Getting Brand SA behind World Cup

Comparing Germany’s and SA’s ability to host the World Cup is like comparing beetroot and antiretrovirals as ways to manage HIV/AIDS. As sovereign nations, our respective proximity to markets, geographical size, economic standing and population densities are simply not analogous. Germany’s differentiating factor is always going to be its efficiency and comparing SA to it is pointless. Locally, much attention has been paid to the massive investment government is putting into developing infrastructure between now and 2010. Even if all the planned projects are finished on time and the mythical Gautrain is up and running, it still won’t be enough to make productive comparisons between “us” and “them”.

If we are to succeed as a nation in hosting the World Cup then we shall have to differentiate ourselves in a unique fashion. We won’t win the admiration and respect of the global community solely by providing the basics like stadiums, transport and upgraded airports. When people travel to our country, or any country, they obviously look for something more.

This concept was reinforced by Raul Peralba from Trout & Partners, the global go-to guys on brand positioning, at the recent 2010 national communications partnership conference. Peralba reminded us that few countries, companies or products possess unique attributes. He said our positioning as a country should be driven from an emotional selling proposition as opposed to a unique selling proposition. Another speaker, Mike de Vries, CEO of FC Deutschland GmbH, who helped organise Germany’s campaign, said the Ger-mans cottoned on to this only 18 months before the opening cere- mony but managed to create a fully integrated campaign called Germany, Land of Ideas. The concept was embraced by political leaders, host cities and the people of Germany.

Luckily for us this kind of thinking is not new to SA. Brand South Africa was created five years ago by the International Marketing Council and will undoubtedly lead SA’s differentiating brand positioning for 2010.

But let’s be honest about the facts. Fifa shows up, rents our country for six weeks (making us pay for it) and leaves several billion dollars richer. There are several challenges that need to be overcome if we are to succeed in generating a World Cup that benefits SA and not just Fifa.

First, if SA’s host cities and their political masters continue to behave in an inconsistent and parochial manner, the ensuing lack of brand consistency is going to create a fragmented “they don’t know what they’re doing” image of the country.

A case in point is the well articulated story about the handover to SA ceremony in Germany. When the 2010 logo was officially unveiled, many of our host cities did a less than admirable job of presenting themselves to the world. Members of the international media were left confused. Many thought they knew our country well and were at a loss to comprehend where the host cities of Mbombela and Manguang were. One of them was so baffled that he remarked how impressed he was that SA was building a brand new city called Manguang just to host the World Cup. Incidentally, for those not in the know, Mbombela is Nelspruit and Manguang is Bloemfontein.

Another aspect of our culture that has to be wrestled into submission before 2010 is that of entitlement. Repeatedly, I have heard the question, “What is the World Cup going to do for me?” Well, inevitably, there will be those who will wait around for Fifa’s Sepp Blatter to show up at their door with a cheque and it is likely that they will be highly disappointed. But for those willing to get off their butts, there are many opportunities for small and big businesses alike.

Comparisons with other countries will abound. If they must, then at least make them with countries that can be considered relatively comparable. Based on geographics and economics, Australia and their hosting of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games would be more appropriate. This was a coming of age celebration for Australia. They successfully positioned the games as uniquely Australian, avoiding comparisons with previous hosts. The results from a sporting and an economic point of view were commendable. Australian exports grew by 25%, unemployment fell by 6,8% and their economy grew 7,9% over two years after the games.

If nothing else, the 2010 Partnership and Communication conference left us with one clear message: unify all our nonFifa-related communication and branding activities behind our national brand, and work hand in hand with it to create a uniform and consistent message to the world.

If we can get that right, I believe the next World Cup host will have to worry about being compared to SA.


Originally published in the Business Day. Terry Behan is CEO of brand agency The Fearless Executive.