The figures are staggering. Nielsen said 111.6 million U.S. viewers watched at least six minutes of the final match between Holland and Spain, a 22% increase on the previous World Cup. Fifa reported that some 700 million people watched the matches on TV and that it got 7 billion page views on its site during the month long word cup, and scored 150 million users. Twitter struggled under the pressure of a world wanting to do nothing more than talk about soccer in South Africa. FastCompany reports that Twitter averages some 750 tweets a second, but that this shot up to 3.085 per second during the World Cup, at times causing service outages.
Some 3.1 million spectators attended the 64 matches said Fifa, while South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said 1.4 million tourists had entered the country, most of them first time visitors.
South Africa’s hosting of the event got the thumbs up from FIFA President Sepp Blatter who said he’d support a bid to host the 2020 Olympics by Brand South Africa. “Compliments to the government for all the guarantees they gave and met. We trusted South Africa and we at FIFA are satisfied,” said Blatter. The most influential accolades came from the international media who largely called the event a triumph. Media reporting was mostly positive as typified by the Guardian that said South Africa had created “a legacy to remember”, Bloomberg who reported “South Africa Draws Praise as Soccer World Cup Ends”, and the New York Times which said South Africa is “savoring sweet victory”. On America's mock newscast, The Daily Show, British-born comedian/correspondent John Oliver used negative sentiment during the build up to the World Cup as fodder for laughter on his satirical updates from the country.
As influential as the media positivity were direct experiential accounts from celebrities who visited the country, and gave Brand South Africa glowing reports. Paris Hilton, for example has over 2.2 million followers on Twitter and tweeted: “The energy in here is amazing!”; “So many amazing animals here” and “Having the most incredible time in South Africa. This place is magical!”
“This has been the first World Cup where social media has been a major factor,” said Dixon. “Historically people would get their impressions of a country brand through the formal media. The fact that so many people had positive experiences would have reached exponentially more because of the influence of social media.”
Miller Motola the head of the International Marketing Council that manages Brand South Africa believes the brand has been reborn. “The world cup has contributed to the rebranding of Brand South Africa in a major way. It has positively changed perceptions of what Africa and South Africa is. There is a much more positively disposed attitude towards the country now,” he said.
Measuring the full impact on the brand will take some time and Brand South Africa will need to wait until the next Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index that ranks nation and city brands to see how the image of the country has improved. However the event has had an immediate effect on national confidence – results of a survey by Ipsos-Markinor shortly after the soccer showed that 85% of respondents felt more hopeful and confident about the country and its future.
“The World Cup has changed perceptions by showing that the country has capabilities, infrastructure, can deliver on time, and can do what is required to stage a world class event. Six months ago the world thought this could not happen in South Africa, so it has been a matter of perception and reality, and the reality has shown that South Africa delivered,” said Motola.
“How a brand is perceived is largely a function of media and the entertainment industry. If the media is saying positive things it does wonders for the belief in a brand, and provides proof points for believing in the brand. The media have helped in terms of profiling Brand SA in a more positive way and by telling the real story of the Brand SA narrative in a more balanced manner.”
Motola said that the media coverage would go a long way to boost Brand South Africa’s reputation, and to building a sustainable position for the brand. He said that the International Marketing Council of South Africa would capitalize on this through staging more large scale events in South Africa, focusing on internal perceptions of the brand by working to maintain the confidence that had been achieved, and would work aggressively globally to sustain the positive brand image.
The benefits of reinventing brand South Africa? “What has been put in the ground in terms of infrastructure will go a long way in terms of building our profile not only for tourism, but trade and investment. Then there has been an immediate change in terms of how South Africa is looked at in the global capital markets. We hear that Standard & Poor may look to enhance the country’s credit rating, and there were huge purchases of equities by foreigners during the World Cup.”
While it is too early to talk about long term economic growth and social development, a happier country with a more positive image and an immediate increase in the bottom line certainly is good news for Brand South Africa.