From fluorescent football boots to players with tattoos - in marketing, why less is more

Dr Constantino Stavros

Posted: June 17, 2014

Tagged: events / marketing / stadiums / teams

Less is more. It is a phrase that marketers have whispered for close to a decade now. Less is more reflects a paradigmatic shift from the bigger is better capitalistic approach to communication and consumption to one where subtlety and nuance is valued above all else. Marketers will tell you that less is more is about being ‘authentic’ and that great brands resonate inside their consumers. In layman terms it represents a strategic pitch that is less about yelling in your face and more about putting an arm across your shoulder and telling you that you are understood – even if the one showing that empathy is a multi-national corporation with headquarters half a world away.

Less is more is the obvious marketing answer to consumers tiring of mass marketing, but also, more importantly, it is the response to marketers understanding that their world is not as secretive and sophisticated as many have assumed. With the science of marketing readily understood by modern consumers, less is more is an admission that in the end keeping it simple does make sense.

That less is more could apply to a global sporting event of such magnitude as the World Cup appears inconceivable. However to survive the coming generations it will, in my opinion, have to adopt exactly that philosophy. In our lifetimes, if we are lucky, we will witness 20 or so World Cups. That rarity is the very essence of what makes the event so special. Less is more is exactly why we all care so much about it.

Every four years the World Cup’s marketing footprint grows bigger in almost every measure. Just look at the number of brands on the display signage. The hype grows; the player personalities extend way beyond larger than life and along with the increased crowds, revenues and media coverage, so too do expectations rise.

As any sport marketer can tell you that is a dangerous path. Ironically the one thing a sport marketer cannot usually control is the core product itself. Three goals a game, Messi magic, end-to-end action, home-team wins. It’s what the fans want and exactly what a marketer cannot guarantee.

A less is more World Cup of the future needs to shed the excess baggage that comes with and in turn fuels the excess expectations. How many stadiums does a host country really need? How long does the qualification period to make the Finals need to be? How many sponsors at how many different levels are needed? How many new rules and regulations do host countries need to agree to? How excited do local fans have to be about the event? How much economic impact is enough?

A less is more Cup is about connecting consumers to the sport and little else. True legacy is an endearing appreciation for the game, not the sponsors’ products. While peripheral marketing connections are fleeting, the enduring magic of a World Cup is embedded in the on-field drama that may unfold and the puzzle pieces of memory that this forms in our minds. It’s what hooked me in 1982 and has meant I have barely missed watching a match since (although I draw the line at meaningless 3rd place playoffs where less is definitely more).  It is not simply however a return to those ‘good old days’, despite the fact that the 1982 and 1986 World Cups are arguably the greatest of all time and coincided with a period in sport where less was more because marketers had (outside of the USA) not yet really discovered what more was.

As I write this piece the World Cup marketers must be exultant at what has occurred so far. Exciting and open play in the majority of the first round of group games has everyone saying it has the potential to be one of the greatest tournaments ever. When it comes to goals, more will always trump less.

The Less is More Cup:

Less teams? Yes. 32 is an optimal number for group allocation and division, but 24 does a better job attracting an even world elite and makes the entire hosting project a little easier.

Less stadiums? Yes. Each group should be allocated a city and stadium, thus limiting the number to 6 if we go with 24 teams. Less travel, less hassle, less chance of white elephant infrastructure.

Less penalty-kick deciders? Yes. Dramatic as they may be the better option in my opinion (which is arguably even more exciting) is to start extra time with ten v ten and reduce the players by one each five minutes until someone scores. Less players, more excitement.

Less academics messing with the greatest sporting event in the world? Yes. Even I know the less is more Cup is unlikely to happen soon. Until then I will keep on enjoying the show, more or less.

About Dr Constantino Stavros

Dr Constantino Stavros is Associate Professor, Marketing at RMIT University in Australia. He is an expert in the marketing of, and through, sport.