What The FIFA World Cup Teaches About Branding


The 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia 2018, ended in a flurry of celebrations with France emerging Champions. It was a world cup of goals, shockers and mild controversies. The world was treated to a wonderful display of skills, art, hospitality, footballing genius and the best of all: Shocking football results.

As most brands and companies are still basking in the euphoria of the World Cup frenzy, some counting their gains and a few, very minute few, counting their losses, what are the lessons we can learn from this world cup?


But first of all, what is a brand?

A brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers — American Marketing Association.

A brand is the image people have of you when they think of your product or service. It is that endearing image of a particular people or company that the public have, whether through direct contact with the product or service, or through hearsay.

Some football analysts have tagged it “The best world cup ever”. Some would disagree, but judging from the type of football we saw, the shocking victories, late minutes equalizers and victories, Video Assistant Referee (VAR) decisions, Lionel Messi having a woeful world cup; Germany crashing out in the group stages; Spain failing to win a lowly rated Russian team; I am tempted to agree that this might have been the best world cup ever.

If this is the best world cup ever, can we draw some BRANDING lessons from this world cup?

Yes we can!

The World Cup hosting right was given to Russia in December 2010 by FIFA under the leadership of Sepp Blatter. The controversy surrounding the hosting right was rife. The English media accused the top FIFA officials of collecting bribes from Russia and Qatar(2022 host). They also went as far as indicting the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, which in 2015, after a racketeering charge was laid against him, led to his removal and the emergence of a new FIFA head, Gerardo Infantino. One would imagine that the World Cup going to a Russian government, that has been fingered for corruption, state sponsored doping of her athletes and her citizens accused of being racist and homophobic, would be filled with so many uncertainties and hostility.

But not Russia.

The Russians understood the power of branding and how stories can help change the narrative of a brand.

They understood the power of diverse stories of independent customers, devoid of malice or influenced by money.

They knew the single story of any nation can be re-branded by being human.

When the World Cup started, fans from Nigeria were hypertensive as to how the Russian people would accept them. The English government even threatened to stop their officials from going because of political tensions between both nations.

What did Russia do?

They rewrote the narrative. They re-branded.

There is never going to be an end to the power of personal stories in building a brand. Harnessing the power of the human emotions, the Russians connected with the humanity of every visiting team and her fans in recreating the Russian story.

While most companies spend billions of naira trying to “brand” their companies, pay for adverts, design a beautiful logo and put in whole lot more in the many “peripheral” aspects of branding, they fail to respond to the Main brand ambassadors :Their people!

The Russian government instead of putting out positive PRs and flooding the global media with how amazing Russia was, sat back and worked on the people. They created brand ambassadors from her citizens and their Prime Minister.

Branding is the emotional feeling people get from thinking of your products or services.

The first game of the World Cup was between Russia and Saudi Arabia. Vladimir Putin was all smiles. While he watched the match, one could see the relaxed nature on his face, the way it lit up whenever his team scored and his side jokes with his Saudi Arabian guest. Vladimir Putin showed the world that Russia was not a place with racists and insensitive police officers; that Russia was not all gangster and violence; that Russia was not the inhumane part of the world as portrayed by western media; he showed the world that they smile in Russia.

Companies who try too hard to make their brand stand out usually expect a strict working environment and would most times set down rules and regulations that were more restraining than convenient. They try too hard to enforce behaviours on the workers, try too hard to push the image of their company out there, try too hard to ‘Smile’ at customers and try not to offend them.

And they fail in the long run.

Branding is not superficial.

Branding is way past the great logo and beautifully looking company’s vision.

Branding is more than the color of your website.

Or how well your office space looks.

Branding is about people and their genuine belief in a company, a dream, a system…

Simon Sinek would always say that company who start with WHY, build stronger brands and trustworthy customers better than those who start with how and what.

Why was Russia hosting the World Cup?

It was not so they could unveil their stadiums and get thirty two teams to come play football.

It was not just because somebody had to host so they threw in their bid and voila, they were given the hosting rights.

It was not just for footballing reasons, as un-footballing as that might sound.

No country hosts the World Cup just because.

They host it for various reasons.

Russian government knew how powerful football was and how it could be harnessed as a tool for branding.

They hosted the World Cup so as remake the image of Russia most foreigners had in their head.

From the use of the Fans card to gain entry to the nation during the World Cup, to the fan parks and carnival like atmosphere, to the massive support the Russians gave opposing teams (It is reported that the Russian fans after their team was defeated by Croatia on penalties in the quarter finals, had a party with other Croatian fans and the team), they deliberately went out to create an environment conducive for all and sundry.

The uniqueness of a brand is not so much about the product delivered or service rendered as it is about the feelings felt.

Most brands work on creating a feeling, an experience, and not just a name.

As with the Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the power of people in making or marring a brand was reinforced even more. The Croatian president, who became the biggest figure at the later stages of the World Cup, displayed a genial feel to how Croatia is like. We may not have gone to Croatia before now, but seeing their President and how informal and friendly she looked, one would be willing to spend a few weeks holidaying at the Krka National Park, or the Plitvice Lakes National Park or spend a few days in the beautiful city of Zadar or Pula. She not only put her nation on the world map, but has created an emotional appeal that no one can deny, especially the men.

It does matter how well your product is, or how impeccable your service is. It is great to advertise your product, to have a brand color that resonates with what you stand for. It is welcomed to have a company logo that speaks of all you represent. But what is more important is that your company’s why is reflected in its most important brand: Employees.

Your customers buy a feeling. They buy your employees.

How well do you treat your brand? How well do you treat your employees?



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