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World Cup City Diary: Cursed: The high price of corporate sponsorship

Slackbelly exposes The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in South Africa

History records the risks of aligning sportswear brands with flaky athletes. A Greek sprinter, Katerina Thanou, failed a drugs test at the 2004 Olympics – a double blow as she was the poster child of the Games. Quite literally: Adidas had plastered her picture on billboards across Greece.

The firm continued its bad form into the 2006 World Cup by covering a bridge with a huge image of Germany's goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn. The display lasted longer than the player, who was dropped before the tournament.

Not to be outdone, Nike now seems intent on taking on the curse. Its elaborate World Cup ads feature France's Franck Ribery (already gone home), England's Wayne Rooney (yet to score), Homer Simpson and Brazil's Ronaldinho (neither selected for the tournament). D'oh!

Beer girls, dogs and other PR ambushes

Like me, you'll be delighted to learn that the Bavaria beer girls – the scantily clad beauties arrested for perpetrating an "illegal" World Cup ambush marketing campaign – have been acquitted. Meanwhile, local airline Kulula claims Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, is using its planes when, in fact, the passenger is a Boston terrier of the same name.

Despite these stunts being rather lame, they've generated loads of publicity for two anonymous brands – chiefly because customers targeted by "official" World Cup sponsors are increasingly irked by the heavy-handed tactics of the Fifa brand police.

This is partly why guerilla marketing works and is why large organisations should never – ever – react, no matter how irritating the jibes. In brand wars, the bigger guy always ends up looking silly, and as usual we need search no further to learn that lesson than the teachings of Marx (Groucho, not Karl).

When Warner Brothers, maker of Casablanca, discovered the Marx Brothers were shooting a spoof called A Night in Casablanca, Groucho received a letter from Warner's lawyers, which he felt compelled to exploit (and exaggerate).

"I had no idea that the city of Casablanca belonged exclusively to Warner Brothers," he wrote back. "What about Warner Brothers? You probably have the right to use the name Warner, but what about Brothers? Professionally we were brothers long before you." The riposte generated reams of coverage for Groucho's film. Clever old thing.

Buffett's bet? Chain wins either way

Warren Buffett has helped himself to $30m by insuring a client against France winning the World Cup. But who took this policy? Insiders suggest it was French retailing giant Carrefour, as a hedge against its offer of a refund for customers buying flat-screen TVs if France triumphed. It's a clever trick, meaning a profit from the promotion is almost certain. A fait accompli, even.

Bookies try to play a blinder

The bookies' quadrennial World Cup payday depends on the credulous English backing their team. But, this time, punters began in less stupid fashion. With our boys facing Germany, Ladbrokes tries to fill the gap by tempting us into a patriotic punt: "We're beginning to sweat over a resurgent England," it claims. Really? Everyone knows bookies are praying for England to progress (then lose in the Final). Is it getting desperate?