Music has become a staple of the World Cup ever since ‘El Rock del Mundial’, a song by the unknown Chilean group Los Ramblers, was made the official theme song for Chile 1962.  But not all songs are created equal for the World Cup, and some do better than others. Moreover, signposting a World Cup with the right music can be tricky.

Rambling On

The official song was by Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez, and Claudia Leitte’s ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’.  Brazilian critics, in particular, were quick to  slam it it. Certainly, the choice of two celebrities, a Cuban-American rapper and a Bronx-born singer with a Puerto Rican heritage, did not help–Brazilian singer Leitte was really a background presence in the tune and a remote presence in the Opening Ceremony. In addition, the song was sung mainly in English and Spanish rather than Portuguese. Even the music video fell under a magnifying glass for Brazilians: cuts to the Christ The Redeemer landmark and Brazilian soccer stars did not make up, in the words of one commentator, for the “smiling [stereotypes of] barefoot children and semi-naked, samba-dancing women.”

To be sure, there is an element of covert nationalism in such criticism. But it is true that music in the World Cup tends to be stripped of local color. This also happened in South Africa, and earlier in both Germany and Japan-Korea. Los Ramblers, for that matter, started it all with an alien genre to Chile. Naturally, World Cup organizers always have to balance the local with the universal, for the event is truly international.

The irony is that because “We Are One (Ole Ola)” could be considered a flop Brazilian culture may have emerged unscathed. Damage control was easier without a hit.  The song was released in early April and by the end of June it had sold about 105,000 digital downloads in the U.S, according to Nielsen SoundScan. 22,000 of those sales happened on the week after its performance at the World Cup Opening Ceremony, making it its biggest-selling week. But after all that it only spent three weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Waka Waka (This Time For Africa),” the 2010 World Cup song performed by Shakira and Freshlyground, a Southafrican band, did much better.  It spent a total of 18 weeks on the Hot 100, Billboar Chart selling 57,000 downloads during its best week. Its numbers never dipped below 31K on any given week of the World Cup.  Furthermore, “Waka Waka” went on to sell nearly 2 million downloads just in the U.S, with just 274K of those sold during World Cup weeks. Brazil’s 2014 theme song does not even remotely approach such figures. Also, as of June 23, one in five of the 774K people that rated “We Are One” in YouTube gave it a thumbs down.

Music and Advertising

They go hand in hand in the World Cup. Advertisers’ goals are, of course, to take advantage of the tournament’s enormous viewing audience. According the organizing International Football Federation (FIFA), views for the 2010 World Cup tallied 3 billion people, including 910 million for the final match. The Super Bowl, America’s most viewed sporting event, is a pittance by comparison, at 116 million in 2014. The same could be said of all the Olympics.

It is the nature of this international audience that poses so many challenges.

Promoting a brand in the World Cup is completely different, for instance, to the Super Bowl.  TV ads have to translate across many cultures. Added to this is the fact that soccer matches don’t have commercial breaks as two 45-minute halves are played without interruption. Frequent and repeated 30-second commercial spots do not work. Here is where music can come in handy. A memorable jingle, which transcends local culture and language, can quickly establish a rapport with the audience, as the Gatorade ad demonstrates in this version of the Cup.

For sure, brands are taking advantage of music by cleverly promoting their own World Cup songs. And, it seems, such tunes have become more popular than this year’s FIFA-approved theme song. Other instances are not hard to find.  Danone’s Activia yogurt and Shakira joined forces to revise Shakira’s 2010 World Cup massive hit song “Waka Waka,” with a Brazil-centric video for her new song “Dare (La La La).”  The song’s video is sponsored by Activia in partnership with the World Food Programme and has amassed an exceptional 206 Million YouTube views since it was uploaded on May 22. In comparison, “We Are One (Ole Ola)” only made 175 million views and it was uploaded a week ahead. It should be mentioned that “Waka Waka,” has over 700  million YouTube views, and at one point, it held the record for the most-viewed video.

Coca-Cola, in turn, released the song “The World Is Ours” sung by David Correy, a Brazilian-born American-raised artist that is accompanied by Monobloco, a Brazilian street band. The song was launched in English at first, but then it was adapted and arranged into thirty-two languages, each tailored to a different country and sung by a local artist. It should be noted that Coca Cola tried the same strategy four years ago for the 2010 World Cup. With a $300 million ad campaign budget, it released twenty-four versions of the song “Wavin’ Flag” by Somali-born artist K’Naan. Even though that song was a hit, charting in over seventeen countries, it doesn’t come near the success of “The World Is Ours”, which has already hit the Top Ten charts in forty countries worldwide.

Moreover, Beats by Dre launched a five-minute video “The Game Before the Game”. It shows famous soccer stars, such as Brazil’s Neymar Jr., Frances’s Bacary Sagna, and Uruguay’s Luis Suárez, among others, preparing for a match by listening to “Jungle” by Jamie N Commons & The X Ambassadors. The video has already gathered nearly 22 million views after just a month on YouTube. The company, which was recently bought by Apple for $3 billion, took this opportunity to strategically position itself globally for the first time and they did it effectively.


By Eduardo Loret de Mola



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