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Trend It Like Beckham

Brazilian football player Neymar was cast in the lead role of this year’s World Cup before being cast in plaster following a back injury in the quarter-final. Owen Evans looks at whether the Barcelona superstar can now follow in David Beckham’s footsteps to commercial superstardom.

Arguably the most poignant moment in Brazilian striker Neymar’s World Cup last month arrived when he wasn’t even on the pitch. As the Brazilian national anthem played ahead of the crucial semi-final between the hosts and eventual World Cup winners Germany, stand-in captain David Luiz and goalkeeper Julio Cesar sang to the verge of tears while holding Neymar’s number 10 shirt.

Even though Neymar was in the dugout nursing a back injury, the Barcelona star’s name and brand still managed to hog the limelight both in the stadium and on broadcast coverage across the world. In fact, his dominance in the narrative of the World Cup was evident all the way through the tournament, with his name on the back of nearly every host nation supporter and commentators wondering, even after Brazil had been knocked out, whether it would have been different had Neymar not been injured in the quarter-finals.

In Brazil, every other magazine, TV advert and billboard in the country seemed to feature the former Santos prodigy with any number of his various partners, leading to the phrase ‘Neymarketing’ to enter common vocabulary.

“Not being on the field during that match for Brazil could be an advantage for him, the Neymarketing went on without him when David Luiz and Julio Cesar were holding his shirt during the national anthems. That’s something I’ve never seen before,” Tim Crow, CEO of the Synergy Sponsorship agency and the man who is credited with coming up with the phrase ‘Neymarketing’, told SportBusiness International.

“However, he was probably one of the only winners in Brazil during that semi-final due to the fact that he was not on the pitch. He was performing exceptionally well in what appeared to be a very average team.”

After completing his move to Barcelona in May 2013 and receiving the subsequent exposure playing in Spain’s La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, Neymar’s marketability has gone to a global level, with the player already signing endorsements (see right) with sectors as varied as publishing (Panda Books) and toy companies (Gullivers).

Significantly, in June, Neymar’s management company NR Sports also agreed an image rights deal with the newly-established Doyen Group, the sports agency set up Simon Oliveira, who as head of global PR for Simon Fuller’s XIX Entertainment was one of the key people in David Beckham’s rise to commercial prominence. The deal with Neymar will last until at least 2017 and sees Doyen sign endorsements for Neymar outside Brazil.

Despite his omnipresence at the World Cup, however, there was some criticism that his commercial partners did little in the way of sophisticated activation around the Neymar brand. Crow says that the Brazilian’s new advisors Doyen will be under pressure to think bigger and smarter when the Olympic spotlight shines on Neymar in two years’ time when he is back in Brazil playing for his national team in Rio.

“There is an interesting situation now with Neymar given he has obviously new brand advisors. I think from here on we are going to see two types of work around him: we are going to see the day-in, day-out marketing continue, but they are clearly looking for more global deals on the back of a successful first season with Barcelona and the World Cup,” says Crow. 

“I hope we are going to see companies be more creative with their activations, as to date what we have seen has been pretty rudimentary and the absolute basic insertion of Neymar into their brands.

“Neymar’s brand is developing in itself. People haven’t seen that much of him yet and obviously there is the language barrier. For Rio 2016 there is the opportunity for him and Brazil to get atonement for what happened in the World Cup, and I imagine quite a few of the global sponsors of the Games, as well as local companies, will be wanting to do their own marketing around him.

“He will be pretty hot. If Jessica Ennis-Hill was the poster girl of London 2012, I think there is a pretty good chance that Neymar will be the face of Rio 2016.”

Branding Blueprint

One of Neymar’s most recent partners, Castrol, was signed up just before the World Cup began. The automotive lubricants supplier paired him up with another of their clients, professional rally driver Ken Block, as part of its Castrol Footkhana creative campaign.

The activation saw the pair face-off in a series of challenges on the tarmac, including dribbling/driving between cones and shooting a ball into a moving car. The agreement between Castrol and Neymar was brokered by sports agency Wasserman, and the company’s senior vice-president of partnerships and business development, Ben Wright, believes this conceptual campaign could be the blueprint for future partners of Neymar in the run up to Rio 2016.

“The creative campaign that Castrol did with Neymar was linked to its brand values and synced  with what Ken Block was about, and the fact that Neymar is all about speed and skill meant it kind of worked towards the synergy between all three parties,” Wright told SportBusiness International. “The idea was in place first and that was key really. Brands should always go about creative campaigns in this way: first and foremost you have an idea to get your brand to your target market, and then you build your brand ambassadors around that idea.

“The fact Castrol got an idea that could be amplified to a number of channels was good, but the Ken Block element of it meant that it was a powerful campaign anyway, which I think Neymar added to rather than it being a case of Castrol relying on him to amplify the brand.”

Wright is confident that the Neymar brand will only go from strength to strength now he has made the move into the lucrative European football market.

“He plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world, in one of the biggest leagues in the world and also in the Champions League,” says Wright. “He’s Latin American and a huge amount of the world speaks Spanish, so that is a huge advantage. Even though his national team had a difficult World Cup, it is known as the embodiment of technical skill.

“Then there are two more factors – his technical skill, position and pace, and also
his name. The fact that it is a standout single name means it is catchy and appealing for a target market, and when you bring all those factors together, you can see that he is a compelling proposition.”

Beckham Comparisons

As his marketing identity has evolved, so has Neymar’s appearance since he broke into the professional game, swapping his cropped haircut for a peroxide-designer alternative, in addition to distinctive tattoos, including one on his neck.
Some fans have claimed that Neymar has ‘whitened’ his image in recent years, but Crow believes he is just following the same marketing footsteps as one of football’s most successful fashionistas, David Beckham – apt given he now shares the same publicist.

“Neymar is a huge hero in Brazil and can do absolutely no wrong. I think the parallel which has been studied before is David Beckham. Beckham’s appearance when he started playing football, to when he retired, to how he looks now is completely different. That Madonna-style of reinvention is now part and parcel of any guy who is in this [Neymar/Beckham] bracket,” Crow says.

“He is a very good looking guy, with a very broad appeal like David, but an appeal the likes of Pele and [Brazilian] Ronaldo didn’t have. Cristiano Ronaldo is another one in that category of brand appeal.” 

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