Raheem Akingbolu writes on the promotional platform that the just-concluded African Cup of Nations (AFCON) epitomises and how brands have proactively explored it to derive value for themselves
The African Cup of Nations (AFCON), which took place in South Africa, has come and gone. For many, the greatest take-away from this year's edition of the biennial pan-Africa football tournament has been the re-emergence of Nigeria in the ranks of the continent's pre-eminent powerhouses.
The Orange African Cup of Nations is a long-standing continent-wide football tournament. Like the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC) for instance, it remains one of the few examples of meaningful cooperation in Africa.
AFCON is the continent's ultimate showcase of talent in football, a sport which is not only so pervasive in Africa but also whose following falls just a little short of fanatical. During this tournament and with their countries participating for instance, many people tended to forget their political, tribal and religious differences.
While football is ordinarily a game of passion, this passion takes on a new high when national teams are playing. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, then of Manchester United football club, once famously campaigned that a red card be given to his club team mate, Wayne Rooney of England, in a competitive match between both countries.
John Mikel Obi and Didier Drogba may be good friends off the pitch, having both been long-time team mates at England's Chelsea Football Club, but they become virtually "enemies" while donning the colours of Nigeria and Cote d'Ivoire respectively and competing for goals.
Building Social Cohesion
Indeed, governments recognise that given the passion it commands, football and by extension, AFCON is a veritable means of building social cohesion and harmony as well as national pride. Were the finals of AFCON to fall on a weekday, for instance, it would not be surprising if one or two African countries declared a work-free day to enable their citizens watch the match and perhaps cheer their teams to victory.
It is brands, however, that best understand the potential of platforms such as AFCON's to help drive brand visibility and affinity. As expected, therefore, a good number of brands with operations across the continent are strongly associated with the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and its showpiece tournament, AFCON.
The telecoms company, Orange, the digital company, Samsung, the car manufacturer, Nissan are some of the multinationals with extensive operations across the continent that have consistently deployed the AFCON platform to the benefit of their brands. The evidence is everywhere: in the name of the tournament, which is officially the Orange African Cup of Nations, in the sundry television commercials and even the hoardings on the pitches.
Standard Bank Example
Until the last few years, however, no bank has had that kind of partnership with continental football. Not until 2005, with the emergence of Standard Bank (which also trades as Stanbic Bank in some markets) as a major sponsor of the continental tournament. The reason is two-fold.
Firstly, until recently, banks globally tended to adopt a relatively conservative approach to marketing. Marketing tended to be limited largely to very subtle promotional advertising alone. Banks like HSBC (famous for its "the world's local bank" campaign) stand out in this regard. In recent years however, banks have gradually stepped out of the conservative mould, at least as far as the marketing communications space is concerned.
Not only is bank advertising increasingly bullish and daring, but other elements of marketing communication, including experiential marketing and sponsorships, are being embraced more aggressively. England's Barclays Bank, for instance, has for some years been the title sponsor of the eminently-popular English Premier League. Here in Nigeria, Unity Bank made history a few years ago when it became the first bank to use the powerful medium of a durbar as a launch pad for some of its products.
Secondly, the decision to partner with CAF was driven by Standard Bank's growing footprint as a leading African bank. Known as Standard Bank in Southern Africa, it is Stanbic IBTC in Nigeria, CFC Stanbic in Kenya and Stanbic Bank in several other countries. Standard Bank itself has had a long and interesting 150-year old history and it has played a fundamental role in the economic growth and development of Africa.
It has, as part of a strategic growth plan, a core focus on emerging markets and deliberately strives to support economic growth and development in across diverse markets. In Nigeria, for instance, where it is known as Stanbic IBTC Bank, it has in the last few years rigorously expanded its personal and business banking footprint, growing its number of branches and points of presence, including ATM points.
Increasingly, it is becoming a bank of choice for customers seeking a bank with the international connections not only to extensive financing possibilities on account of its connection with Standard Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, but also its deep understanding of the local market having been a player in Nigeria for many years.
With a vast array of products that strategically target specific segments of the market, the bank is clearly one to watch in the Nigerian banking space, especially judging by its very robust pedigree and experience on the continent. For instance, its personal target plan enables customers save towards a specific goal such as saving money for a child's education, etc.
Its SME Quick Loan product enables small and medium businesses to access loans within 48 hours while its Contract Save product, despite being a current account operates like a savings account. It also has the Vehicle and Asset Finance product for individuals and businesses seeking loans to acquire assets such as machinery or even motor vehicles, while its Home Loans afford customers loans with which to own their homes.
Stanbic IBTC is also a choice for customers seeking to conduct business in an environment that is conducive, friendly and with an ambience that reflects world class.
In the area of massive finance-intensive projects, Stanbic IBTC of course takes the lead, continuing to play formidable roles in such major infrastructure projects as the construction of a new airport in Lekki, in the construction of power plants to boost the power transformation aspirations of the country, in the construction of factories such as a sugar refinery in Lagos, in oil and gas, and in sundry other sectors.
In so doing, the bank clearly understands that its own growth is tied to the continuing growth and development of the local economy. The bank's efforts at providing financing for these initiatives consistently helps to generate the economic multiplier, including creation of new jobs and access to global best practices that the economy critically needs.
For a bank with such an intricate connection with a number of African countries, therefore, AFCON is a fantastic platform with which to connect with the continent and share in the passion of football. Two objectives would appear to have been served by this connection with AFCON.
One of these is brand visibility. For every match that has been played in the entire competition, hundreds of millions of television viewers in Africa and across the world have had the Standard Bank/Stanbic Bank logos flashed into their homes multiple times.
That logo becomes a fixation in their sub-conscious, re-solidifying the connection which customers already have with the bank and whetting the ground for prospective customers who may deal with the bank in the future. Surely, many of such customers will not find the name or logo of Stanbic IBTC Bank new, but will very likely, subconsciously, welcome it as a brand with which they are already well acquainted.
The excellent performance of the Nigerian team at the tournament is also a winner for the Stanbic IBTC brand. Psychologists will affirm that the positive disposition that this performance has spawned in the psyche of millions of Nigerians also subtly rubs off on brands associated with the tournament itself.
Stanbic IBTC is in this situation, particularly fortuitous that the Nigerian team, the Super Eagles has performed creditably at the tournament, helping to amass critical emotional capital around the entire AFCON property itself in Nigeria.
On the continental scale, Standard Bank will most likely look back at this year's tournament and commend itself for locking in the sponsorship of the tournament over a number of years. It may rue the mid-term departure of the host country, South Africa, from the tournament, but it will certainly look with joy at the performance of Nigeria and many other countries in which it has a growing presence and the growing visibility which AFCON continues to avail its Africa-centric aspirations.