World Cup Marketers: This Is Your Opportunity to Step Up

Brands Need to Stand Up for the True Spirit of Soccer and Lead a Movement, Not an Ad Campaign

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Mired in corruption and controversy, FIFA is causing tremendous damage to the game of football, and potentially, the brands that stand alongside it. But with Sepp Blatter resigning, and the World Cup still humanity's greatest gathering (3.2 billion people around the world tune in), there is a huge opportunity for forward-thinking brands.

To date, brands have taken a passive role in response to revelation after revelation -- at most, issuing mild rebukes imploring FIFA to get its house in order to allow the show to go on, and the brands' product-driven narratives to be communicated. But what if a brand took a lead in standing for and with people, against what FIFA represents, and for the true spirit of the game?

By rising above and demonstrating a brand's authentic commitment to what people care about, there's an opportunity for brands to take a leadership role in defining the future and create a much deeper emotional connection with people. For example, when dog food maker Pedigree made the shift from product narrative to demonstrating values, advertising effectiveness increased by 40%.

If a brand seized this opportunity to stand alongside people, an even greater opportunity arises: to spark and lead a real movement rather than an ad campaign. By connecting with the true values of billions of football fans around the world, and inspiring them to be part of real change, a brand could enable a mass-participation initiative that makes the 88 million participants in American Express' "Small Business Saturday" look small.

For instance, what if Adidas' marketing didn't just inspire us to total sporting commitment with "All In," but actually made "All In" a declaration of the true spirit of football -- inclusive, fair and respectful? Perhaps it could enable football fans around the world to champion that spirit in their games, in their schools and in their communities.

Rather than only developing top-down, paid media to spread the "All In" idea, Adidas' advertising could act as the spark and be complemented by practical things we can all do -- from enabling fans to vote for the players and teams that best represent the true spirit of football (from junior to professional level) to player badges and fan banners that proclaim a team's values. Done right, every player, team and community could be active champions for an "All In" spirit.

Or what if Nike expanded the meaning of its "Find Your Greatness" brand idea from individual accomplishment to individual and collective accomplishment -- for every fan, team and nation to reject the cynical or self-serving path that FIFA shows, and instead charge together down the path of elevating everyone around us. That's the kind of greatness people, teams, schools and cities around the world could get behind in a big way.

Nike could bring this to every community with useful things, like a platform for people to learn about and support local youth sports teams (maybe the school on your block has a great team you didn't know about, and maybe they really need another coach for a couple of hours a week, or $100 for new uniforms), or coaching tools that enable players to embrace the game's bigger life lessons of communication, loyalty, overcoming adversity and supporting each other. By introducing a common language, tools and training around what "greatness" really looks like, Nike could help spread the ideals of the game from coach to player to family to community.

Passive association with FIFA is a risky proposition; as the organization's primary funders, brands cannot credibly recuse themselves from the corruption unless they make a stand. But if they do make that stand, the world could stand with them.

So our message is: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, McDonald's, Visa, AB InBev, it's your moment.

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