When Ronaldo put two Coca-Cola bottles out of sight, he caused quite a stir on the Internet and stock markets.
Coca-Cola learnt the hard way that actions speak louder than words. Recently, world famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo simply moved a couple of Coca-Cola bottles off the desk before he sat down for a press conference.
The meet was after the UEFA Euro 2020 match between Portugal and Hungary. Ronaldo – who is the captain of Portugal’s national football team – held up a bottle of water and mouthed the word ‘agua’, which is Portuguese for water.
A clip of him doing this at the press conference went viral and coincided with the $4 billion fall in the share price of the drinks giant. According to a report by the Guardian, Coca-Cola’s share price dropped from $56.10 to $55.22 (that’s a 1.6% dip) almost immediately after Ronaldo’s gesture.
The market value of Coca-Cola went down from $242 billion to $238 billion – a drop of $4 billion shortly after and the terms ‘Coke’ and ‘Coca-Cola’ were trending on social media.
Coca-Cola is one of the official sponsors of the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament. According to a Hindustan Times report, a Coca-Cola spokesperson responded to the incident, stating, "Players are offered water, alongside Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar, on arrival at our press conferences." The spokesperson added that people have different “tastes and needs”.
Similarly, on June 15 (Tuesday), France’s midfielder Paul Pogba removed a bottle of Heineken (non-alcoholic) beer that had been placed in front of him at a Euro 2020 news conference. Pogba, a practising Muslim (who converted to Islam in 2019), removed the bottle when he sat down to speak to the media after he was named 'Man of the Match' in France's 1-0 Group F win over Germany
Ronaldo's actions reminded us of Virat Kohli's move in 2017. He announced that he would stop endorsing Pepsi and fairness creams.
Coca-Cola is no stranger to sports stars and controversies. In 2012, Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho found himself in hot water, thanks to a can of Pepsi which was innocuously sitting on the table in front of him. The Drum reported that he lost his £500,000 a year contract as a Coca-Cola ambassador after he was caught drinking Pepsi at the press conference.
American pop star Britney Spears also found herself in a similar spot. In 2001, she signed a multi-million endorsement deal with soft drinks giant Pepsi, but when she was photographed drinking competitor brand Coca-Cola, the company was not pleased. In 2002, Pepsi began to phase out Spears in favour of a new spokesperson – Beyoncé.
The advertising and marketing fraternity in India has its own share of opinions on this incident. In a LinkedIn post, Ogilvy’s senior creative director Nikhil Narayanan wrote that Ronaldo’s action had a clear message – "You might be UEFA's beverage partner, but you aren't mine."
Narayanan's post elaborates that when placing a product in an environment, it is important to be wary of the people who engage with that environment and their preferences. “And when the person in question is someone of Ronaldo's influence, you better be doubly careful. It is important for the brands to be thoughtful when it comes to every touch point that they interact with.”
Lloyd Mathias, a business strategist and former marketer at PepsiCo, Motorola and HP Asia, calls it a refreshing change to see a new generation of sportspersons actively take a stand on issues that they feel strongly about.
“Ronaldo’s action must be seen in that sense – as it seems he clearly believes sugared drinks are not a healthy option. However, the commercial implications of his actions may impact both Coke and its sponsorship of the Euro 2020 tournament. I think this is for the organisers to sort out with the company.”
Mathias emphasises it’s important to remember that often, it is the commercial side of sport that helps generate big bucks for the players, associations, and popularise a sport. He adds that the organisers must respect the sponsors for what they bring to the sport – and avoid public shaming.
“I think an issue like this will prompt the sports organisers to relook at their sponsors, in terms of the fit and relevance to the sport, or event being sponsored. Though for the immediate term, I sense large sports bodies will rework their contracts to ensure that the tournament organisers get guarantees from all participating teams and their parent associations – to ensure no player publicly snubs a sponsor.”
Suman Srivastava, a brand consultant, founder and innovation artist at Marketing Unplugged, points out that despite the conversations surrounding the incident, it’s not a bad thing, and it will pass eventually. “The worst thing that can happen to a brand is to have the consumer be indifferent towards it. Let people talk. The brands should be more concerned about how their endorsers are behaving, rather than caring about how other people behave around the brand.”
People are aware that Coca-Cola is innately unhealthy and will continue to consume it even after the conversation around the Ronaldo incident dies down. “I feel it’s important for players to respect the sponsors, since they are getting paid because of these companies.”
Vidur Vyas, founder, NorthSide, a strategy and execution company (and former Pepsico employee for over 12 years), emphasises that for the marketers, it is important to realise that they are past the point in time where only commercial interests, without a larger purpose, can be used to motivate the celebrities to endorse a brand.
“The product truth, the brand core and its larger purpose have to be in sync with each other for it to have an appeal that grows with time," he signs off.