by Ximena Tobi
Emotional bonds and sense of belonging
Regarding football, Brazil and Argentina feature a particular mixture between business and popular culture. Beginning with the curious fact that the first World Cup took place in 1930 in Uruguay, South American football has developed a particular way of playing quite different from the European way, along with a huge popular devotion for this sport. In this context, every four years the Football World Cup is quite an extraordinary event. That’s the reason why in these countries almost every brand from global to local, even the small ones had something to say about the World Cup.
The ubiquity of the event brought a multiplication of texts talking about it and generated a topic with several codes through which it was developed. Everybody wanted to say something about the World Cup, a way of being attached to something bigger than us: a collective experience.
For the 2014 Football World Cup, regional brands worked on their campaigns for one year looking for the brilliant idea that would make the difference to get the brand to stand out among the competition. In this kind of situations, semiotics helps brands to find new communication paths and avoid falling into the trap of the commonplace; usually nationalism in contest like this one.
Every social phenomenon has many layers of meaning, some more dominant than others, some more visible than others. For example, a football match in Latin America leads us straight away to some social stereotyped images: a group of male friends in front of the TV drinking beer, the team training before the match, fans with the team signs entering the stadium, and so on. But it does not link so fast to the image of the football players’ mothers feeding and raising their little sons —as it is shown in La Serenísima milk TVC.
Brands will find in semiotics a powerful tool to create new relevant stories, appropriate at the same time to the category and to the brand identity. Semiotics works as a cultural dissection tool to identify micro-meaningful everyday social images/situations/ practices that could be the triggers for the desired brand-consumer identification.
For example, football fans cheering in their various forms is a key to building bridges among people and between brands and people. Just a colloquial expression —as Quilmes beer— or real fans’ heartbeat recordings —as Itaú bank— are different ways to show what Latin Americans feel about football. Something that has been always out there, but semiotic analysis displays as brand communication opportunities.
Let’s see two case studies of Latin American brands’ 2014 World Cup campaigns and how they include semiotic insight from regional football cultural codes.
Brand communication decoding
Building the collective experience
Quilmes (beer – ARG) & Itaú (bank – BR)
Based on football popular cultural codes, these regional brands campaigns tell stories about a sense of belonging. It is the gregarious quality of human beings that is the primary theme; and football works as the live example of what we can do and how we can feel when sharing experiences with others.
Every brand talks about the local way of living football. Argentinean team sponsor Quilmes beer shows several collective TV reception scenes (TVC: Vamos Carajo), following the popular ritual of gathering together to watch the match. Two words are the common thread that joins all the scenes —“¡Vamos Carajo!”— as a cheering mantra; there is no joy, but unease and nervousness. Fans encouragement appears as the necessary complement of a successful team. Team and fans are defined reciprocally. The one cannot exist without the other. In the same way, Brazilian bank Itaú collected fans’ heartbeats throughout the country ‘inside’ a ball (teaser: Batucada de Coração), which is delivered to the national team as a sign of the power of unity. Itau says: “200 millions hearts beating can change everything.”
‘Building a collective experience’ is a common code —quite dominant— in both brands, but it can be presented in different ways.
In the case of Quilmes, the product is presented as the usual companion of football match watching. As the national white & blue striped t-shirt, Quilmes brand has a constant presence in this kind of situations. Repetition is the semiotic tool to show ‘the same in the different’. Different locations where people are watching the match with the same cheer (“¡Vamos Carajo!”) to the national team build a line of energy ending in the football players. This synchrony of feelings is the power behind the possibility of win. Nevertheless there is not only encouragement, but also nervousness and the different ways of dealing with it: peeling off the bottle label, tapping the feet and bending the bottle lid. Therefore Quilmes helps fans to release tension not only by drinking the beer, but also providing an object to fiddle with.
In the case of Itaú, the collective experience is presented as part of the preparations for the World Cup. There are no settings, no actors. There is no representation but presentation of actual fans.
In contrast with Quilmes, Itaú shows its reach to every part of a huge country such as Brazil, meeting real people in beaches, parks and streets, who want to offer their heartbeats as a symbol of emotion and encouragement to the national football team.
Whilst Argentineans are represented suffering, being nervous and anxious at the beginning of a match, Brazilians are always happy, smiling and relaxed. It is associated with a deep cultural difference —an atmosphere, an attitude— that could also be detected in several cultural expressions like national music: the difference between samba and tango. While samba is a festive, expressive and colourful rhythm, tango conveys an intimate dramatic passion.
Football, not only a men’s matter
La Serenísima (milk – AR)
Building a more intimate atmosphere, La Serenísima —Danone associated— launched a series of TVCs (Gracias por alimentar tanta pasión) with the mothers of the main Argentinean football players telling anecdotes about how they raised their children, fed them, took care of them and supported their efforts and sacrifices to become the master players they are today. Based on the cultural archetype of the nutritive mother, this milk brand communication goes directly into the family circle through the testimonies of the players’ mothers.
They talk about the upbringing period, when children establish their main human values that will guide them over their adult lives. In this frame, milk has a leading role: it synthesizes the mother-child bond, because it is a tangible and concrete object signifying all the love, trust, hope and happiness that mothers feel about their children. Furthermore, the glass of milk takes us to the Argentinean typical family scene in the kitchen-dining room, where children right after arriving from school, drink their milk usually with cookies.
Everyday life references (arrival from school, going to football training, daily baths) appear as a way to find the human behind the idol. Football stars were once also common kids as any of us, with similar habits and stories to tell. La Serenísima places itself in the core of quite a universal semiotic territory. From land to motherhood, the brand message conveys the idea of back to the origin, a place of simple and real authenticity. As a result, La Serenísima becomes the equivalence point between football players and their fans. The nature of mother-child bond is similar to the players-fans relationship in that they are both emotional. There is a semiotic chain: brand – mother – player – fan, synthesized in the brand slogan: “Feeding Argentine people with passion” (= “Alimentando con pasión a los argentinos”).
- Cultural codes cross brand communications, independently of brand intentions. Semiotics gives brands the opportunity to detect and choose the better cultural codes to support their brand messages.
- Any brand category can communicate relevant messages referring to any specific context, in our case the FIFA World Cup. Semiotics allows brands to analyse their context and find an original way to talk and interact with it.
- Given a semiotic territory, brands communicational challenges are to convey an appealing and unique perspective when talking about a dominant and mainstream theme.
- In this frame, semiotics helps in the design stage of brand communication to distinguish textual levels (codes, styles and tone of voice) and therefore use them as pieces of a puzzle, which can be combined in different ways, some more typical, some more innovative. For example, the two different ways in which brands talk about the code ‘Building a collective experience’.
Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends Clio Meuer and Ángeles Mendoza for their help gathering and translating the Brazilian material.
Ximena Tobi is a Partner at Semiotica Studio based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She can be reached via Twitter at @ximenatobi