Martin Walker

Three bites and you’re out? What next for Suarez and Adidas?

With Luis Suarez dining out on an Italian last week and bringing his World Cup to a swift end, I wondered how his sponsors would deal with the biting incident, let alone the media frenzy surrounding the case. Large brands face a dilemma: they don’t want their brand associated with bad news stories in the short term, but in the long term they don’t want to severe ties with a talented person, such as Suarez, who may be making positive headlines once he completes his four month ban from football.

This led me to think about what their sponsors have to consider: the broader picture of their market and how important superstars are to their marketing strategy. Likewise, I think it’s interesting to see how other companies have jumped on the ‘biting incident’ – often using humour to great affect (well, sometimes!).

Adidas v Nike

So, how does a company like Adidas deal with the latest Suarez biting incident? Some say that it’s clear-cut: it has a negative impact on the company’s brand and it’s a very bad example to young aspiring footballers. This is true, but Adidas have to consider the bigger picture and their battle with Nike.

Selling replica football shirts is big business. The global market is worth a staggering $5 billion, and Adidas and Nike are competing head-to-head for dominance. Nike are winning this battle in Latin America, so Suarez is a key figure in Adidas’ strategy to win some of this market share. In Europe, Suarez helps Adidas to maintain its lead over Nike, with high profile performances in the English Premier League last season. He’s also set to play in the Champions League with Liverpool next season; a competition that draws big sponsorship deals from global brands. If Liverpool and Suarez make it to final of the Champions League in 2015, how many people will remember what he did in last summer’s World Cup?

This is the dilemma that Adidas face. In the short term, they want to distance their brand from the negative backlash the player is receiving, but in the long term are mindful of peoples’ short memories and don’t want to miss out on positive coverage in years to come. This is evident in their decision to remove Suarez from all World Cup marketing. It takes the heat out of the situation, and they will then review their relationship before the new Premier League season begins (when everyone has forgotten about it!)

Jumping on the biting back wagon!

It’s not a laughing matter, or is it? For other big global brands this is great opportunity to seize the moment, think of something funny, and push it out on social media while consumers are scanning Twitter and Facebook. I’ll leave you to judge whether they are humorous or appropriate, but here are some examples of how big brands are capitalising on the incident:


Snickers Suarez advert


Specsavers Suarez advert


Luis Suarez clearly doesn’t think too much about his actions, but I think it’s fascinating how one person’s actions can have such an impact. We will see what will happen to the tie up between Suarez and Adidas. I’m guessing that the relationship will continue, with Suarez taking a break from fronting Adidas’ marketing campaigns in the short term. The old adage that yesterday’s news is today’s fish and chip paper needs updating for the digital age, but I’m sure Adidas are fully aware of the sentiment.

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