Tuesday, June 22, 2010

An unforgettable beer, bud

An unforgettable beer, bud
The case of the orange dresses at the World Cup sets an alarming precedent, write Dan McDougall in Cape Town and Stephen Armstrong Jun 21, 2010 11:57 PM By Dan McDougall and Stephen Armstrong
The Big Read: Two women will appear in a Hillbrow court today.
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DRESSED TO ANNOY: Dutch fans celebrate during the World Cup match between Netherlands and Denmark at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Fifa alleges that the orange dresses were part of an 'ambush marketing' stunt by Dutch beer firm Bavaria Picture: DAVID CANNON/GALLO IMAGES
Thanks to Fifa, Bavaria has achieved worldwide publicity beyond its dreams Jacob Zuma
Their crime? Wearing an orange dress in a football stadium.
On Wednesday morning last week Mirte Nieuwpoort, 30, and Barbara Castelein, 29 huddled in their hotel room, hoping desperately to hear from their country's embassy.
When the phone in their room rang, however, it was the hotel manager. Half a dozen police officers had barrelled into reception and demanded the women come down to meet them.
They were told by police that, following a 48-hour investigation in Johannesburg and Amsterdam, they were being arrested.
The police took them from their suburban hotel to a dirty courtroom in Hillbrow.
Witnesses said the women looked pale and shaken as they sat in the dock with orange backpacks at their feet.
The magistrate ordered them to surrender their passports and post R9250 bail or face immediate imprisonment. They were ordered to return to the court today.
Fifa, football's world governing body which organises the World Cup, alleges that the dresses were part of an "ambush marketing" stunt by Dutch beer firm Bavaria.
Police said the two women had recruited 34 South African women to attend the Netherlands' first match, against Denmark.
Initially disguised as Danish supporters, the women stripped off to reveal their orange dresses. Press photographers at the game were drawn to them. The dresses bore a tiny Bavaria logo.
The women had therefore broken the exclusivity granted to Budweiser as the official beer of the World Cup.
Incredibly, this is a criminal offence and the police were not pussyfooting around.
It is Fifa's heavy-handed response that is attracting attention. Nieuwpoort and Castelein, according to Fifa, are the masterminds of a devious criminal plot.
Flown in to South Africa, "they hired innocent local girls" whom they "compelled to lie to police", then "devised a strategy to decoy security authorities" before committing their crime.
If this seems farcical, bear in mind that laws passed in the UK in 2006 to protect sponsors of the 2012 Olympics offer similar penalties. They even ban the use of the word "London" in advertising unless you have paid the Olympic organising committee to become an official commercial partner.
Many see the case of the Johannesburg Two as an example of the commercialisation of sport taken to ridiculous lengths.
Others, however, note that thanks to Fifa, Bavaria has achieved worldwide publicity beyond its dreams.
The orange dresses might herald an era of ambush marketing.
In South Africa the protection of these official sponsors, which have poured hundreds of millions into Fifa coffers, has reached a new level.
Before each World Cup match, local radio stations have broadcast checklists of draconian rules to be obeyed - or else. Fans must not take branded umbrellas to games, despite it being a particularly wet winter. If you want a beer within 1km of a stadium, you must drink Budweiser.
Mpumi Mazibuko, a rights protection manager for Fifa, said undercover brand police are patrolling World Cup stadiums to ensure no brands other than Fifa sponsors are allowed in the commercially restricted zones.
He said: "We protect the brand that is Fifa, that is our job."
Last month Fifa took a Pretoria pub owner to court to get him to remove banners and flags that said, "World Cup 2010" and "2010 South Africa"; while it took another firm to court for selling lollipops branded "2010 Pops".
Low-cost airline Kulula was even asked to withdraw an advert declaring that it was the "Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What".
"Ninety-nine percent of Dutch supporters wear orange when they're going to watch Holland play," said Al Moseley, creative director at the Amsterdam ad agency 180. "There's almost no way they would have noticed the so-called 'brand specific cut' of these dresses.
"In fact, the only reason most of them, and most of the world, have heard about the stunt is because Fifa and the South African authorities were so heavy handed."
The case has developed into a diplomatic incident.
The South African ambassador to the Hague was called in by Dutch officials to explain the arrests and Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch foreign minister, said: "It is absurd that the two women have a jail term hanging over their heads for wearing orange dresses in a football stadium."
Castelein, a marketing executive, and Nieuwpoort, a dental nurse, are waiting to hear their fate at today's court appearance. Their legal expenses are being met by Bavaria, the company said.
In a statement this weekend, the women said: "We think this will all be over soon - can you imagine really going to jail for wearing an orange dress?"
To most people, the absurdity of the situation would seem self-evident, but not to the bigwigs of Fifa. - Times News Service, London

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