If there’s one thing you don’t want as a result of an expensive advertising campaign at the largest footballing event of the year, it’s the most talented and most renowned player at the tournament moving your product off-screen, and urging viewers to drink water instead…
This is exactly what happened to Coca-Cola.Cristiano Ronaldo sat down for his post-match interview, but not before picking up both forward-facing glass bottles from in front of him, moving them out of shot, then finally looking towards the camera and saying, ‘drink water.’ This has not been an isolated incident either, there have been a couple of examples of Muslim players moving Heineken bottles out of shot as well, in line with their religious beliefs. Some have even suggested that it could be construed as insensitive to place alcoholic branding in front of people of certain religions, given that it is very important for these players to maintain a strong religious image.
It seems to be less common today for these kinds of placements to be used within football, especially regarding alcohol. The football association has long since scrapped champagne as a reward, as alongside religious reasons, health expectations at the elite level are constantly becoming more stringent. This means that to maintain both a strong public image and physical form, any form of ‘unhealthy’ beverage is unlikely to be promoted by a footballer after a game.
Initial coverage had suggested that Ronaldo’s actions had cost Coca-Cola large amounts in sales, however further investigations have found that it only seemed to make a small impact. Regardless, this will not have been something Coke was pleased to see; Cristiano Ronaldo just publicly rejected their product. For this reason, it’s interesting to look at how both Coca-Cola and Heineken could have explored more creative and innovative promotional methods to avoid this situation altogether.
The first step as a marketer is to get the players onboard. They’re why everybody is watching; they hold the most influence over the audience. The brands involved needed to realise that some individuals would not want to, even passively, promote certain products, so they would have been better off focusing on those who do. Perhaps splitting their budget for willing individuals to be involved in active promotion, rather than seemingly lazy product placement.
Secondly, it’s an important reminder to avoid being complacent as a brand leader. Even if indirectly, it seems as though a lack of communication is what caused problems for the brands. Footballers have been known to have a high sense of self-importance, so for branded bottles to quite literally superimpose over them in front of the public eye with no prior knowledge was bound to trigger this kind of power struggle. This was discussed at length on social media, with one user tweeting: ‘it’s all about power and control, IMO. Brands try to be too controlling and see their brands as more powerful than the footballers.’ Had the individuals known what was expected of them in advance and been brought onside (pun intended), they may not have reacted in the ways they did; a carefully comprised comms strategy would’ve been beneficial.
On top of this, brands should be wary of the individuals with whom they are working. As mentioned previously, it is no surprise that Muslim players do not wish to endorse alcohol. This naivety from Heineken is rather surprising, given the size of the brand. A common phrase we hear is to ‘know your customer,’ but this story has outlined the equal importance of knowing your brand associates. This might seem like an obvious concept, but this situation has shown the damage that can be caused by such a simple oversight.
These incidents should be seen as excellent learning opportunities for witnessing agencies: marketing and PR stunts need to be communicated well to all involved as you never know how an individual might react. It is dangerous to assume that product placements will automatically be received positively. Even Coca-Cola and Heineken, two of the biggest brands in the world, have fallen short of the comms benchmark, and it is clear to see how it has backfired for them.