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2010 World Cup the big chance for Sony Ericsson, if …

The 2010 football World Cup in South Africa may be one of Sony Ericsson’s best opportunities yet to play catch-up in a cell phone marketing war that is being lost to Nokia, Samsung and Motorola’s market share, and Apple’s media attention. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK comments on the implications for the lagging brand when they have a cumulative TV audience of 26-billion delivered on a plate.

Sony Ericsson’s appointment last month as the Official Mobile Phone Handset of the 2010 FIFA World Cup comes on the back of hundreds of millions of dollars spent by one of its parent companies, the Sony Corporation, to secure FIFA Partner status for the event.

Such partnerships are all about corporate brand-building and captivating, not to mention capturing, consumers with a pervasive logo and product presence. Hence the presence in 2010 of Coca-Cola, Adidas, Emirates, Hyundai/Kia and Visa, making up the rest of the six-slot Official Partners group of global brands. The next level down, Official Sponsors, costs somewhat less, but still running into tens of millions of dollars, and sees South Africa’s MTN (at a $65-million price) joined by McDonalds and Budweiser from the USA, Satyam of India, German-based Continental tyres and UK-HQd Castrol.

The lowest tier, that of National Sponsors, is occupied by FNB and Telkom – who paid $30-million and $36-million respectively for the honour.

For Sony Ericsson (9% market share), which has been playing also-ran in the mobile phone market to Nokia (around 40% market share), Samsung and Motorola (around 12-14% each), and is even eclipsed by the iPhone for media attention, the appointment may turn out to be a massive coup.

The sponsorship appointment forms part of the Digital Life category for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which Sony Corporation acquired in 2005. Sony’s$305-million cheque secured them FIFA Partner status from 2007 through to 2014, so the next World Cup is also a cert for Sony Ericsson.

Lennard Hoornik, corporate vice president and head of global marketing for Sony-Ericsson, could not hold back the hyperbole when he announced the appointment in Lund, Sweden:

‚We are very excited about this announcement. At Sony Ericsson we feel we are uniquely placed to be a champion of football fans worldwide, using the marketing and promotional rights this agreement grants us to make Sony Ericsson handsets and accessories an integral part of the fan experience. Our role in football will be to use our sponsorship to innovate the experience of fans and give them greater access to football.‚

The sponsorship gives Sony Ericsson various category exclusive rights globally, will entitle it to the designation of ‚FIFA World Cup Sponsor‚ ‚ one tier below Partner ‚ and give it access to other FIFA properties.

Hoornik points out that Sony Ericsson will apply the knowledge gathered from its continuing sponsorship of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, the largest sponsorship of professional women’s sport, to engage with consumers through ‚new and exciting experiences‚ .

That clearly means an opportunity to showcase the strengths and special touches of Sony-Ercisson phones that have been drowned out beneath the noise of sustained innovation from Apple, Samsung, Nokia and even Motorola.

Hoornik added: “The 2010 FIFA World Cup is one of the world’s leading sporting events and is watched across the world by millions of fans. It will be these fans that we focus our engagement in football on: using our relationship with FIFA and our handsets to enable them to get closer to the game in new ways and enjoy the 2010 FIFA World Cup. We are looking forward to using our handsets to capture and share their football experiences.””

Hoornik was somewhat silent on specific sponsorship plans, and naturally did not bring up the small matter of the competitive environment. However, it is important for Sony Ericsson to start laying out a roadmap for the ‚experiences‚ it will bring to fans.

The 18th World Cup finals in Germany in 2006 attracted a cumulative audience of more than 26 billion TV viewers in more than 200 countries. And 2010 is expected to be no different.

By 2010, in South Africa, cheaper and more accessible broadband will be a reality. Locally-based fans ‚ not unlike those worldwide ‚ will attempt to make the most of the viewing and communications options presented by the Internet, digital TV, IPTV and even large-screen TV. If the role the cell phone plays in this mix is restricted to brand-building, a massive opportunity will have been lost.

Sony Ericsson’s opportunity isn’t only one for the brand itself, but also for the cell phone induistry as a whole, which will be able to use the global attention as a springboard for the next generation of interactive features, mobile broadcast capabilities, and the ability to take entertainment and event coverage anywhere.

Which means, in short, that Sony Ericsson has a responsibility as much as an opportunity. If their customers were still using graffiti instead of texting, the writing on the wall would be, put diplomatically: “”Don’t mess it up.””

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