It’s difficult to figure out what to be most disgusted by in the whole Robbie Earle world cup tickets farrago:
The fact that he sold tickets he had been allocated for friends and family?
The fact that ITV is allocated thousands of free tickets anyway? Why on earth does Robbie Earle need forty tickets for a Holland Denmark game in the first place?
The fact that when Fifa Vice President Jack Warner did the same thing in 2006 – netting himself $1million – he kept his job?
The fact that Earle’s naughtiness only came to light because he sold his tickets to forty women who used them to stage an ‘ambush marketing’ campaign for Bavaria Beer?
No. Winner in this whole unpleasant business has to go to the fact that these women were surrounded by forty stewards, ejected from the stadium, and held by Fifa for several hours in what they call a ‘facility’, for the crime of looking quite hot and wearing orange mini skirts.
Budweiser is, once again, the official beer sponsor of the World Cup. This means Bud is the only beer on sale in and around the stadia (not quite as offensive in South Africa as it was in Germany in 2006, but still pretty offensive). It also means that Budweiser is the only beer signage allowed anywhere near the games.
That’s why in 2006, Bavaria issued Dutch fans with orange trousers with ‘Bavaria’ written on them. It was a cheeky bit of guerilla marketing, and Fifa decided they didn’t like it. The Dutch fans were told they had to strip and watch the game trouserless, or go home. This astonishing infringement of human rights became headline news, giving Bavaria infinitely more free marketing than if paying fans had just been allowed to wear what they liked to watch their national team. When I googled ‘Budweiser World Cup’ later that year, the first page of hits were all newspaper articles and blogs criticising Fifa’s bully boy tactics on behalf of Budweiser. The official Bud site was way down the page.
Fair enough, A-B Inbev forked out a lot of money and in return deserve not to have any other beer advertised in the stadia. But your right to exclusive marketing surely does not extend to telling private individuals what they are and are not allowed to wear.
But this week saw an unrepentant Fifa and Budweiser taking this abuse to even higher levels. Orange is the Dutch national colour. It’s quite reasonable to expect fans of the national team to wear it. Unlike the trousers last year, this time there was no branding, no mention of the beer at all, anywhere on the garments in question. And yet these girls were ejected from the game and held against their will for several hours afterwards.
Let’s be realistic: even though Bavaria have denied involvement, of course it was a marketing stunt: why else would forty identically dressed women turn up in one block? But it’s a brilliant stunt: once again, Bavaria has had acres of free press coverage, and Fifa and Bud have been made to look really quite sinister and scary.
But that’s because they are. We all know it’s a marketing stunt, but it doesn’t break any rules. The rules prohibit competitive beer branding around the stadium. There was no branding. End of.
As the Bavaria spokesperson says, Fifa don’t have a trade mark on the colour orange. This is an astonishing abuse of human rights – admittedly a trivial one in the context of South Africa’s recent history, but still deeply disturbing, because it’s all about protecting the commercial rights of a beer brand. No brand should have the power to do something like this. If Fifa and Bud are to remain consistent in this policy, we should expect them to eject and detain any England fan with a St George’s cross flag, T-shirt or face paint, because this is a device used extensively in marketing by Bombardier, a competitive beer brand to Budweiser. That would be utterly absurd, outrageous and unacceptable of course. But then so is this.
How A-B Inbev think this ugly, bullying behaviour helps enhance Budweiser’s reputation is beyond me.
UPDATE 17TH JUNE
So it now appears that the two women who organised the stunt were arrested and face criminal charges. Let’s be clear here: they are guilty of getting women to wear orange dresses at a football game. And they could face jail time for that. So FIFA and A-B Inbev are now giving their rival billions in free publicity. They’re making themselves look sinister to an unparalleled degree – as brands, Nestle, Halliburton, Goldman Sachs look positively cuddly next to this lot. And something that allegedly breaks the terms of a brand licensing deal (it doesn’t, in fact) has been wilfully confused for something that breaks the criminal laws of a state. Let’s be clear: the precedent this creates could see you arrested for wearing branded merchandise of your choice if you’re wearing it in what a corporation – not the police, not the state, but an unelected, unrepresentative private company – deems the wrong place. I don’t know about you, but I’m scared.
My A-B Inbev boycott starts right now.