LONDON - Coca-Cola has disclosed contingency plans to adapt its World Cup sponsorship and soften its celebratory tone in Brazil if unrest returns to the streets.
Launching their biggest World Cup marketing campaign, which aims to promote inclusivity, Coke executive vice-president Joe Tripodi told The Associated Press the soft drinks giant would react rapidly to any outbreak of protests in an attempt to reflect the mood of the nation.
Demonstrations flashed across the South American country last year as the Confederations Cup started, with Brazilians angry at the high level of spending on the World Cup compared with public services. The protests outside some matches, including the Brazil-Spain final, turned violent with tear gas floating into stadiums.
"That (World Cup) spotlight can act as an opportunity to tell a story of happiness but it can also be a spotlight to tell a story of grievances and concerns that they (the public) have about the direction of the country," Tripodi, the Coca-Cola chief marketing and commercial officer, said in a telephone interview.
"There was tear gas and a little of that waved into the stadium, nothing major," Tripodi recalled of his Confederations Cup trip. "The Brazilian people are going to rise up and support this World Cup in a big way. Do I think there might be some protests? There may well be."
A litmus test of Brazil's attitude now to the World Cup could be when the trophy tour, organized by Coke, reaches its 90th country this month and begins a six-week tour across Brazil.
"We hope there is no unrest," Tripodi said from Atlanta. "But we recognize these things happen. You always have to be smart to have all kind of Plan Bs, Plan Cs and Ds to prepare for any contingency. And if certain things happen you might have to change the tonality of your marketing or communications ... to make sure our messaging better reflected the mood in a particular country."
Coke is aware the same social media channels it harnesses to engage with consumers to enhance its market position can quickly be used to create a backlash against corporations or organizations such as FIFA.
"The worst thing is you can be complicit by silence," Tripodi said.
"The world we live in now is full of massive disruption, frequent chaos and change all the time," he added. "So as a company and as a brand if you are not prepared to respond ... then you aren't going to survive."
Coke's advertising has appeared in World Cup stadiums since the tournament was last staged in Brazil in 1950, and it has been an official FIFA sponsor since 1978.
The latest marketing campaign features fans across the world, from a Japanese region hit by the 2011 earthquake-tsunami to the West Bank, collecting cup tickets.
Rival PepsiCo is relying on the allure of football stars, with Argentina star Lionel Messi and Netherlands forward Robin van Persie performing tricks on the streets of Rio de Janeiro in a campaign released on Wednesday.
"Are you going to get the occasional ambush marketing? It's more of a nuisance that probably gets overhyped," Tripoldi said. "It's not something we obsess over."
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris