As we have discussed in the post Paul Pogba: The Branded Footballer [Series], ‘Football players are as much a brand as the club they play for,’ or in the context of the FIFA World Cup, ‘the national team they play for.’
In this post, we will look at the brand of Andrea Pirlo, who is one of the most prolific footballers these days. Mr Pirlo has been a key figure at 2013/14 Serie A champions Juventus under Antonio Conte, as well as in the Italian national team that won 2-1 against England in their FIFA World Cup 2014 opening match. This post will analyze four pillars of the Andrea Pirlo brand – brand, transformation, involvement, and ethos – as suggested by Rein, Kotler and Shields (2006), who write in The Elusive Fan,
An athlete has the advantage of being the principal performer in the sport, and that usually means that the athletes image is constantly before the fan. Because there are a growing number of distribution opportunities available, the athlete has the potential to enter into a variety of sectors and use his or her sports career as a platform for endeavors. Critical to brand expansion is the athlete’s ability to construct a brand that identifies and connects with specific target segments.
The Andrea Pirlo Brand
In Brand Leadership, D. A. Aaker and E. Joachimsthaler (2000) look at various brand identity elements, where one of their perspectives is the brand as a person. According to a paper by J. L. Aaker (1997), Dimensions of Brand Personality, a brand has a certain personality, which is defined as the set of human characteristics associated with the brand; namely, sincerity, excitement, competence, sophistication, and ruggedness.
Born in 1979 in Brescia, Italy, and having solely played for Italian clubs, Andrea Pirlo incorporates the picture-perfect Italian footballer. Will Hersey predicted in 20 Things You Will Definitely Experience While Watching The World Cup that panelists would discuss Andrea Pirlo’s passing in a vaguely sexual manner featuring groans and aaahes, and that he’s ‘like a vintage wine’ (Esquire.co.uk, 2014). And in regard to Mr Pirlo’s fashion style, Max Olesker stated that ‘Pirlo’s luxurious facial hair is a throwback – a real grizzly grown-up man-beard. In fact, it would probably look ridiculous on someone with less machismo – a full-bodied, face-covering, bushy affair, just like your dad used to have at university. (Esquire, June 2014)’ Both statements emphasize the perfect matrimony of modern ruggedness and Italian elegance that the Andrea Pirlo brand radiates. In his autobiography, I Think Therefore I play (2014), the FIFA World Cup 2006 winner describes how much he is Italian:
Caressing the ball was something I had to do. I then lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French. I took a long, intense breath. That breath was mine, but it could have been the manual worker who struggles to make it ti the end of the month, the rich businessman who’s a bit of a shit, the teacher, the students, the Italian expats who never left our side during the tournament, the well-to-do Milanese signora, the hooker on the street corner. In that moment, I was all of them.
Mr Pirlo’s obvious sincerity is also accompanied by a proven track record of winning domestic and international championships, starting with Serie A titles to the UEFA Champions League and the World Cup 2006, in which he always played a key role as a player and a brand. Even today, at the age of 35, Mr Pirlo is considered one of the best footballers on the pitch – one who can make a difference. According to Stats Zone by Opta, Mr Pirlo completed 103 passes from 108 attempted (Soccerissue, 2014) in the FIFA World Cup 2014 inaugural match against England. All of this underlines his competence as a leader on and off the pitch in any team he has been or still is a part of.
Andrea Pirlo’s career as a professional footballer developed like on rails with arguably a few ordinary obstacles. Starting out in the youth team of Brescia, a smaller but established club in Northern Italy, Mr Pirlo was scouted by Inter, one of Italy’s most traditional and successful clubs.
Despite early challenges to break into the first squad at Inter, Mr Pirlo managed to prove his worth when on loan at Reggina and Brescia, which led to a career-boosting move to city rivals AC Milan. His 10-year stay led to 284 official appearances, 32 goals, as well as prestigious domestic and international trophies. Andrea Pirlo’s brand sophistication level grew with every season that brought new challenges for his team as well as for him as an individual footballer. He took on challenges, which strengthened his brand as an established Italian playmaker loved by football aficionados and brand marketers.
Andrea Pirlo never won the prestigious Ballon d’Or trophy, even though he was nominated in 2006, 2007, and 2012, reaching 9th, 5th, and 7th place respectively. Nevertheless, his trophy cabinet presents dozens of honors that played an imperative role in fostering the Andrea Pirlo brand and transforming it into one of the most recognized and arguably admired football brands in recent years.
In terms of marketing through sports involvement, Mr Pirlo is often sought for commercial engagements with different brands that use his brand to reach a wider audience; Nike, Jeep, Drutex, or Garnier Frutics, just to name a few. In regard to online/social media involvement, it can be claimed that the Pirlo brand has still room for improvement.
Even though Mr Pirlo’s official Facebook fan page counts 2.9 million fans and his official Twitter account, @Pirlo_official, is followed by 553,000 users – both numbers retrieved on 19 June 2014 –, actual engagement with fans or involvement with social media campaigns are basically non-existent to my knowledge. In his defense, Mr Pirlo joined Facebook on 19 December 2013 and Twitter on 6 February 2014. Because of that, we should be patient and give him and his PR/brand representatives, Stars on Field, time to find out what his followers expect from these accounts and finally engage with them.
Mr Pirlo seems to be a person of few words that does not need (or want) too much attention from the media or the public eye. Mehreen Khan compared him to an architect, metronome, Mozart, or a professor (Telegraph.co.uk, 2014), which to me encompass professionalism and determination; exactly how I perceive his brand. But make no mistake, in his autobiography (2014) Mr Pirlo does not mince matters:
Take someone like Antonio Cassano. He says he’s slept with 700 women in his time, but he doesn’t get picked for [the Italian national team] any more. Deep down, can he really be happy? I certainly wouldn’t be.
[The racists who abused Mario Balotelli] are a truly horrendous bunch, a herd of frustrated individuals who’ve taken the worst of history and made it their own … whenever I see Mario at an Italy training camp, I’ll give him a big smile. It’s my way of letting him know that I’m right behind and that he mustn’t give up. A gesture that means ‘thank you’.
These two quotes alone show the character, dedication, and integrity of a real champion – and reading his autobiography will reinforce this feeling. After reading the book, I had the impression that Andrea Pirlo does not actively work on his brand with strategic planning. He seems to simply act on instinct doing what he feels is right for him as a professional athlete. Such actions add a genuine authenticity to the brand. Additionally, the majority of football aficionados around the world seem to agree with his values and endorsements, which leads me to believe that his ethics and morals are in order.
All in all, the Andrea Pirlo brand is a brand to be proud of, and I would go as far as saying that it is a classic Italian brand that portraits elegance and authenticity with a hint of positive couldn’t-care-less attitude. Mr Pirlo just prolonged his contract at Juventus FC for another two years. However, once he hangs his football boots and leaves the pitch for good, his brand will turn from classic to legendary.
Cesare Prandelli, Italy’s manager during the FIFA World Cup 2014, once said, “Andrea Pirlo is a player who belongs to everyone. Guys like him should be a protected species. Every ground is Andrea’s ground – fans look at him and see a universal champion, capable of taking them beyond the concept of supporting a single team. They see Italy. (I Think Therefore I play, 2014)” And if Mr Prandelli says that, I like to believe it. #ForzaAzzurri!