are doing something for the people, not just the elite. Even if it's just your product that helps them, be upfront about doing something good for people who need it. Product claims, reasons to believe, etc., need to really do something for people. Chest beating and superiority claims may sound hollow in the context of what is happening today around these games; it's nice to be the best, but it's better to be the most helpful.
Whatever the level of protest next summer,people will remember what is happening now when they see brands then. So put yours in a context that allows it to be one of "us" versus one of "them."