Sponsorship of sport activities, as one of the major tools used by brand promoters to connect with the public, has contributed greatly to the success stories of global names like Coca Cola and Adidas. The just-concluded UEFA Champions League provided another opportunity for two international brands, MasterCard and Heineken to make further positioning statements in Nigeria, Raheem Akingbolu reports
As football lovers warmed up for the final match of the UEFA Champions League between Chelsea and Bayern Munich football clubs last Saturday evening, promoters of MasterCard in Nigeria were busy putting finishing touches to how to host probably the largest crowd of football enthusiasts in Lagos. As early as 5pm, the Eko Hotel venue had been full to the brim.
Though handlers of the brand argued that MasterCard was not expecting anything from the partnership, except to use it to celebrate with their Nigerian customers, who were passionate about the game of football, it was obvious that the relationship would achieve more than that.
This is because it has brought together patrons of the brand and people who had nothing to do with it. For the existing customers, it turned out to be a bonding platform that would increase loyalty while it beckoned on new comers to think of MasterCard.
An IT expert, Temisa Daniel, captured it well when she told THISDAY that her reason to come and watch the match at the venue was primarily to be part of the local glamour that would lead to the celebration of her team victory - Bayern.
“I am a Bayern fan; therefore I had to jump at this opportunity and convinced my husband, despite the distance of where we live because I see the venue as a decent place to celebrate the achievement of my team. With this, MasterCard has not only touched my heart but as well proved that it cares,” she said.
Sadly, Daniel’s dream to begin the celebration of the trophy from the venue must have been spoilt by the turn out of the game, which saw Chelsea pushing her team to the second position but the fact remained that the exercise must have strengthened the relationship between her and the brand.
To add colour to the match, two football legends; Victor Ikpeba and Peter Rufai were brought in to the viewing centre to mingle freely with football enthusiasts.
MasterCard card holders secured their place at the event by simply paying with their MasterCard card. Earlier, in addition to the local treatment, three Nigerian winners had won a ‘MasterCard Priceless Moment,’ which comprised of a trip to watch the competition live in Munich, Germany.
Division President for East and West Africa, MasterCard Worldwide, Daniel Monehin, who welcomed the guests to the event, which the company hosted for the second consecutive year, said the company was committed to building long term relationships, adding that it had been a sponsor of the UEFA tournament for several years now.
“This longstanding partnership gives us the opportunity to give our Nigerian MasterCard card holders an unforgettable experience,” he said.
He also stated that the UEFA Champions League competition helped Nigerian cardholders to experience the benefits of cashless payments, in support of the cashless Nigeria project, initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Country Manager, West Africa, MasterCard Worldwide, Omokehinde Ojomuyide, also corroborated this position, when she said that, “MasterCard shares a vision of a world beyond cash with the CBN, cash is expensive to print, secure and distribute, it reduces the transparency of an economy, and it can impact negatively on companies’ ability to do business.
“MasterCard’s products are already accepted in more than 210 countries and territories worldwide, giving the company extensive global experience and insight into cashless payments,” she added.
As a brand, the country manager described MasterCard as a long lasting companion to Nigerian consumers that was determined to grow with the market and bring a lot of benefits.
She added that the premier sporting event, one of the world’s most prestigious and high-profile club competitions, has become truly global and it is, in the thinking of consumers, associated perfectly with the MasterCard brand.
Between MasterCard and Visa
UEFA is not the only sport activity that MasterCard is leveraging on for positioning. In 1994, handlers of the brand damned the consequence and parted with a whopping $15 million to be one of the eleven World Cup sponsors, just to challenge the global
leadership of Visa, which since 1986 has held tight to the Olympic within the credit card category by virtue of its visible sponsorship.
Competing with Visa was (and is) a major MasterCard challenge. In 1993, MasterCard volume was only 60 per cent of that of Visa, and MasterCard had been losing ground for years. The third player in the market, American Express, remained significantly smaller, with only half the volume of MasterCard.
Visa was well positioned; its ‘Everywhere you want to be’ tagline generated a strong association, with key credit card attributes of being available in most outlets. In addition to being the best vehicle to convey the attributes of performance and being global, the Olympics taps strongly into patriotism and its associated emotional benefits.
Based on this background, MasterCard not only had the challenge of Visa and other competitors in the United States but needed to develop global association, hence the need to partner FIFA in 1994 and UEFA championship.
Like MasterCard, like Heineken
It was not only the card manufacturers that used the UEFA platform to reach out to Nigerians, early this year Nigerian Breweries, announced the extension of its contract with UEFA to sponsor the UEFA Champions League for a further three years.
The company indicated that the partnership had been an important component of Heineken’s global sports sponsorship strategy.
With expected cumulative audience of 4.3 billion, a global live audience of 1.1 billion and 55,000 hours of total coverage on TV across 220 countries for the UEFA 2011/2012, it was expected that Heineken would deepen its brand loyalty with the sponsorship of the event.
Unfolding the plans of activities of the Heineken brand for its consumers in Nigeria at this UCL knock-out stage which took place early this year, Marketing Director, Nigerian Breweries Plc, Walter Drenth, said, “Our plan is to enable consumers to truly become part of UCL’s ‘Legendary Football’ by experiencing the ‘artistry’ of the Champions League football.”
In addition, the Heineken Champions Planet then incorporated the brand’s interactive digital game, StarPlayer, which offered the users the chance to further enhance their UCL viewing experience by trying to anticipate what would happen next in a particular game in order to score points.
Strength of Sponsorship
All over the world, brands are constantly in search of creative methods to build strong and positive value perception in the customer. This is because value perception has a direct impact on the level of loyalty to a brand as trust is built on experience.
When brands find such unique event to anchor their products, which largely gives them value, they tend to maximise it and explore the necessary potential
For instance, following the new trend in the local financial sector and having established a credible name and a strong niche in the market, First Bank needed to adjust and redefined its essence in the market as a bank for all segments and all generation a few
years ago. In line with global trend, the bank readily saw sponsorship as one of the major tools needed to achieve its new mission.
First, it diverse into youth based brand activation programmes, riding on sports and cultural activities. In November 2009, the bank in partnership with Lagos State threw its weight behind the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and successfully connected millions of football enthusiasts across the nation.
Since that 2009, it has continued to stay focus with the new way. The following year, it made another bold step through a partnership with Lagos State, to make an impressive cultural statement for the country in London during the 2010 Nothinghill Carnival. Locally, it has identified with carnivals in Lagos and Calabar.
While some business-minded people saw the relationship as a rewarding private partnership arrangement, brand analysts saw beyond that. To them, the collaboration was informed by the fact that the two brands are currently the gems of the market.
While Lagos has upped the ante in pursuing its destination branding and mega city dream, First Bank has successfully proved that it is the ‘first’ in all fronts.
Coca Cola Example
For handlers of Coca Cola, the terrain was a familiar experience, having being in partnership with FIFA for decades, despite its huge spending in almost every leg of marketing mix.
Though Coca-Cola began stadium advertising at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil in 1950, there was a film in the company’s collection, which captured some of the ways Coke was a part of the 1962 FIFA World Cup in Santiago, Chile.
In the video clip, one can see a Spanish-language Coke billboard advertisement on a busy street that says ‘Welcome to the World of Futbol 1962’ and features a soccer player. In addition to this, one can also get a glimpse of how busy the Coke bar was as people crowd around for refreshment during halftime of one of the games.
While it is difficult to understand the speaker, the images of Coke neon signs and the celebration that occurs after Brazil's 3-1 championship victory over Czechoslovakia speak for themselves.
In 1978, when it finally became an official worldwide sponsor of the FIFA World Cup, the brand, along with FIFA launched the ‘Go for Goal’ training kit to aid coaches in their teaching of young players.
In the last world cup tournament in South Africa, apart from being a title sponsor, the brand still took each of the participating countries as a separate commercial basket, which informed the reason for the massive build up to the competition in all the countries.
In Nigeria for instance, as Super Eagles official soft drink, it joined President Goodluck Jonathan to send off the team while heading to South Africa. In Ghana, it launched a special programme, which would provide soccer fans an opportunity to win cash prizes and souvenirs during the competition.
According to one of the brand’s managers in Nigeria, Mr. Clement Ugorji, Coca Cola’s relationship with FIFA goes beyond the need to position the brand but using the game of football, which connects all classes and race to celebrate with patrons of the brand in all markets.
“It is to demonstrate Coca-Cola’s unique association with consumers’ passion for the world’s most popular sport,” he said.
According to him, as a major sponsor of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, and its programmes including the World Cup, Coca-Cola also has the responsibility of helping to build the sport as well as promoting it at every level.