I have to put my hands up right from the outset and admit that I only have a casual interest in football. A quick scan of the results and league tables on a Saturday afternoon and the all too occasional trip to the Madejski Stadium to watch The Royals play but that’s about it.
My career has been entirely consumed by fast cars whizzing around race tracks, but thankfully I do realise that there is more than one Alonso in the sporting world. But whenever the World Cup comes around, an unexplainable sense of national pride takes over and I find myself wanting to fill the vacuum in my head where the previous four years of football knowledge would otherwise have been stored.
Recently, I have persuaded my 5-year-old son to start collecting Panini stickers for this year’s 2010 South Africa World Cup. Again, I have to be honest, this was initially more an excuse for me to recreate a childhood hobby than providing my son with a new pastime, but thankfully for both of us, he has more than come around to the idea.
With Nigeria and Ivory Coast fast filling up, it dawned on me that the classic Panini sticker album is a classic social media tool. It is about a company using an international sporting event to tap into the wider public conscience and attract a long-lasting brand association.
My first Panini album was Mexico ’86, a contest best remembered by English fans for Diego Maradona’s Hand of God and Gary Lineker’s Golden Boot. Four year later, Italia ’90, think Schillaci, Gascoigne, Roger Milla. All of these things stick firmly in my mind and for someone with a self-admitted passing interest in football that’s quite something. It proves the power of football extends far beyond the loyal fans who frequent the terraces and embrace the sport as if it were their own creation.
Panini’s sticker albums allow kids (and us big kids) to get passionate about a sport that might otherwise have been just on the periphery of interest. Just last week, Joshua (that’s my son) and I had a Charlie Bucket moment, when the silvery foil of one of the album’s team emblems glistened out of the packet. That is a moment of triumph, a feeling of obtaining one of the book’s more elusive stickers. I recalled with clarity that same feeling all those years ago and the feeling of triumph when we completed a team’s double page (the first one I finished for Italia 90 was Sweden and I chose them as my adopted team after England).
The social aspect of sticker collecting, of course, comes with the frustrating concept of swaps. There is nothing more frustrating than finding stickers in your pack that you have already got, especially if you’ve been waiting all week for a new pack. But then comes the opportunity to exchange with your mates… Just like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, any of today’s social media platforms, it is the ultimate sharing experience, learning from each other, drawing upon each other’s involvement. Who doesn’t remember the playground monotony of ‘Got…got…got…need…got…got…need’.
In a world where iPads, 3D HD Plasma screens and endless websites are offering fully interactive media options, it is refreshing that Panini sticker albums still exist. It may be my advancing years, my thirty-something tendency for nostalgia, but I hope Panini sticker albums continue to find their rightful place in households the world over and continue to unite sports fans around the world. As FIFA’s portfolio of partners and World Cup sponsors explore new ways to tap into this stream of public interest in the World Cup, to find new ways to activate their already costly sponsorship deals and to experiment with this still unexplained ‘social media’ concept, just look at Panini, a fifty year old Italian company who have been tapping into a much more traditional form of social and personal activity for decades and with such global success.
Now does anybody need Lukas Podsolski?