Yesterday’s World Cup match between the Netherlands and the Ivory Coast must have been quite a spectacle. As widely reported, over a thousand Dutch ticket holders arrived wearing orange lederhosen bearing the name of a Dutch brewery. Read that sentence again. Notice anything strange about it? Because it’s exactly the way this story has been reported by all but one or two news organizations. What’s missing is the name of the brewery, which was Bavaria NV. As revealed by IPKat, “For the record, most media – presumably because they benefit handsomely from Budweiser’s vast advertising budget – coyly refuse to tell us the identity of this Dutch upstart.”
So anyway, over a thousand Dutch fans show up wearing orange lederhosen with the beer brand name Bavaria on them. Dutch soccer fans traditionally don all things orange before games of their beloved “Oranje,” which is the nickname of the Netherlands national team and the distinctive color of their uniforms. So there’s nothing necessarily odd in that, and this is, after all, the biggest soccer tournament on the planet. But officials at the stadium in Stuttgart ordered them to remove their lederhosen or they would not be allowed to enter the stadium to see the game, despite having paid for their tickets. The majority simply removed them and went into the match and watched it in their underwear.
You can buy your own pair of orange lederhosen at the Bavaria online shop. They only cost about eight bucks, plus shipping. Or you can buy a twelve-pack and get a free pair. “The idea is supposed to be a gentle mockery of the Germans’ penchant for real lederhosen during the World Cup period. The lederhosen also feature a tail and a lion motif — the national symbol of Holland. So far over 250,000 pairs of lederhosen have flown off the shelves and they have become a cult item among Dutch soccer fans.”
Given that the lederhosen have long been available from the brewery and they are perfect for the rabid soccer fan, I don’t really see the problem. Go to any football game in the U.S. and you’ll see countless fans wearing their team’s colors in all manner of available merchandising paraphenalia. Is it really that much of a stretch to imagine in a succesful marketing promotion many people wearing the same item to a game. In a stadium the size of Stuttgart’s (seating is 52,000) is a thousand people wearing the same team promotional item really that hard to believe?
Even if it is to hard for you to believe, so what if the brewery gave away the lederhosen or made it very easy to obtain them? Companies have been doing that since Adam Smith first used his invisible hand to avoid a “hand ball” foul. If more of them actually wore them to a game than anticipated, they should be pleased as punch, and FIFA and sponsor Anheuser-Busch should shut the hell up about it. That’s just the market for you.
But that’s not what they did, of course. Instead, they took a different tack.
“Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser is the official beer for the tournament and world soccer’s governing body fiercely protects its sponsors from brands which are not FIFA partners. Markus Siegler, FIFA’s director of communications, said at its daily media briefing yesterday that the governing body was alert to the kind of ‘ambush’ marketing Bavaria had attempted.
From the Yahoo UK article:
“Of course, FIFA has no right to tell an individual fan what to wear at a match, but if thousands of people all turn up wearing the same thing to market a product and to be seen on TV screens then of course we would stop it.
“I don’t know exactly about what happened in Stuttgart, but it seems like an organised attempt to conduct a mass ambush publicity campaign was taking place.”
Peer Swinkels of the Dutch brewery told Reuters by telephone it was “absolutely ridiculous” and “far too extreme” to order the fans to take off their lederhosen and said the brewery had complained to FIFA.
“I understand that FIFA has sponsors but you cannot tell people to strip off their lederhosen and force them to watch a game in their underpants. That is going too far.”
Also from IPKat:
Said FIFA: “Anyone can wear whatever they want, but if a company tries to carry out ambush marketing, FIFA must prevent that happening. In common with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and UEFA, we do not tell individual supporters what to wear, but … FIFA has already won a court case against a beer manufacturer who tried this sort of thing”.
What this means is “Anyone can wear whatever they want, if FIFA says so”.
American beer Budweiser and Germany’s Bitburger are thus the only beers that can be sold, or even worn by spectators, in the 12 World Cup stadiums. The IPKat wonders what FIFA would have done, had the offending garments been t-shirts worn by thousands of young ladies.
PR Professional John Cass had this to say about how the incident will likely effect Anhesuer-Busch:
I think FIFA just created a public relations disaster for Anheuser-Busch by requiring 1,000 Dutch football supporters to remove their trousers when entering an international football match.
FIFA thought that the bright orange trousers represented a “marketing ambush” tactic. FIFA officials blocked entry to the stadium of any Dutch fans wearing the trousers, rather than miss the game 1,000 fans took off their trousers and watched the match in their underwear.
I think the FIFA officials have lost sight of the boundaries between business and common decency. As for Anheuser-Busch, I would not want to be the PR Manager today. This sort of protection of Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship by FIFA surely cannot be endorsed by the company, otherwise Anheuser-Busch will be remembered this World Cup as company that took 1,000 Dutchmen’s pants away from them.
FIFA might be right that the Dutch company’s marketing tactic ambushed the World Cup stadium. But in the end what matters most in marketing terms is how a company’s brand it perceived through its marketing efforts. I’ve been searching through the web this evening, and it’s not looking good for Anheuser-Busch. Most comments are from Europe, and the majority of the posts are either incredulous or negative about the incident, for Anheuser-Busch:
I say “tough luck corporate sponsors”, money shouldn’t be able to buy the right to subject people to this kind of indignity. At the very least these people should have been offered alternative netherwear. In fact I think they should sue the sponsor who insisted on this and campaign to boycott their wares. So watch out Budweiser, I’m off Bud now (Nouslife Blog).
Where’s all this World Cup goodwill?
… and I always thought it wasn’t the winning that was important, but the taking part (No Offence Intended).
The PR disaster that is Budweiser’s sponsorship of the World Cup gets worse (CMM News).
The Netherlands beat Ivory Coast 2-1. I think I’ll be rooting for them in their next match, which of course I’ll be watching wearing nothing but my underwear with a nice cold Bavaria Beer by my side.