"FIFA World Cup in Brazil - the ideal platform for companies"

01/11/2013 Continental is one of the official sponsors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. But what do tires and balls actually have in common? What impact does sport advertising have on the brand? And who does the company think will be World Champion? ContiSoccerWorld talked to Nikolai Setzer, Continental AG Executive Board member, responsible for the Tires division.

ContiSoccerWorld: Mr. Setzer, most companies that get into sport sponsoring put their money on soccer. For example, in Germany in 2012, more than 80% of sport sponsoring was in soccer. Continental was, among other things, one of the main sponsors of the European Soccer Championship and the German Association Cup. What makes soccer so interesting for companies?

Nikolai Setzer: Globally, soccer is the number one sport. Soccer is played all over the world, on all continents, in all cultures. Of course, the level of enthusiasm varies from country to country. But it is certainly the case that soccer exercises a general fascination. Anyone can play by simply going onto the street and kicking an empty tin can, for want of anything better. But is also a game played by families. Boys as well as girls play soccer. When big events take place, everyone sits in front of the television or goes into the stadium together. This makes soccer an ideal stage, for companies, too. The enthusiasm for soccer is transferred to our premium brand, which is, naturally our objective.

Nikolai Setzer, Mitglied des Continental-Vorstands und Leiter der Reifen-Division

ContiSoccerWorld: In choosing the sponsoring area, aspects such as image, awareness, public relations, and customer relationships are important. In view of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, what is decisive for Continental?

Setzer: The World Cup is the most widely viewed television event in the world. It provides an ideal framework for us to present our brand to a global audience. And this all starts beforehand. We hold a prize draw for tickets, involving our dealers, generating enthusiasm for the forthcoming World Cup. After all, the dealers are our most important brand ambassadors. They are active at the point of sale and the end customers listen to their advice. That is why our regional commitment in the German Cup is so important. This competition allows us to take dealers from all over the country to a nearby game, upping their allegiance to our brand. For, the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, we can tie in mainly the local South American dealers. Brazil and the other South American countries are important markets for us.

ContiSoccerWorld: What were you able to learn from the last two World Cups -- in Germany and South Africa? Did sponsoring pay off?

Setzer: Very much so! Before, during, and after the competitions, there was a sustained rise in awareness of our brand in all important markets. Alongside that, we were able to provide all those we invited to a game a unique experience whether they were end customers or dealers. Experiencing a World Cup game live in a stadium is indeed something really special. Both in Germany and South Africa, we greatly enjoyed being able to offer our partners a tournament experience of this kind. Of course, allowing other people to share the enthusiasm of such a huge event is only a small element of our sponsoring commitment, but an important one.

ContiSoccerWorld: Some time ago, there was quite an uproar throughout the sector when a marketing study seriously questioned the significance of sponsoring soccer events. It claimed that soccer fans in Germany were largely unaware that certain companies were long-term sponsors. What is your take on such studies?

Setzer: As far as I recall, the study was quite controversial. Those surveyed were asked mainly to cite the companies they could think of that provided backing for football. Adidas or Telekom were, of course, most often mentioned. No, this has by no means been our experience. We have observed a steep rise in awareness levels. Continuity and a consistent frequency rate are decisive here. Otherwise, it all just makes for a flash in the pan and brand awareness quickly drops again. It is for this reason that we have been supporting soccer on a continuous basis since 1995. We got started in the Champions League and since 2003 have been an official sponsor of the World Cup and European Championship, while also active in many regional areas. Quarter for quarter, year for year, brand awareness can be shown to have experienced sustained growth. For example, there was another surge as a result of the new advertising banners at the 2012 European Championship matches in Poland and Ukraine. Quite simply, our Conti orange is so striking and catchy. It is bright and makes an impression.

ContiSoccerWorld: Recent image analysis has shown that sponsoring brands are particularly popular with the fans of the relevant club. Thus Telekom achieves high popularity figures among FC Bayern fans, while Schalke 04 fans respond quite positively even to the Russian sponsor Gazprom. If we apply this to the World Cup, then all soccer fans across the world will soon be using Conti tires...

Setzer: This is our goal. Seriously, sports sponsoring is a very attractive form of advertising. Fans identify with their club, with their national team, even to a certain extent with a major sporting event. And they also identify with the brands that make a showing in this environment. This is why soccer is so interesting for companies.

ContiSoccerWorld: What do you expect from the FIFA World Cup Brazil™?

Setzer: Brazil, and South America as a whole, is an important market for us. Brazil is the powerhouse of South America. This applies to the whole automotive industry. Moving forward, Brazil has a great deal of potential, especially in the mid-size car segment. For this reason, the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is very important for us. What is more, there is little risk that Brazil will be eliminated from the tournament early on. And even should that occur, in a country where soccer reigns supreme, the excitement surrounding the World Cup would persist. Of course, we would not be very happy, either, if another country that is likewise an important market for us were knocked out at an early stage, as the enthusiasm of the fans in question would soon evaporate.

ContiSoccerWorld: From Continental's perspective, what would be a good semi-final?

Setzer: For us, it would really be interesting if countries where we have somewhat lower levels of market awareness make it into later rounds of competition. At the same time, we would welcome seeing the big favorites advance, as they are a  guarantee for good soccer. So, from a Continental manager's point of view, a semi-final between Spain and Russia would be very attractive. Spain would be the favorite, and Russia is an interesting market.

ContiSoccerWorld: Continental has a big tire factory in Brazil, as well as in South Africa and Germany – the hosts of the last two World Cups. A new Continental plant is even being built in Russia, the host of the 2018 World Cup. Conti is there, wherever FIFA blows the whistle.

Setzer: Yes, we certainly cannot complain about the World Cup being awarded to Germany, South Africa, and Brazil. We not only have plants there, but a strong market position, too, which we were and are aiming to bolster. In Russia, we will also be starting production at our new tire plant in Kaluga at the end of 2013, that’s right. So we are well armed. It's a good location for the World Cup to follow.

ContiSoccerWorld: Will you now need to establish a plant in Qatar, where the 2022 World Cup will be held?

Setzer: (laughs). True enough, there are not really many tire plants in Qatar. And I fear that not many will be added in the future.

ContiSoccerWorld: But the competitors are also increasingly placing their bets on soccer. Hankook, for example, now sponsors the UEFA Europa League. On the other hand, Continental is the sponsor of the UEFA European Football Championship. It must be annoying for you when a competitor fishes in your pond...

Setzer: First of all, it is an honor when a competitor follows suit. It shows that we are on the right track. It is a free market. Anyone can get involved in sport, and we will confront the competition in a sportsmanlike manner. We prefer to follow the recipe of successful trainers. They say that to achieve long-term success, it is better to focus on one's own game rather than to hold closely to the opponent's game.

ContiSoccerWorld: Tires and soccer: Both are round, but that's about it… How do these very different worlds come together?

Setzer: Actually, the worlds are not so very far apart. Technique and precise play are key factors for success, and the same is true for tires. What is more, soccer is a family sport, while tires are an issue for families. Let us say the son scores a goal at his local club or the father's favorite team wins the derby over the weekend – it is a moving event for the whole family. And when the family heads off on vacation in the car, then tires are what keep them moving. Soccer is also attracting an increasing number of women. This is evident in the stadiums or at outdoor screenings of big events like the World Cup. And the share of women buying car tires is also rising significantly. This is another parallel. This is important for us. After all, our sponsoring commitment means that we reach out not only to men but increasingly to women as well, who, in turn, are also involved more strongly in deciding which tires are purchased.

ContiSoccerWorld: When you are in the stadium as manager from the sponsoring company, Continental, this is part of your job. In all probability, this means that you appear in a suit and tie. Don't you sometimes wish you were there in jeans and with a beer in your hand, standing next to normal fans?

Setzer: I think you've the wrong idea about what I am wearing. In a soccer stadium, Continental staff do not wear a suit, and certainly not a tie. In general, the individual shows up dressed as he or she feels most comfortable. And where we sit with the customers is very close to where the so-called "normal fans" are. It is almost impossible to notice any difference. In any case, we are very much caught up in what's going on and not just on hand. And you can be sure that when the right team scores a goal, we are all jumping and shouting.

ContiSoccerWorld: From the sponsor perspective, is there a preferred World Champion in Brazil?

Setzer: No, we support the World Cup as a whole, and not any individual country. I would not be against the title going to a country where winning would generate even more enthusiasm for soccer. And if it were, at the same time, a country in which we are not yet so well known, that would be even better.

ContiSoccerWorld: For example?

Setzer: From the company's point of view, the USA would be a good world champion. Or Russia. We have already talked about a semi-final with Spain.

ContiSoccerWorld: And who would you personally like to see win the World Cup?

Setzer: Well, I believe it is again about time for the German team. But for this to happen we need a stronger defense. One could argue that the Germans have the most formidable midfield in the world. But in back… I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.