ADVERTISING & PROMOTION: Virtual ads set for kick-off - What do you do if you’re Budweiser and sponsoring the World Cup in a country that has a ban on alcohol advertising? Go virtual, says Patrick Barrett

Anheuser-Busch is preparing to become the first major sponsor to turn to virtual ads to beat a ban on advertising alcohol at the World Cup in France next year.

Anheuser-Busch is preparing to become the first major sponsor to

turn to virtual ads to beat a ban on advertising alcohol at the World

Cup in France next year.



The World Cup sponsorship deal with the International Football

Federation (FIFA), provides Anheuser-Busch with the exclusive rights to

promote Budweiser on the back of the event through packaging and

merchandise as well as perimeter board signage. But French legislation,

called Loi Evin, which prevents tobacco and alcohol brands from

advertising at sports events, may stop the company achieving maximum

exposure for the brand through advertising inside football stadia.



Anheuser-Busch says it was aware of the rule but is reluctant to

surrender its association with the tournament because it addresses the

key 18- to 24-year-old target market for Budweiser. It is currently

seeking a suspension of the law.



Reality bites



It argues that the international nature of the event and the status of

Budweiser as the World Cup’s official beer should make the law

invalid.



But its initial confidence that an exemption could be secured appears to

be dwindling.



An appeal to the European Commission to override Loi Evin has fallen on

deaf ears and the arrival of the newly-elected socialist government in

France has meant negotiations have been set back.



Anheuser-Busch now admits that virtual advertising could provide a way

round the problem. The system creates the illusion on TV that an event

is branded with a sponsor’s ads, whereas, in reality, the perimeter ads

do not carry the offending branding.



The picture is digitally manipulated, but the advertiser needs agreement

from broadcasters and the holder of the rights to the event before

adding its virtual branding.



In theory it could provide the solution for sponsors of international

sporting events who face a tobacco or alcohol advertising ban in certain

countries.



A recent Formula 1 Grand Prix in France, in which racing teams backed by

tobacco manufacturers had to cover up branding on the cars, demonstrated

the problems that will be faced where local advertising bans are

introduced.



The argument for using virtual advertising at the World Cup is

compelling.



According to FIFA, Anheuser-Busch stands to lose a live audience of up

to 2.8 million spectators who will watch the 64 tournament games at

grounds if it fails to reach an agreement with the French

government.



Watching world



Crucially, it risks losing a total projected cumulative TV audience of

37 billion viewers worldwide if it then decides not to use virtual

advertising.



Stephen J Burrows, president and chief operating officer at

Anheuser-Busch International, says the company is committed to getting

the most out of the World Cup sponsorship deal.



’Budweiser is and will remain a sponsor of World Cup ’98. We have been

working to find a solution to the problem we face with our sponsorship

created by Loi Evin and will continue to do so. We are a principal

sponsor of the World Cup and will continue to be in the years to come,’

he says.



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