Winning the World Cup of branding

Dr Nikolaus Eberl

When the final whistle is blown on 11 July 2010, will the president of the world’s largest sports brand, Joseph Blatter, be able to reiterate his summary of the 2006 Fifa World Cup, when he said, “This was the best World Cup of all time. Never before has an event been presented in such an emotional and global manner.”?

What happened in Germany during those momentous four weeks from 9 June to 9 July 2006 was an ovation of Brand Germany – with such overwhelming success that the latest Nation Brand Index (Anholt-GMI Q2/2008) lists Germany as the most admired country brand. More than that, unemployment dropped by 29% year-on-year, tourism bookings increased by nearly one third, consumer confidence surged to a 27-year high, exports went up 14% … and Time magazine titled their 6 August 2007 edition “Germany revs up”.

Apart from football, the 2006 World Cup transformed Brand Germany from the old brand archetype of the Ruler – effective and efficient, yet cold, unfriendly and at times a bully – to the newfound archetype of the Lover – fun-loving, welcoming, modern and creative.

In a few weeks it had done something to the German psyche that no politician had ever achieved – it imbued the nation with a sense of pride and common destiny. On the day after the final, Britain’s Times, not known for being pro-German, ran the headline “Never mind the finals, the true winners are Germany!”

Unbeknown to many, barely two years before the World Cup Germany was a very different place – a nation so plagued by self-doubt that it was diagnosed by its own president as entering “collective depression”. With unemployment at a record 5-million plus, the national psyche was so downtrodden that the media spoke of Konsum-Verweigerung – Germans refusing to invest in property and automobiles.

Worst of all, the German football team had crashed out of the first round of the European championship, the Bundesliga was riddled by a match-fixing scandals involving many a player and manager, and xenophobia was so rife in certain areas of Eastern Germany that politicians were advising people of colour against entering certain no-go-zones.

So how did Germany achieve such a dramatic turnaround in its branding fortunes? And how can South Africa apply the lessons learned in the 2006 World Cup to maximise the nation branding mileage that is in store for a successful host?

When the 2010 World Cup emblem was unveiled to the international media in Berlin, then-President Thabo Mbeki made this promise for 2010: “We said we will host the most successful Fifa World Cup ever and we will keep that promise … Africa is ready, Africa’s time has come, Africa is calling!”

Hosting the most successful World Cup ever obliges South Africa to raise the bar on what were proven to be the seven key pillars of Germany’s rebranding success:

1. Delivering the brand promise: Germany’s World Cup brand promise – “A time to make friends” – was borne out of a heartfelt attempt by Germans to shake off a decades-old image of being conservative, cold and boring, and to prove to the world that Germans can be great hosts too.

South Africa’s brand promise for 2010, announced at the preliminary draw on 25 November 2007, is “Ke nako (it is time) – celebrate Africa’s humanity”. For 2010 to be the best World Cup ever, this brand promise needs to be defined and translated into specific touch-points for every single South African.

2. A winning team: A successful World Cup requires a winning hosting team, to shore up the support and enthusiasm of the hosting nation. Before their first game in 2006, only 8% of Germans believed their team had what it took to go all the way.

By the time Germany had progressed to third place, the support base had grown to a massive 95% – creating a huge boost to consumer spending and national well-being.

To better the 2006 World Cup, Bafana Bafana, currently ranked 74th on the Fifa world rankings, will have to advance to the final – to truly deliver South Africa’s brand promise.

3. Maximising brand yield: It is estimated that for each visitor to the World Cup, another 150 will be indirectly influenced in their perceptions about the host country, by the reports of the visitors when they return home. Germany had an estimated 2-million visitors, yielding a potential brand audience of 300-million – a truly remarkable reach in rebranding the nation.

To achieve maximum impact, South Africa must increase marketing efforts to attract prospective visitors to 2010. Equally important, we need to ensure that visitors become brand advocates for destination South Africa – to be exact, we need to beat the benchmark set by Germany to convert more than 88% of visitors into brand advocates. This is the one figure that will determine the strength of brand South Africa.

4. Visitor safety: Before the tournament, German papers were filled with angst about the possibility of neo-Nazi demonstrations and xenophobia. Instead, the entire four weeks of the World Cup were almost totally free of any crime and violence, creating a sense of safety and comfort among the visitors and the host nation. This was to the credit to the local organising committee, which turned a security risk into a massive success factor for the World Cup.

To host the most successful World Cup ever, South Africa has to deliver a crime-free tournament, which means zero incidents during the event and safe conduit and free passage at the time of the Confederations Cup. This is clearly the single most urgent brand touch-point to be resolved, as a recent report suggested that crime was the main reason for the loss of 125 000 new job opportunities in the tourism industry.

5. Partyotism: They key to extending the World Cup experience from the spectators in the stadia to the millions of fans assembled outside was the new concept of hosting fan festivals. At one point, the Berlin fan festival was counting nearly a million fans from all over the world, following the game on gigantic screens. Fans hung out on ‘beach areas” where sand and potted palms were trucked in, waded in artificial pools – and drank huge amounts of beer.

To host the best World Cup ever calls for reinventing the entertainment aspects of the Fifa World Cup and coming up with a truly African experience.

6. Client-centricity: As with any business, the success of the product “Fifa World Cup” will be determined by how well the client will be served, not the supplier. This is why the German Football Association went out of their way to make the clients of the World Cup the winners – the spectators and the people who delivered the World Cup beyond the stadia, the media, without whom the World Cup would be a non-event.

Germany went as far as creating Media Clubs at all venues, to cater for any requirement a journalist might have in reporting the games. The German government and the German Football Association went out of their way to cater for the media’s every need. Given the strained relations between the South African Football Association and the media, this aspect needs to be looked at carefully in preparation for 2010.

7. Gender equality: For the first time in the history of World Cup football, the fairer sex embraced this previously male-dominated event wholeheartedly. More than 40% of visitors at the fan festivals were female, and already the new Bundesliga season in Germany has witnessed a spill-over effect from the World Cup – whereas two years ago, only 23% of spectators at the stadia were female, by now this has risen to nearly one third.

To fulfil Mbeki’s promise, South Africa will have to dramatically increase the number of female soccer fans – current estimates put the male:female spectator ratio for domestic games at 80:20.

With all the attention focused on stadia construction at the moment, it is crucial to remember that ultimately it is not the packaging that creates a lasting impression, but rather the product. Nation branding, much like personal branding, is to a large extent dependent on the self-image of the main character, in the case of nations this being the citizens.

The 2006 Fifa World Cup boosted the German national psyche and gave Germans the long-lost feelings of national pride and self-confidence. For 2010 to do the same for the South African psyche, a national brand pride campaign is required to transform the soul, not the appearance, of the country.

The author of the bestselling book BrandOvation™: How Germany won the World Cup of Nation Branding, and the sequel The Hero’s Journey: Building a Nation of World Champions, Dr Nikolaus Eberl holds a PhD from the Free University of Berlin and a postgraduate diploma from Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. Dr Eberl’s research study of Germany’s nation-branding success story during the 2006 Fifa World Cup was featured extensively by Carte Blanche, and he is currently engaged in 2010 commentary for Business Day and CNBC Africa. Dr Eberl recently introduced the 2010 Scorecard: Converting Visitors to Brand Advocates, which measures the 10determinants of delivering the country 2010 promise to “host the most successful Fifa World Cup ever”.