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The World Cup and Cross Cultural Communication

Every four years, the biggest sporting event in the world teaches us invaluable lessons about cross cultural communication when multinational corporations utilize the FIFA World Cup to promote their brands to cultures around the world. The World Cup offers the perfect avenue to reach multiple cultures. A global audience of 3.5 billion people watches the best nations in the world compete for glory in the beautiful game, an audience ripe for advertising. Think the Super Bowl offers a great advertising venue? Imagine an event as popular as the Super Bowl, popular in almost every country around the world, lasting not one day but four weeks.

Naturally, the opening game traditionally marks the beginning of a month-long quest for multinational brands to win over new customers throughout the world. The results vary wildly.

The Success Stories Some of the biggest brands in the world take of FIFA’s main event as an opportunity to promote intercultural unity and understanding. Each World Cup, Coca Cola Co. brings its ‘Open Happiness’ campaign to the tournament’s host country, urging locals and global viewers alike to put aside their differences and celebrate the beautiful game. Similarly, Nike, one of the largest outfitters of the various teams, succeeds each World Cup in getting some of the biggest stars from around the world in one commercial, playing soccer together and implying the importance of team play over rivalries. Other companies, less involved in the tournament but still looking to utilize it to their advantage, simply expand the reach of their advertising campaigns to new areas.

The Problem Areas But doing so can carry some serious risks. Take for example the case of Dutch airline KLM from the 2014 World Cup. After the Netherlands eliminated Mexico in the Round of 16, the airline sent out an ‘adios amigos’ tweet that was perceived by many to be in poor taste, offensive and even racist. In the same industry, Delta Airlines caused a stir when it used a Giraffe – not native to the country – as a symbol for Ghana after the U.S. group stage win.

In both cases, global corporations fatally ignored the importance of respecting other cultures, and significantly hurt themselves in the process. The lesson is clear: while a global event like the World Cup can be a great opportunity for cross cultural communication and promotion, it should never make fun of or misrepresent a culture outside the corporation’s home country.

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