Last summer, GSJ contributor Neil Bedford headed to Brazil to work on Visa’s global Fanbassador campaign. We asked Jeremy Nicholas, of the company’s Product Marketing Division, how it felt to sponsor the biggest footballing spectacle for a generation.
This article is taken from Issue 8 of The Green Soccer Journal, Winter 2015. Now available to pre-order from our online store.
We see a lot of sponsors attached to large sporting events, so it was great to get an insight into how a brand such as Visa approaches an event of this scale. Can you explain a little about what football means to you, both on a personal level and as a team?
Many of us are dyed-in-the-wool fans who love football. And like every fan, every member of our team felt an allegiance to their country of birth, so having an opportunity to see them play in a World Cup in Brazil was a dream come true. As a business, Visa is about helping people everywhere get to where they want to be in life; enabling people to be a part of the World Cup—be they in Brazil or another part of the world—is a great demonstration of this.
What was the thinking behind the Fanbassador project?
Visa is intimately connected with fans’ World Cup experiences – in the restaurants, bars, streets, shops and in the stands. We wanted to capture this rawness, this authenticity, and believed the best way to do it was to take a photojournalistic approach. Partnering with world-class photographers in Brazil and around the world, we gave them the freedom to take the shots that they felt best represented the spectrum of emotions inherent in being a fan at a major tournament. These images then formed the backbone of our global social media campaign.
What was missing from the World Cup experience that you wanted to capture? Was it a case of trying to do something different from traditional coverage of the competition?
We strived to get rid of the sheen of artificiality that often exists between a fan and a brand working on a football-related project. Our aim was to remove that filter and capture the intense emotion that comes with being part of the World Cup.
How do you measure the success of a campaign such as this?
Our work ran in more than 100 countries and helped us to achieve many of the business goals we set. It was great to see people sharing the images and messages through social media; in the end, we generated 1.7 billion impressions. More importantly than the numbers, though, I think it showed that the message was meaningful to people – in the long run, it can help to create a lasting connection with the Visa brand.
Did the team get a chance to enjoy the football, or was it all hands on deck?
During June and July the team worked for seven weeks straight and were on-call 24/7. That said, when you are working on something this meaningful—both personally and professionally—you never mind the hours. We were lucky enough to see some matches, though, and the standard of football across the tournament was excellent. Most memorable for me were Holland’s demolition of Spain and Germany’s victory over Brazil; in both cases it felt like you were witnessing footballing history.
We sat in anticipation each day waiting for Neil to send his edit through, live from Brazil. Can you offer some insight into the atmosphere of the tournament? Were there any particular highs (or lows)?
A World Cup in Latin America allowed huge numbers of fans from that part of the world to travel to matches. The passion, noise and colour they bring to the stadium and the streets during the tournament is unique in world football. The Brazilian people have a special love for the game, were wonderful hosts and played a huge part in the celebratory atmosphere.
Looking at the campaign as a body of work, we are extremely proud of what we created. In the images you can see the drama of the World Cup unfold; often, though, it might just be the story of one particular match. The most memorable moment was witnessing the joy, disappointment, then despair of the Mexican fans during their last-16 match with Holland, which Neil captured at the viewing party on Copacabana Beach. Both sets of fans are brilliant and the roller-coaster of emotions is writ large in the images he came back with.
What’s next for you and the team? Is it a case of looking forward to Russia in four years’ time, or have you got other ambitions before then?
We commenced work on Russia before a ball was even kicked in Brazil. For us, each World Cup is a long-term project. On the immediate horizon is the Women’s World Cup in Canada; the excellent standard of football, the global expansion of the women’s game and the huge participation rates in North America will no doubt help to ensure full stadiums, a great atmosphere and record television audiences.