In what was South Africa’s biggest event since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Nelson Mandela’s memorial was nothing short of monumental, both in terms of the massive crowd that descended upon FNB Stadium, as well as the impressive turnout of world leaders and celebrities.
Like many millions from around the world, I too watched the memorial service live on television. However as the event unfolded, I couldn’t help but notice the conspicuous branding around FNB stadium for ‘Aveng Group’. Prior to the memorial, I had not heard of the company, though a quick search reveals that Aveng Group is one of South Africa’s largest infrastructure development companies, with subsidiaries ranging from mining to rail construction. In 2006, one of Aveng Group’s subsidiaries won a tender to upgrade the FNB Stadium in preparation for the 2010 World Cup. The same subsidiary also constructed the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, home to to the Southern Kings rugby team, which Aveng Group now sponsors.
While it does appear that Aveng Group has a past relationship with FNB stadium, it still raises questions as to why and how an infrastructure development company was branded at one of the largest not-for-profit events in recent history. The extensive branding was hard to ignore, particularly with numerous billboards being strategically positioned around the stadium’s big screen, a main focal point for the world feed coverage watched by millions. I reached out to both Aveng Group and FNB Stadium management in the hope of an answer, though both were unavailable for comment. Still, there may be a few plausible scenarios that may explain as to how Aveng Group gained access to the most publicized event of the year.
One possible scenario, and in my opinion the most likely, is that Aveng Group struck a bartering deal with organizers to provide infrastructure for the event in exchange for branding at FNB stadium. This may explain why Aveng Group was the only one to have billboards inside the stadium during the memorial. Another scenario is that Aveng Group may be a current partner of FNB stadium and have a contractual agreement to have a brand presence at all stadium events, which is standard for venue sponsors. While both of these scenarios may be possible, given the nature of the event it would have been expected for Nelson Mandela’s memorial to be completely unbranded, regardless of any existing agreements. The last scenario, while still improbable and surely controversial, is that Aveng Group negotiated a one-off branding deal to pay and position billboards around the stadium during the memorial. Again, this would be a highly contentious move as it would commercialize what was supposed to be a nonprofit event.
Regardless of how Aveng Group managed to secure branding at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, it is safe to say that they successfully pulled off a marketing coup, receiving global brand exposure worth millions of dollars at a highly publicized event. Yet this leads to another question: why would a South African-based construction group seek such exposure in the first place? Then again, it seems stranger things have happened.