Monday, 25 January 2010

South Africa sports - a brand in itself

I must be one of the last people in South Africa to see ‘Invictus’, Clint Eastwood’s film of the 1995 Rugby World Cup in recently post-Apartheid South Africa. As well as an incredible story, in which the Springboks came from underdogs to win in the final against the mighty All Blacks, it could also be seen as an observation on the power of PR.

Mandela had a deep, natural understanding of his audience, his ‘family’ as he puts it, and understood the power of sport to influence and unite a nation. Moreover, the incorporation of the Rugby World Cup into his drive for reconciliation would also deliver an intuitive and subtle fulfilment of the requirement to clearly brand this new nation on the international stage. Tourism, foreign investment, people and culture & heritage, are all core elements of a nation branding strategy and the Rugby World Cup, given its international prominence at a time when South Africa was looking for FDI, was a perfect vehicle.

Mandela ‘s belief in keeping the Springbok name and colours, something most associated with Apartheid, was brave and brilliant. Sending his ‘rugby troops’ into the townships to run rugby camps for kids who had never before touched a rugby ball, was what would now be called good CSR strategy, while inviting the press along, a PR coup. As Morgan Freeman, playing Mandela, states when footage of the team with the children appears on TV, those few seconds are worth a hundred speeches. A picture says a thousand words, and sport is emotive – with or without the Hollywood soundtrack.

Every business and organisation is trying to find the ultimate channel for its story, to change minds, gain followers, or to sell something. It’s no wonder so many big corporations choose sports sponsorship as a way to reach the masses. This year’s FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa has seen billions of dollars of sponsorship deals and advertising spend as companies try to make the most of the opportunity at home and abroad. One of the most interesting things about the 1995 Rugby World Cup as it plays out in Invictus is the absolute lack of money or large-scale expenditure – pure PR and branding through and through.

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