Ever heard of the beer Bavaria? Me neither, until FIFA made sure that absolutely everyone got to hear about it after Bavaria sent a team of pretty young female ambush marketeers to Holland’s opening match of the World Cup using tickets bought in the name of (now ex-) ITV pundit Robbie Earle.
One sacking, several arrests (ambush marketing being illegal in South Africa) and a barrel-full of free publicity for Bavaria later and the only clear winner is the beer company, although the attractive young ladies – already described as ‘blonde bombshells’ in tabloids and blogs – will probably enjoy their day in court.
Anyone wanting to manage a crisis should never have let this get to court, of course. The great American publicist Jim Moran, who I wrote about in The Fame Formula, always wanted to get his stunts to court so as to achieve maximum notoriety and ability to push out sound bites on behalf of his clients. This is the man who said “It’s a sad day for American democracy if a man can’t fly a midget on a kite over Central Park” after the police stopped him from executing that stunt in the 1940s.
The biggest loser in all this is, of course, Robbie Earle, who has hired Phil Hall to help massage any potential long-term career damage and who should take more care about where his largesse is actually going in future. I doubt he actually knew that the tickets he passed on were going to a guerilla marketing company but regardless.
But I can’t imagine that the sponsors will be too happy that FIFA, instead of starving the incident of oxygen actually fanned the flames of publicity by letting it get to court. A big company’s sponsorship is dependent on exclusivity – but enforcing the law rigorously with a group of attractive women is always going to attract further, and unwanted, interest.
TV learned the lesson with streakers – ignore them and the tendency to seek publicity by stripping withers and dies. Had FIFA done this, and had ITV waited a while before ousting Earle, we would likely not have heard of Bavaria beer except as a passing reference, an arcane trivia quiz question in years to come. But thanks to the manhandling of the situation, the midgets are flying over New York for all to see. Jim Moran would have been delighted.