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The World Cup sponsors: What are brands giving back to the favelas?

It may feel longer to some but it’s now been almost two weeks since the World Cup kicked off and like host nation Brazil – which brings together sea, sand, favelas, skyscrapers and the jungle – it’s been an event of contrasts. Not on the pitch, where the action has been thrilling punctured, but off it – where a celebration of sport been undermined amid a spate of protests.

The strain that putting the infrastructure in place to host a World Cup has had on Brazil’s financial resources, at a time where the uneven distribution of wealth across the country is under scrutiny, has fed an underlying feeling of frustration that has at times turned violent.

When the final accounting is done – it’s expected that the World Cup could cost Brazil around $14.5bn. A price that has grown thanks to some spurious building projects such as replacing a typically half-full stadium in Manaus, with one twice the size. What’s more, this has seen several social housing projects designed to help improve the lives of many that live within the slums delayed; the anger at the way public money has been spent is understandable. And when you add serious allegations of corruption against the chief organisers, FIFA, to the backdrop then you have a recipe for a reputational nightmare.

For the brands partnered with the World Cup, and in a lot of cases this represents a long-standing association, these factors present a raft of potential issues. No doubt that the world’s most popular sporting event presents an ideal opportunity to achieve worldwide cut-through and promote a positive message, but that message could become compromised when the entire thing is taking place against a backdrop of negativity.

There’s still been no shortage of bold creative but the answer to creating a lasting, positive brand association may well lie in supporting any traditional activity by demonstrating sport’s value as a vehicle for social progress. Of course, brands should avoid engaging in any political debate that doesn’t directly effect their reputation, but there still remains an opportunity to showcase the way sport can shape and improve society.

For example, in the lead up to the competition, Budweiser’s ‘Rise as One’ campaign saw the brewer partner with cultural magazine Vice to produce a series of articles that showcased inspiring football stories from different continents. These tales touched on various powerful stories such as profiling the American National Amputee Soccer team, training a blind Brazilian football team, and how a deprived town in Thailand built on sticks came together to make a football pitch… predictably, out of sticks.

Coca-Cola, meanwhile, looked to emphasis the inclusiveness nature of the tournament by going into Brazil in the lead-up to the tournament with a grass-roots campaign across 27 of the country’s cities. The soft drinks brand recognised local heroes who had helped their communities in a variety of ways, from developing reading and athletic programs for young people, to establishing an NGO dedicated to promote sustainable development, through to educational activities.

Socially responsible campaigns also needn’t be the preserve of the local – they can also tackle international issues like carbon emissions too. With hundreds of thousands of football fans from across the globe descending on Brazil their route to watch the games presents a problem. To try and combat this, BP teamed up with FIFA to launch an opt-in scheme that encouraged ticket holders to neutralise their carbon footprint from travelling around the country.

Of course, an initiative with a social or environmental cause at its core needn’t purely be a philanthropic pursuit – there may well be a business benefit too. Nielsen polled 30,000 consumers in 60 countries and found that more than half (55%), said they were willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to making a positive impact on society and the environment.

Ultimately, there’s more than one way to win a football match and when that’s much the same when it comes to World Cup sponsorship. With major partners investing as much as £30m each year with FIFA, the clamour for share of voice is understandable. However, many of these brands already have CSR schemes that can be utilised to make sure the event’s legacy resonates both inside and outside the favelas in the right way.


Josh Colley, PR and Marketing Manager

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