Brand Lessons from Football

01 Dec,2022

Nicolas Otamendi’s photograph saying: Hoy más que nunca (today more than ever). Indeed! Picture source: @Notamendi30



By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyayThe biggest sporting festival in the world is in full swing. Like every previous edition, this too is having its share of delights and controversies. Each day for the last 10 days, has thrown up one new story outside of the sport. Starting with the general narrative of human rights abuses and contract worker deaths in Qatar, the spotlight moved on to beer not being allowed in the stadia despite Budweiser being a sponsor, to the Iranian team not singing their national anthem in their first match, to the Germans doing the team gesture in support of the ‘OneLove’ movement, to the ex-Danish prime minister sitting next to the FIFA chief wearing a dress with rainbow sleeves, to a tweet before the US-Iran game showing the Iranian flag without the central crest and then to celebrations in Tehran on the national team failing to qualify for the next round. Guess Gianni Infantino has had his fill of hair-raising anxieties for one lifetime!



Since we do not have actual wars and battles as frequently as till the 1800s, the sportsfield has been the battleground. Between countries. For movements. For protests. For spreading fear. For claiming ‘victories’. And football has been one of the biggest sporting platforms since the first World Cup in 1930. Given that 140-odd nations play the game and are ranked by FIFA, no other sport comes close by a mile in terms of popularity. It is the only team sport that has no hierarchies in terms of the elite performers and the also-rans. This is one team sport that has broken down barriers of colour, race, region and faith… time and again. Therefore, the lessons a brand can draw from the sport are priceless. And the current FIFA World Cup is no exception.


The first 10 days have reiterated the following realities that every brand manager should pay heed to:


No place for pedestals

There are no hierarchies in the marketplace. There is a leader and a challenger. And that is all. What was good for yesterday is not good enough for tomorrow. And no challenger fears the holder of the crown. Champions are meant to be beaten. The higher ranked teams might not even go into the next round. They will be made to struggle for survival at every stage. Every new market or segment or target customer is a totally fresh playground.


Possession is nothing

This is the biggest learning from the game. One can possess the ball for only one-third of the time and yet win the game. In this edition too several teams have done so repeatedly. One does not get any point for possession but only on scoring goals. Quality over quantity!


Counterattacks are critical

The ability to react against intense competitive pressure is to take the game into the other camp and strike. For this planning counterattacks as part of the core strategy is important. The counterattack cannot be random and whimsical. It needs to be thought out, rehearsed and then deployed for maximum impact. The counterattack has the ability to break the morale of competition.


Conversion matters

One cannot come away from the game happy that the team made 17 attempts of which two hit the crossbar, five were parried away and six were corners. Every free kick within 25-30 metres of the opposition’s box needs to be converted. Same with every corner. These are opportunities given to you by the other team, so wasting them is almost a crime. Leads and footfalls need to be converted just like these chances, especially if handed over by competition.

As I write, it is half-time in the Argentina-Poland game.

Argentina must win this to move into the next round.

It has had 65.8% possession, nine shots inside the box, seven shots on target, two shots blocked and one penalty saved. If this continues and Argentina cannot make it, who else is to blame? (Argentina beat Poland 2-0, and, yes, it has advanced to the next stage – Ed)


Plan B in reserve

Superstars can be injured. Pivots can underperform on certain days. Have alternatives ready in reserve. Also, have a balance of specialists and generalists. There will be the traditional defenders and midfielders who have clear roles but also the ‘liberos’ who can operate in different positions depending on the situation. Players who can use both feet to shoot are prized for any team. Ivan Perisic of Croatia typically switches flanks from his favourite left to the right when the game demands. And the opposition is typically not prepared for such sudden changes in plan. Multi-tasking works in football too as Johann Cruyff and his Dutch team demonstrated in the 1974 World Cup!


Regard and respect

At the end of the 90 minutes, once the battle is over, you go over and embrace the player of the other team. If you tackle a player, you give him a hand too to get up. When an injured opposition player is being tended to, you do share a bottle of water with his teammate. And when your opposition has been knocked out of the tournament, you do lend a shoulder to cry on. For it is a game after all. It is to win and not to kill, to defeat and not to destroy.


Antonee Robinson of the US team comforts Ramin Rezaeian of Iran after the latter are knocked out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup – Source Getty Images


Like a good Bong, Avik Chattopadhyay is nuts about football. Just as he is about brands, automobiles, advertising, culture, religion, Indian politics, American politics, British politics… almost everything. Like a good Bong, we told you. This is his column, which is published every other Thursday. His views are personal. And, yes, he’s a strategy consultant based in Gurugram.


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