Tag: corporate scum

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Bavaria versus AB-Inbev/FIFA: a postscript

I’m not going to rant again about the whole ambush marketing/erosion of human rights in favour of commercial gain fiasco of this year’s World Cup, but I received an interesting press release yesterday from Hall & Partners, who were always the most intelligent and useful research agency we used back in my advertising days.

Their – ahem – WebWordTM tracker has revealed that during the World Cup, in the blogosphere (not the beer blogosphere, the whole kit and caboodle) Bavaria trounced Budweiser.

WebWord is a “social media listening tool” that tracks online conversations in real time.  Following the expulsion and detention of the 32 women wearing unbranded orange dresses at Holland’s game on 14th June, H&P tracked “Budweiser AND (FIFA or World Cup)” versus “Bavaria AND (FIFA or World Cup)” to see which combination of terms got the most mentions online for the duration of the tournament.

They found that Bavaria gained 371% more blog buzz than Budwesiser.  Interestingly, it also beat every other World Cup sponsor – Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai, Sony and Visa.

But who needs expensive research to prove this?  Simply Google ‘World Cup Beer’, and see how many stories come up about Bavaria before you get any mention of the official sponsors.

FIFA has shown itself to have an extraordinarily aggressive attitude to ambush marketing.  But these figures show that the more they fight against it, the more powerful they make it.  Big, ugly corporations still have much to learn about marketing in social media.

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The Ugly Game

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?

Fifa says these women are illegal. (Pic stolen from the Guardian)

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.

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.

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Getting grumpy about beer provenance

So Scottish & Newcastle – the company that has already closed all its breweries in both Scotland and Newcastle – is going to start brewing Newcastle Brown in Yorkshire.

Now we all know that Yorkshire must be the best place in the world to brew beer, because Yorkshire beers are the best in the world. But this is a silly business decision because Newcastle Brown is a Newcastle beer and a Newcastle brand and a Newcastle legend.
OK, so Broon has been brewed in Gateshead rather than Newcastle for the last few years. That was bad enough. But it was just across the river and most people were prepared to overlook a technicality that only Geordies really cared about. It was still Newcastle really.
Now, S&N have taken a commercial decision which they think is a good one: to create vital cost savings by closing a brewery that, on paper, it no longer needs. There’s brewing capacity at Tadcaster, and Broon is produced on such a big corporate scale that moving it isn’t going to make the slightest bit of difference to the product as it now stands. In a declining market, big brewers can’t afford to be sentimental, and have to bow to the demands of the balance sheet and the stock market.
The problem for S&N is that this is not a good commercial decision. It’s a really, really dumb commercial decision.
It’s a dumb decision because it has really, really pissed off the brand’s core audience – in other words, the people who drink most of it. This decision is a slap in the face to the brand’s core drinkers. In fact it’s more than a slap in the face. It’s a happy slap and a really offensive “your mum” joke and pinning the drinker to the ground and farting on their head all rolled into one. It’s saying that local provenance in beer and local pride is less important than short term balance sheet savings.
It’s a dumb decision because even if you don’t live in Newcastle, beer provenance is part of why you choose a brand. A lot of people think Geordie style and culture is quite cool in a strange way, and they buy a bit of that cool when they buy a bottle of dog (which is what they call it cos they’ve heard that’s what real Geordies call it).
It’s a dumb decision because it’s called Newcastle Brown and has a picture of Newcastle on the label and if it’s brewed nowhere near Newcastle then it’s just a deeply average brown ale with no roots, provenance or authenticity.
It’s a dumb decision because premium bottled ale has been in steady growth for ten years – up 5% last year – as most other sectors of the beer market are in decline. Broon is the market leader in premium bottled ale. To make such a public statement of disinvestment and deprioritisation of a brand that is brand leader in the most successful segment of the beer market is, to put it a little too bluntly, really fucking stupid.
Next month, S&N are changing their name to Heineken UK, after being bought by the Dutch brewer at the start of 2008.
And that reveals why this decision is not just stupid, but really insulting too.
Because it would be easy to say that Heineken simply don’t understand the role of provenance and place in beer brands, in the way that, say, Inbev clearly don’t. But Heineken understands this very well.
Ten years ago Heineken in the UK was a standard lager brewed here under licence by Whitbread. It was the fourth biggest beer brand in the country, with over 1.1 million barrels sold annually. But it was an anomaly to a company that is passionate about the quality and consistency of its product. They axed the standard Heineken. Heineken in the UK is now a decent quality 5% premium pilsner lager, brewed in Holland and imported to the UK – because to build the brand, they feel it’s important that it comes from where it claims to come from.
So here’s a company that’s saying its own brand, with its name on it, is very important. Its provenance is a crucial part of its appeal and that’s why we only ever import it from Holland. But Newcastle Brown? This brand we inherited when we bought a company to get our hands on UK on-trade distribution for our beloved Heineken? Well it might be important to you northern peasants, but we couldn’t give a shit about it. Yorkshire? Newcastle? It’s all the north, innit? What are you complaining about? That’s what they’re saying. Honest it is.
I’m not one of those reactionaries who slags big breweries just because they’re big. I like some of what Heineken do. But this is nasty, stupid and offensive.

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England Ukraine update

There was a bit of debate the other day about how pubs might stream the internet-only game tomorrow.

Well tough shit to everyone who thought there was a way. According to The Publican, pubs are actually BANNED from doing so. Venal bastards Perform – the rights holders to the game – have mandated that the game cannot be screened for “any commercial purpose whatsoever” and will be checking the IP addresses of people who fork out for the game to ensure that pubs are not accessing it.
According to the greedy C***-in-chief at Perform, they looked at the possibility of streaming the game into pubs and decided it was “not viable”. So if you’re one of the people who said it could be done quite easily, Perform say you’re wrong.
No doubt rubbing wads of tenners around his scrotum while he did so, the git claimed that England fans have responded to the company’s sucking out the soul and spirit from our national game in a way that he is “encouraged” by.
If you’d like to discourage them future highway robbery, please go here and tell them how wrong they are.