World Cup marketing battles kick off

A small pub in Pretoria, South Africa, host to next month’s football World Cup, has just been banned from putting up a sign that reads “World Cup 2010”.

The pub had fallen foul of the courts, which deemed that it’s not just the official logo but the phrase itself that’s a registered trademark, to be used only by official paid up sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Sony, McDonalds, Hyundai, adidas and Visa.

Powered by aggressive, flinty-eyed lawyers, the world of rights to global sporting competitions has become so oppressive that it’s spawning a backlash and it looks like there will be as many major battles off the field, between multi-national sponsors, as between the teams in the tournament.

A horde of firms, some of them very big and respectable indeed, will be entering the world of guerilla or ambush marketing next month.

Pepsi, Tic-Tac and McCoys are already planning football-themed promotions while bargain retailer Argos has just stepped into the arena with a nationwide promotion called “World Truck,” which will feature a front man, Barry, driving an Argos-branded truck up and down the UK.

The truck will be packed with a selection of Argos’s finest merchandise and there’ll be competitions, prize draws, videos, viral activity, charity work, events and free football lessons for children.

Who’ll get the best value for their money? The firms that have paid a fortune for the exclusive rights or the guerrillas nibbling round the edges with their cheeky targeted promotions?

Who knows? But we can be certain this is just an hors d’oeuvre for the main event, the London Olympics in 2012, when the battles between the marketers will be far more numerous and even more vicious.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.