Demand for transparency is forcing brands to take a stand over Qatar World Cup

QatarVisa and Adidas have recently joined Sony in demanding that the claims of bribery engulfing the Qatar 2022 World Cup should be thoroughly investigated as they are damaging the game’s reputation around the world.

This is significant as Visa and Adidas are Fifa’s longest serving partners and their influence bears real weight.
Brands are aware that in this day and age everything ends up in the public domain eventually; it’s much harder to hide anything. It’s not just the reputation of Fifa that these brands are keen to preserve; of course it is their own as well.

Today we all tend to react on a hair-trigger because trust has been so heavily eroded over the last few years. Big brands are particularly wary when somebody cries foul as the impact by ‘association’ can be huge and very costly, just think Tiger Woods.

The world has changed significantly as a result of this erosion of trust, and brands face a very real problem if they are not very clear on why they exist and what is their purpose in life. Brands have recognised that to maintain or build back trust they need to have real conversation and demonstrate that they share the same thoughts and beliefs that their customers do.

This is a quid pro quo relationship on a shared understanding. We will be loyal to you if you give me back something meaningful in return…..and that is not just a voucher. This is a challenge of itself, let alone brands like Visa or Adidas being connected with anything negative that will impact  public opinion on who they are and what they stand for – and quite rightly so.

Branding has never been more complicated as the levels of communication have become infinite 24-7-356.  Everything Everywhere, or EE, seems to have this thought nailed. Yet, this is just a tag, the real issues start when you have to decide what tone of voice to take in the relationship. I have always believed that brands fall into three different categories in communicating their message to the consumer; assertive, assimilative and absorptive.

Assertive brands, such as IBM come out and tell you that they’re the best and you’ll be the best if you use and work with them. Apple on the other hand (especially as it was very clear from the get-go why it exists) came along and decided that an assimilative approach was the better approach to take, ‘we can work together and be successful together.’ Brands like Harley Davidson took this one step further and built a brand where breaking down was part of the experience and very successfully embedded themselves in the hearts and souls of their customers. It created an absorptive brand, people wanted to live and become part of their lifestyle….no mean feat.

Today there is an argument that brands need to work on all three levels of communication, the challenge is to know when and how. Defining your purpose in life is certainly the start, but being trusted is the foundation and this is what we are experiencing in Qatar.

Brands have to have honest conversations with their customers, always keeping in mind the true purpose of what they are doing.

Nothing can be hidden anymore and woe betide any brand that thinks otherwise. Brands are more worried now than ever before about getting involved with a messy situation that could tarnish their reputation and the sensible ones will call foul and must always be prepared to publicly take a moral stand that they can be sure of.

Consumers are demanding more transparency from brands than ever before and I believe the stance taken by these multinational sponsors speaks volumes for their desire to maintain their brand image, but more importantly take the stand on right or wrong. It is a positive move for these brands to stand together and pressure Fifa, a brand that has become time-warped, into an open and honest investigation – after all, its reputation is even more on the line.

Mark Artus is chief executive of global branding agency 1HQ