When you think of guerrilla activity in Africa in response to powerful, answerable-to-no-one dictatorships the imagery this creates is not pleasant I imagine. However in a twist on the usual the country in question is South Africa, the dictatorship is FIFA, ruling body of world football, and the guerrilla activity is the advertising for a local airline called Kulula which is most definitely, without question, not, I said NOT an official partner of the FIFA World Cup 2010.
For those of you who live on the moon, or America and Australia (both of who have qualified for the tournament unlike Scotland, irony noted) the football (soccer if you must) world cup begins in a few weeks. For many this is a big deal, it will attract a massive world wide TV, radio and internet audience, generate literally tons of newsprint and be agonised over by countless millions. And of course it is also big business, sponsorship and advertising revenues alone run into hundreds of millions. FIFA have official partners, these tend to be the usual suspects, international megabrands we are all familiar with who have paid a serious amount for exclusivity. FIFA guard this exclusivity closely, and fair enough it’s their tournament (well actually it’s ours but that’s another debate) their imagery, logo, colours and so on. Why should anyone who hasn’t paid for it be allowed to use any of them? All of us in advertising know how this works and pretty much all agree that any misuse of a brand is detrimental to that brand and to be discouraged. That FIFA enforce this is a good thing, except when they take it to the lengths they have.
The South African airline Kulula ran this ad recently. Which makes it pretty clear they are not official partners or in anyway associated with the World Cup as well as making some strong sales messages. According to the airline they received a lawyers letter from FIFA regarding the advertisement, requesting that they refrain from using the words, ‘South Africa’, its national flag and other images such as actual footballs. Surely even to professional marketers this is draconian, I mean if a company based in and working in South Africa can’t use the words of its own country in an advertisement then perhaps its time we all packed up and went home, the lunatics have really taken over the asylum.
Why I believe it though is because we attended a briefing for the Olympic Games which will be held in London in 2012. At that meeting it was explained to us that we would not be allowed to use the words London, 2012 and Olympics in marketing material if they weren’t official partners. Banning the use of the name of a world city and a calendar year did felt like hyperbole at the time, now it feels Orwellian.
Kulula and their agency responded to the lawyers with this rather wonderful advertisement, and a PR campaign that ensured people like me, and you, got to hear about it. I only know one airline in South Africa now and it certainly isn’t the official carrier who ever they might be.
It is fair to say, to use a football parlance, FIFA have scored a spectacular own goal. For those who see themselves as brand guardians there is a lesson in this, stifling creativity is very difficult and in our increasingly social world these things can go global very quickly.