“Every PR is good PR”
Coca-Cola and Heineken become the running gag of the EM – is there a campaign behind it?
Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t want a Coke in front of him at press conferences, others have copied him. And other players are even hoping for contracts with the beverage giant. Do the footballers suddenly become rebellious or do the sponsors benefit in the end?
Before Cristiano Ronaldo even stepped onto the sporting stage at the European Football Championship, he made his first big appearance. At a press conference before the Portuguese national team’s first game against Hungary, the five-time world footballer pushed the bottles from sponsor Coca-Cola that were on the podium – and put a bottle of water in front of him: “Water, not Coca-Cola”.
The scene received attention across Europe and beyond, with millions of fans watching Ronaldo’s statement on the Internet. And the action of the European champions from 2016 quickly found imitators: At the press conference after the game against Germany, the Frenchman Paul Pogba had a bottle of the beer manufacturer Heineken, also an EM sponsor, disappear. Pogba is a staunch Muslim and does not drink alcohol. The Italian Manuel Locatelli also followed Ronaldo’s example after his brace against Switzerland.
Unlike Ronaldo: Russia’s coach swears by Cola
In the first week of the tournament, playing with the cola and beer bottles on the podium turned into a running gag at the European Championships. Normally, at press conferences, the bottles are only displayed in front of the actors for advertising purposes – they are seldom consciously noticed. That has now changed.
A kind of counter-movement has developed to Ronaldo, Pogba and Locatelli: players and coaches who can now identify with the tournament sponsors. Often with a wink, humor helps when nervousness increases in the days before a game or decreases after a win. The Russian trainer Stanislaw Tschertschessow, for example, opened a bottle of cola at his press conference – since he was missing a bottle opener, he used another bottle for it. Chertschessow then drank half the bottle in one gulp, and this video also became a hit on social networks.
The Ukrainian player Andrij Yarmolenko had a little fun. In contrast to Cristiano Ronaldo, he demonstratively moved the Cola and Heineken bottles closer to himself: “I saw Cristiano Ronaldo how he did it. But I want to put it here.” He jokingly hoped for a new advertising contract with the beverage companies: “Contact me! Coca-Cola and Heineken, please get in touch.” Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku made a similar statement, laughing and asking the sponsors to contact his manager: “We could work together.”
Loss of Coca-Cola stock had nothing to do with Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo, who got the ball rolling, on the other hand, should have been very serious. The Juve star is known for its downright fanatically healthy lifestyle, sugary soft drinks and alcohol have no place in it. That’s one of the reasons why Ronaldo is still playing at world-class level at the age of 36. He is a role model for many young people around the world, and his public appeal for healthy eating should not go unheeded. However, it probably did less harm to the beverage giant Coca-Cola than initially thought.
After Ronaldo’s bottle slider at the press conference, the price of Coca-Cola’s shares fell briefly, and the company lost four billion in value. This was quickly attributed to the soccer star by observers – in retrospect a classic confusion of correlation and causality. The time connection existed, but the price loss was actually due to the fact that the share was listed on the day of Ronaldo’s press conference without subscription rights for the upcoming dividend. This is a normal process on the stock exchange, it has little to do with Cristiano Ronaldo and his message. The course has now recovered.
The question remains what is behind the campaigns with the Cola and Heineken bottles – and who really benefits from them. Every coach will probably confirm that soft drinks and alcohol are not advisable for athletes. In the case of Heineken, it is also true that at press conferences there are only bottles of non-alcoholic beer on the podium. While many fans follow the back and forth of the stars with amusement, others worry about the background and consequences.
Responsible players – or just a publicity stunt?
Some wanted to have recognized how the power structure in modern football is slowly beginning to shift: The players are starting to rebel against the sponsors and to represent their own values. It fits in with the fact that this EM is shaped more by political and personal gestures than any before. Several teams knelt before kick-off in solidarity with the “Black Lives Matter” movement, DFB captain Manuel Neuer wore a rainbow armband.
At the same time, there is a suspicion that it could be a concerted action by the beverage manufacturers, an expansion of the advertising campaign. Because now Coca-Cola and Heineken are being talked about and discussed, the brands are even more publicized than through perimeter advertising or other sponsorship agreements. “All PR is good PR” is an old saying in the industry. And with Cristiano Ronaldo, too, the boundaries are fluid: the health-conscious superstar has already made commercials for Coca-Cola and other fast food chains in previous years.
Uefa prefers to play it safe in this regard: The European Football Association forbids in future that products from tournament sponsors are removed from the podium. “We talked to the teams. The income is important for the tournament and European football. We reminded you of that,” said tournament director Martin Kallen.