veryone loves and wants to be associated with a good brand. What distinguishes a particular product and service from another is simply termed a brand. People who have carved a niche for themselves in specific fields of endeavour have been known to become a household name (a brand) whose influence goes beyond the imagination. It can be said that every single one on the surface of the earth is a brand so long as they have an identity (that is, name, race, etc.). But the question is, how sellable or marketable is your identity? How have you been able to transform an identity into a brand?
Branding has always been a core aspect of marketing throughout the phase of all human endeavour. Arguably, the first commercial branding in the history of mankind started in the ancient city of Egypt in 2700 BC (according to a cattle roundup painting discovered in an Egyptian tomb). Egyptians were known to paint their livestock with colours unique to individual family lineage. So, when their cattle mix with other livestock in the grazing field, they can be easily identified and separated from the rest. More so, when stray cattle are found in a town, one could easily identify whom it belongs to.
Branding took a new dimension when the slave trade era across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean ushered in; this time, people were being brandished with hot iron pressed against their skin or with a specific metal wrapped around their neck, nose, mouth or ears for the slave owners. When slave trade was finally abolished, branding went from that to being in product and services giving rise to business activities across the globe.
Tobacco cards featuring baseball stars from the eighties were the first type of sports branding in the 1870s. However, the expansion in television coverage of sports has resulted in a significant increase in sports branding over the last 70 years. Babe Ruth became the first 6-figure athlete in the world of professional sport when a Major Baseball League match was shown on television for the first time in 1939. Ever since famous athletes and sports celebrities have been used for marketing.
Let me ask you, have you ever purchased a product only because it was worn or promoted by your favorite athlete? For some people, purchasing a product endorsed by a celebrity allows them to become more connected to that person’s world by utilizing the product. This is precisely why sports celebrities are used to advertise brands.
Most times, those products are not what they seem but, the fact that a sports celebrity with huge fans and followers had adorned such a product, or a pop icon is seen in public with a can of drink claiming it to be his or her favourite, next thing is that – the product’s graph (sales-wise) starts spiraling on the upward trend.
Athletes over the decades have always been chosen by sports brands to promote a product; in this approach, the athlete’s status in the public eye allows him to attract clients owing to his capacity to make people want to be like him. When an athlete recommends a product, it boosts its credibility, trustworthiness, and attractiveness. The stock price and market share value of a brand being pushed by a well-known athlete have been known to skyrocket after the advertising has been broadcast in the media. Stock prices rose by a quarter of a percentage point on the day a company announced an endorsement contract with a celebrity athlete, according to a Harvard Business School professor’s research conducted in 2019.
As good as it may sound, one issue with using athletes in commercials is that an asset may quickly become a burden. Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods are two well-known endorsers whose reputations have suffered as a result of incidents that occurred outside of a sporting event. However, a media storm of that magnitude is not required to make an impact. Whether it is an on-field incident, an arrest, or simply suspicion of unethical behavior, any negative press generated by an athlete promoting your product can reflect adversely on your company.
This reflected what happened on Monday the 14th of June, 2021 at a press conference in the ongoing European nation soccer tournament involving Cristiano Ronaldo and the Coca-Cola brand.
The removal of two Coca-Cola bottles by Cristiano Ronaldo at the Euro 2020 press conference corresponded with a $4 billion decline in the American beverage giant’s market capitalization. His choice to hide two Coca-Cola bottles from view during a press conference, lowering the value of the soft drink company’s European Championship sponsorship, has highlighted the dangers that marketers face when partnering with social media-savvy athletes.
The captain of the Portugal national team, a well-known healthy lifestyle advocate who avoids carbonated drinks and alcohol, emphasized his point by holding a bottle of water and shouting “agua,” which means “water” in Portuguese. The water brand in question was also owned by Coca-Cola, but the harm had already been done – by a famous sports star with 550 million social media followers.
Coca-Cola is one of Euro 2020’s official sponsors. The company’s stock slid 1.6 percent from $56.10 to $55.22 practically immediately after Ronaldo’s gesture. Coca-Cola’s market worth dropped by $4 billion from $242 billion to $238 billion.
Many major corporations have never been able to keep a tight grip on their celebrity endorsers’ behaviour. Tiger Woods’ sponsors, including Gillette and Gatorade, dropped him after a 2009 sex scandal, but Nike stood by him. Ronaldo’s public snub, on the other hand, represents a new kind of threat to the once-comfortable commercial power balance between celebrities and corporations, one born of the social media age.
The world’s most recognized footballer, at 36, has amassed an empire worth more than $1 billion (£720 million) in football pay, incentives, and commercial interests such as sponsorships. What is important is the global platform that social media has provided him – he has half a billion Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook followers – which has allowed him to avoid the commercial restrictions of clubs, tournaments, and their sponsors. He is the highest-paid Instagrammer, charging $1 million for each paid post, and earns more than $40 million from the platform each year, more than his Juventus salary.
In a similar vein to Ronaldo’s gesture, France player, Paul Pogba, a practising Muslim, sat down to speak to the media following his team’s 1-0 triumph against Germany on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, he took a bottle of Euro 2020 sponsor Heineken’s non-alcoholic brand off the press conference table. He was one of a handful of Manchester United players who canceled a contractual event for sponsors three years ago to protest the club’s inadequate travel arrangements, which had hampered Champions League games.
Sponsorship scrutiny is a common occurrence at major sporting events. Sponsors such as Coca-Cola and fast-food giant McDonald’s have been criticized in the past. Health activists say that marketing for high-sugar or high-fat products contributes to the global obesity pandemic.
Cigarette and betting firms had previously been mentioned as sports sponsors in other campaigns, however, neither is present during Euro 2020 (currently held in June 2021).
Activism for or against a brand by a famous athlete is just an undertone of the real message. This is like a case of biting the hand that feeds. These multinational corporations are the major sponsors of most sporting tournaments in the world. And, part of their money coupled with that generated from viewership (media subscriptions), ticket sales, and sales of sporting merchandise are what is used to pay the huge salary of athletes. The sponsor needs the athlete as much as the athlete needs the sponsors too. But, in the case where the athlete demeans the sponsor’s brand as a way of venting out their views and opinion, what do you make of it?