Pele, the global brand magnet lives on

By Ralph Tathagata

In marketing, a brand is about relevance, respect, history, achievement, consistency, value, reliability, performance, awareness and much more. However, a brand that everybody considers relevant today might be forgotten in a decade or two – except a few brands whose images are permanently etched in human memory across generations, like an enormous painting hung in the sky.

To quote the famous artist Andy Warhol, who was commissioned to produce a portrait of Pele in 1977: “Pele was one of the few who contradicted my theory; instead of 15 minutes of fame, he will have 15 centuries.”

In 1958, a 17-year-old boy took so much responsibility and led his country to its first world football title. From that day on, the country became Brazil as the world knows it today. For more than 60 years, the boy who became a legend, remained the most relevant and marketable persona, by a mile in the world of football, and, by extension, did more for his country’s brand than everybody else.

As the world mourns Pele, the son of footballer Joao Ramos do Nascimento and Celeste Arantes, who died recently at the age of 82, the brand and marketing communication industry also mourns a brand icon who blazed a trail in sponsorship deals, which made it possible for modern-day footballers to fill their pockets with loads of corporate cash.

A great example of how sporting legends can keep their name and brand relevant with younger audiences and sports fans, Pelé, whose face was the best advertising agency for any and every product on the face of earth, became so relevant to 20th century branding construction that he should have a branding book solely dedicated to his name.

Some have suggested that Pele tarnished the purity of his football legacy through commercialism as he would show up on TV ads for five different brands every day of the week, promoting everything from Coca-Cola to Viagra. Meanwhile, though Pele was among the best-paid sports personalities of his era, his income compares poorly to the eye-watering earning potential of sports stars today.

The football legend may also have had his controversial moments like every fallible mortal, when his appearances in adverts to promote Viagra on behalf of Pfizer surprised many people, while he insisted that he never used the drug himself, but wanted to smash the taboo around erectile dysfunction. Pele maintained his brand consistency till the end of the 20th century. In 1999, Pele was voted World Player of the Century by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) and was one of the two joint winners of the FIFA Player of the Century award. That same year, he was elected Athlete of the Century by the International Olympic Committee.

However, even memories of legends do fizzle into oblivion, as brands, when they go through their full life cycle, die. It then follows that, even timeless icons require constant rebranding and repositioning to keep their memories afresh in the minds of consumers. When Pele’s iconic memory began to fade away in the 21st century, dentsu x took the challenge and made the Pelé brand more current and personable. The agency started by building a contemporary brand book for the Pelé brand. Based on three guiding values and three personality traits from his incomparable life, the agency formed a new creative identity that conveyed a profound humanity and depth of character beyond his athletic accomplishments.

Leveraging its creative messaging DNA, dentsu x proceeded to tell Pele’s stories by employing a clear, compelling and consistent analytics-driven social strategy. The agency’s social strategy focused on interacting with young star players, including Mohamed Salah, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Kylian Mbappé, and joining trending conversations that paid off big time. The style book went beyond digital, propelling Pelé into dozens of new spheres of contemporary business and sustaining his global influence. Thereafter, Pelé served as a spokesperson for Hublot watches and Visa credit cards.

The flesh and blood Pele may have transitioned from mortality to the great beyond. But the brand Pelé will continue to conjure up heroism and the best of humanity.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


    No comments found.