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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 11:41 GMT 12:41 UK
We love you [insert country name here]
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Patriotic World Cup adverts are all over the television. But how much do these global corporations really support any national team? Prepare for plenty of, er, own goals.

Mars has changed its identity to Believe for the World Cup

Forget the football, there's another World Cup in progress. It's the battle between corporations to identify themselves with the beautiful game. And more particularly, the battle to be seen as the biggest fans of the national team.

But how much do they really believe in their teams? What flag does a globalised corporation fly? The answer: everyone's flag, but don't tell anyone else.

"Picture the scene: Beckham flushed with pride, brimming with jubilation, raising aloft the coveted World Cup trophy to the roar of a euphoric crowd. It's enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck shoot up. So let's believe England can go all the way and kick off the celebration right now."

You can feel the surge of emotion in this Hyundai current summer promotion. In fact, the car firm is so keen on believing "England can go all the way" that it's sponsoring the Australia and South Korean teams too.

Uncle Ben's rice
Uncle Ben's rice - another Mars brand - wearing German shirts

There are plenty more moments of confused identity in the corporate boxes. Because a few World Cups ago, you could put up a poster in one country confident that few people would see it anywhere else.

Now the internet means we can peer over the garden wall and see what these global corporations are telling different people in different places.


For instance, there's a huge new poster in London's West End from Mastercard, promising that the World Cup final is going to be another St George's Day, complete with St George's cross, lance and football - and the punchline "Priceless".

Mastercard Australia
Mastercard's priceless support for Australia's football team

But hold on, what are the Mastercard customers going to shout? "La hinchida grita AR-GEN-TINA!!!" which translates as "the fan shouts Ar-gen-tina!!!". Or at least that's what Mastercard says in Argentina.

Except if you're a fan in Australia, where Mastercard - cue emotional and sincere voice - is all about "chanting yourself hoarse at every Australian game: priceless".

The brand-boosting power of the World Cup has seen Mars bars re-coated as Believe in the UK, with television adverts selling the chocolate as the patriotic choice for England footie fans. Never have so many flags been waved to sell confectionery.

With such bloke-next-door passion on display, surely the US-owned Mars company couldn't be waving anyone else's colours?

"The fans shout for Ar-gen-tina!" says Mastercard

Well, different market, different message. Mars also owns M&Ms, which are sold as a patriotic American choice.

And to add to the multinational confusion, Uncle Ben's rice is running a World Cup promotion in Germany with the slogan "Unsere Mannschaft fur den Sieg" (Our team for victory). The connection? Uncle Ben is another brand from Mars, I believe.

One love, two teams

Can you play for both sides, even if your slogan is "One love"? Sports firm Umbro has filled its website shop window with images of the England team - except when England comes to play Sweden in the group stages, what's the name of the Swedish official sponsor? Umbro.

T-Mobile: German phone company, partners with England and Czechs

Even stranger, if you click on the Pepsi sponsor link on the England home page, you get re-directed to an online gambling website.

But there's no doubting the heartfelt commitment of credit card giant MBNA. "Show you support England every day by applying for and using the Official England Football Credit Card."

Although, let's not be hasty. How about MBNA's alternative offer: "Say it every time you use your card - I AM CANADIAN!"

And that's only the tip of the corporate iceberg. Among the sponsors and partners there are more multiple relationships than a polygamists' World Cup cook-out.

Puma is partners with Italy, Ghana, the Czech Republic and Paraguay; Nike with Holland, Mexico, the United States, South Korea and Croatia; Coca Cola is partners with Germany, Portugal, South Korea and Mexico and Adidas is sponsoring Spain and Germany.

Global brand, local roots

It's beginning to sound about as sincere as those photocopied Christmas round robin letters - "This year, we've been thinking about how much we miss you all, but couldn't be bothered to write you an individual card..."

The passion is Sweden ... and Germany, Portugal, South Korea

But maybe it's a case of globalisation catching up with the local worlds of football - and the meaningless babble of management-speak being applied to sport.

Graham Hales, executive director of the international brand consultancy, Interbrand, says the World Cup is a "deeply significant" event for promoting brands - with the unpredictability of the outcome making it an even bigger gamble.

It's a particularly important opportunity for global brands to "lay down local roots", he says - giving anonymous organisations a more familiar face.

M&Ms, another Mars brand, has a patriotic message in the US

And he says that the public has become comfortable with such multi-nationals presenting contrasting messages around the world.

Rather than showing corporate fickleness, he says that global brands operating in different parts of the world can look "statesmanlike" and above local differences.

Malcolm Clarke, chair of the Football Supporters Federation, is less impressed, saying that some of these corporations "discover football for a few weeks every four years" and that irritates the regular fans.

He enjoys the flags being waved, he says, but it still sticks in the throat that when it comes to the World Cup that the corporate sponsors get so many tickets to the matches and so few go to ordinary fans.

"Football fans are not so naive that they don't realise that these firms are in it for the money."

Got a comment, or, even better, other examples of divided corporate loyalties? Tell us and include links to any relevant websites.

As an England supporter who has spent the last 10 years at every game home and away, I can safely say the sponsors don't care which teams are on the pitch. They don't care about the results or the supporters, or even which sport they are sponsoring. As long as their advertising is seen and their brand is shown alongside the top players the actual details of the match are irrelevant..
Mark Hetherington, London

I totally agree that it becomes just a bit tacky to watch the absolutely cynical and unending flag waving of global companies. We were watching the TV last night when an ad came on showing Toyota's absolute fanatical support for the National Team (Mexico). I turned to my wife and said, "kinda makes you wonder who they're supporting in Japan, doesn't it?"
Don Johnson, Mexico City

Seeing Watford win the play off final in Cardiff was wonderful, but the degree of corporate overkill almost took some of the shine off a great day. Ten whole minutes of royal marines in coke t-shirts waving coke flags up and down. All our players being forced into yellow coke t-shirts to collect the trophy, and being given coke banners to parade before their fans. The icing on the cake was the full time announcement: "This is what Championship football is all about (pause) Coca Cola!". I've started drinking Pepsi.
Richard, Watford

You are absolutely right. UK people might like to know that every time they use a Visa credit card they are supporting the US Olympic effort, at least according to advertising over here.
Terrey Parker, UK ex-pat in USA

Who are we to complain if a businessman decides to sell his product by utilising the wave of any recent mania? We give him this right by being maniacs. He's a professional and lives in a world of tough competitors. He has to use every mean at hand, and yes, that includes the World Cup fervour raging now, too.
Azeem Ahmed, Lahore, Pakistan

The multi-nationals are doing all this 'patriotic' marketing because of one thing: our money. They want us to spend it on their products, it's as simple as that. Let's teach them a lesson every time you have a choice in buying a product, go for the one which has not been marketed in this fashion.
Kevin, Yorkshire

Who cares? It pays for the team, doesn't it?
Jared, London

My friend tried to buy World Cup tickets with a Visa and was told that he needed a Mastercard (an official sponsor) to buy tickets. Similarly in German stadiums, beers that are not Budweiser (an official sponsor) cannot be drunk in official glasses during the World Cup. Apparently people still believe that the World Cup is for the fans.
Rahul, London

I would like to see the players indulge in the sponsors' products before games. A Big Mac with fries, a coke and a 'Believe' bar - then run onto the pitch and try and play. New world cup sponsors - Rennies and disinfectant?
Geoff, Perth

It's time for the masses to focus on what is really important. There is nothing patriotic about buying an England flag made in China. With recent plant closures/moves overseas I have stopped buying several brands in favour of home produced ones - latest example is HP sauce.
James, Great Yarmouth

The only rational response for any sane person is to boycott any and every product that is advertised. After all, if you buy the product, you're paying for all this nonsense. Let's pick quality, local products over hyped, over-marketed idiocy.
Andrew, London

Strangely enough, all the posters showing Mars as 'Believe' were hurriedly altered in Scotland to have the year '2010' added - the year of the NEXT World Cup! Good save.
Robert, Edinburgh

The approach of companies can be highlighted by Mars and Believe. In Scotland, we have posters with a saltire background, the Mars bar with Believe on it and the year 2010 below. Not inspiring stuff and probably more linked to falling sales in Scotland. However, this has brought out the best in local entrepreneurs. In Edinburgh, you can get T-shirts which use the same colours and font as the traditional Mars logo that say 'Ma-ar*e'. The perfect response to this D-minus Believe effort.
Neil, Edinburgh

The more important question is not whether corporations support football teams, but rather what they do to local markets. Advertising Beckham while closing factories and exporting jobs is the real story behind corporations' abuse of your confidence, and it's those stories that should make the headlines, not silly campaigns designed to maximise debt and alcoholism.
George, Bristol

I think it's brilliant. The more these tin pot supporters try and fool us into thinking they're with us the more they shoot themselves in the foot. I'm fed up with corporations jumping on the 'whatever event' bandwagon, they expose themselves as shallow greedy oppurtunists with no more interest in the sport than they have in the supporters.
Terry Doyle, Liverpool

Anyone that eats a Mars bar just because they brand themselves as "Believe" for a month must be buttoned up the back. Surely you either enjoy a Mars bar or you don't!
Andrew Sunter, Rosyth, Scotland

Sorry folks, anyone who thinks that sport is going to stand in the way of corporate globalisation is kidding themselves. That said, it is even more na´ve to believe that these corporations have the interests of sports or sports supporters at heart; for them the shareholder is king. Next thing you'll be suggesting that Premiership footballers put the interests of their clubs ahead of their own pay packets. What a bizarre concept!
Ross Christieson, Bath

Money killed the the real game off years ago, it's just a 'product' for kids and train spotters now, why moan?
Ed, Scotland

I used to work for a global management consultancy firm. It was interesting that at a local level they sponsored the Olympic bid for 2012 in USA, UK, France and Spain. So when London won they could claim they had sponsored the winning team. In reality they had sponsored all the teams bar Moscow so they could hardly lose could they?
Liam Tohms, Holmfirth

Yeah, this is exactly why I'm not watching the World Cup this year. I've followed football all my life but it's an absolutely bent sport now, speaking of Bent why isn't he in the side? I'm sure it's because multinationals don't recognise Charlton as a big team so its not commercially worth putting him in the squad.
Richard Blackaby, Orpington

What of the companies like Toshiba who say if England win the World Cup, we'll give you 66% off, as we're so confident of a win? Surely this is advertising saying England aren't going to win and because we have faith in this, we'll give ridiculous percentages off if England do.
Edwin Jefferson, Plymouth

And where are all the English flags for the cars made? China of course! Can`t we make our own?
Richard, Douglas, Isle of Man

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