There is a common saying here that Brazil is o país do futebol, or “country of football.” It is easy to understand why: Brazilian players wear five stars on their jerseys, one for each World Cup the country has won. Some of the sport’s most famous stars – Pelé, Garrincha, Ronaldo, Kaká and now Neymar – are Brazilian. And, Brazil invented the so-called “Art of Football.” So yes, most will easily agree that Brazil is revered in the sport. Seven years ago, when FIFA President Joseph Blatter confirmed that Brazil would host the tournament in 2014, the country was abuzz with both positive and negative reactions. Now, a few months away from the event, there is still a lot to do and the country’s critics are speaking out through the international press on an almost daily basis.
PR opportunities at the World Cup? Not so fast
What could have been a great opportunity to generate PR has become taboo. Only the official sponsors of the World Cup are allowed to use the event’s name, logo and mascot. Also, TV Globo is the only TV license holder in Brazil, meaning no other channel can broadcast any match. Together with FIFA, they have created a number of rules and consequences for those who use the event’s name without the right permission.
Countries use sporting events to attain visibility and to work on what some call “cultural diplomacy,” and what others call “nation branding.” Simply put, it aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries. Philip Kotler, world-class marketing expert, defines nation-branding as: “The sum of beliefs and impressions people hold about place. Images represent a simplification of a large number of associations and pieces of information connected with a place. They are a product of the mind trying to process and pick out essential information from huge amounts of data about a place.”
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa and 2012 London Olympics are the latest examples of successful ‘nation branding’ plans. South Africa managed to surprise the whole world and break old stereotypes. It left the country an enormous legacy, promoting its image as a trustworthy and hospitable place to visit. The Olympics also left a positive mark on Britain: the Nations Brand Index research, which rates 50 nations on criteria such as culture and tourism, found that Great Britain now occupies the 4th place, whereas before the event it was in 5th.
After the Cup: Potential Changes in Brazil
Because of Brazil’s great reputation for football – combined with its increasing relevance in the global sphere as a leader of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) – Brazilians are beginning to worry about the future. They worry that the country’s current infrastructure (from airports to urban mobility and violence) will not support the torrent of visitors, and that the Brazilian team won’t win their sixth star.
Despite the fearful conversations and the lack of progress at building sites, our leaders are optimistic. Simon Anholt, another expert on the topic, says that “nation branding” should not over-promise or try to make a country appear to be something it is not. “Marketing teaches us that people cannot be deceived for long; that the higher you raise their expectations, the more completely they reject your offering when they are disappointed.”
With the big tournament just months away, the country’s anxiety level is growing. Neymar, the golden boy, just got injured and became mixed-up in polemics. To top it off, a major construction accident happened in the stadium where the World Cup’s opening is supposed to take place. The clock is ticking and if Brazil wins the World Cup and everything goes smoothly, great. If not, let’s hope Brazilian leaders have a good crisis management plan and some other good tricks up their sleeves.