Categories: Trust and reputations

6 October 2010


Coca-Cola’s sponsorship is all about them

Hands up who hasn’t known for years that Wayne Rooney of Manchester United is a “bad” boy. If Coca-Cola has not got its hand up, I accuse it of humbug or worse (plain stupidity).

What was Coca-Cola thinking of when it decided to make Wayne Rooney the face of its Coke Zero advertising campaign for the next couple of years? His track record in the tabloids is legendary. So it is hard to believe its C-suite was really “disgusted” by his latest antics and obliged to cancel his contract. There’s more to this than that.

Coca-Cola’s direct involvement with Wayne Rooney was like sky-diving without a parachute. Coca-Cola’s PRs ought to have known what a risk Rooney was (if they didn’t, they should have been fired).

Unless driven by cynicism, I can’t see why a “families values” brand should even contemplate selecting Wayne Rooney as the embodiment of its reputation. He’s a whore-mongering two-timer whose wife is picking up all the kudos. In his fraternity that’s the aftermath of a me-too night out. But there you go.

Coca-Cola took a punt, pure and simple. But having willingly got into bed with him, it should have been prepared to stick by him through thick and thin. It should have stated all along that it was backing the professional hero in him, not his private conduct. Instead, Coca-Cola endorsed Wayne Rooney’s entire life-style as if it satisfied their own vision. When it came unstuck, it dumped him.

Coke-Cola is guilty of being disingenuous. Praying that he wouldn’t get caught behaving badly, it deluded itself when it attached itself to Wayne Rooney’s profile. Its erratic behaviour exposes that Coca-Cola doesn’t know much, like or care much about football or show much loyalty to its sponsored icons.

Football is one of last great bastions of rugged individualism and authentic competition. It produces rough heroes, but rarely paragons of virtue. Its major players are stalked by tabloid hacks in search of sensations. They know that the game, from club ownership, to managers, players and fans, is a politically incorrect refuge in a wickedly politically correct world.

Coca-Cola can identify itself as rugged and risky, or as clean-living, but not both. Meanwhile, football welcomes its money; the more the merrier. But its many millions of fans are not fooled by the firm’s ‘We all speak football‘ slogan. Fans are aware that the unfaithful Coca-Cola doesn’t do sports sponsorship, or understand where Wayne Rooney fits into the fans’ esteem. It merely promotes its own values and image, not football’s.

8 responses to “Coca-Cola’s sponsorship is all about them”

  1. Heather Yaxley says:

    I agree there’s more here than meets the eye – but my take is that the issues relate to marketing vs PR and US versus UK power plays. Coca-Cola is a marketing led organisation and I bet this sponsorship was negotiated by that side of the business (in the UK) with zero input or say from PR at the time. Likewise, I reckon the US just went along with the initial recommendation – which if so, shows a shocking lack of guidelines or risk analysis within the company.

    You are also right about some sponsors not being fully committed to their sponsorships – which I believe applies equally to community and arts as much as sports. Perhaps another argument why they should be managed at least jointly by PR and marketing?

    I don’t agree that a sponsor always has to stick by an arrangement if it turns sour – but equally I’m not a huge fan of companies walking away with pseudo-shock when they’ve done a deal with someone or something where there are reputational questions pre-dating any contracts.

    But surely you can’t be surprised that Coca-Cola or any such sponsor promoting its own values and image? Isn’t it obviously only involved for such a commercial return on investment?

  2. Paul Seaman says:

    Heather, you might be right to point the finger at the marketing folk. Whoever was responsible, this whole episode makes Coca-Cola look naïve. I also agree that sponsors can break arrangements. However I don’t think that this was such a case because Wayne Rooney was not a surprise package. Coca-Cola likes to say that its support of football is much more than sponsorship; it’s a partnership. But I get the impression that it either doesn’t know its partner very well, or it took the view that you win some, lose some. Rooney worked for them for a while, and then didn’t. The rest was spin.

  3. Edward says:

    Coca-cola is running parallel adverts for its products, the clean living Coca-cola and the more risqué Zero brand, I would have thought that his antics would have suited the latter to the tee.

    It did not hurt Beckham when he got caught with his boxers down, it made him look cooler and sponsorships went up. But I guess with whom you choose to have an with assignation with or how many – if you are Tiger Woods – that is a factor that needs to be considered, grandmother prostitutes are not as attractive product sell as twenty something nannies.

  4. Paul Seaman says:

    Edward, you’re right to pick up the mixed messages running in parallel. As I said in my piece, Coca-Cola can identify itself as rugged and risky, or as clean-living, but not both. It’ll be fun to watch how Coca-Cola positions Coke Zero now that its dropped Rooney. Perhaps Coca-Cola should ask Simon Cowell to find it a saint by getting contestants to compete on TV to win the popular vote for the right to be IT.

  5. Gavino says:

    Coca-Cola hasn’t lost anything in all this and neither did Tiger’s sponsors. Wayne isn’t likely to hold a press conference complaining about the decision so Coca-Cola can charactierize the decision as they wish. My guess is that Coca-Cola went into this with their eyes open and decided that if something bad happened involving Rooney they could walk away from the arrangement with minimum fallout. Yes, it doesn’t show any loyalty but this deal was always about making money while it suited both parties. Perhaps Pepsi should orchestrate a photo of him drinking its brand and get it into the tabloids…!

  6. Paul Seaman says:

    Gavino, of course Coca-Cola has lost something valuable: Wayne Rooney! The fun in this is in cutting through the flannel. There’s the nice “we love families and football” exterior and then there’s something much tougher, more calculating, lurking in the background. And I don’t think that contradiction is lost on football fans. If Coca-Cola had just a little more guts it would realize that nobody would ever cite Wayne Rooney as a role model for anything other than being creative on the pitch (he’d never get a job as a marriage guidance counsellor). Done right: Coca-Cola could have kept him on their books. I predict, he might yet still reappear on Coca-Cola’s roster if he bangs in enough goals, wins a European Championship, or in my dreams of dreams, the World Cup. But right now: I love Pepsi, and I’m sure Wayne does too!

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