When the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 14, it’s not just soccer’s finest players that will have their once-in-a-four-year moment.
Brands seeking to build global awareness see the tournament as a platform to showcase innovative marketing techniques. Just like what’s transpiring on the pitch, there are epic successes and failures. The most successful advertisers will be the ones who figure out where to target their audience.
Carlsberg in the UK nailed it in 2014. This advertisement cleverly gave viewers a real taste of pub life in England in a country where the beautiful game is revered as much as its queen.
The unforgettable Head & Shoulders ad featuring England National Team’s Joe Hart stands out as a low-point. England was unceremoniously knocked out of the World Cup early in 2014, but the advertisement continued to run, much to the chagrin of English soccer fans everywhere.
According to FIFA, the television-viewing audience comprised three billion people in 2014, while another estimated 280 million watched matches online or on a mobile device. Yes, that’s millions and billions of eyeballs to cash in on.
For the 2018 games, there’s a significant difference as this one is being touted as the first real digital World Cup.
Mobile screens on phones and tablets create huge opportunities for both brands and the watching public. Now, these platforms have become much more sophisticated. Consider Instagram Stories, which hit in 2016. In terms of the World Cup that gives brands 15 seconds max to dazzle: a goal here, a cry of joy there.
According to Mediakix, which tabulated IG stories’ one-year anniversary, its daily active user base was over 300 million, translating into: “approximately 60 percent of Instagram’s 500 million daily active users are also viewing or publishing Instagram Stories content.”
What’s The Deal With Twitter
Then there’s Twitter. The social network cut a major deal with Fox Sports in January, which will be the exclusive English-language home of the World Cup. Per the deal, Fox Sports will produce a live hosted show with top soccer personalities as invited guests that will be streamed exclusively on Twitter from Moscow’s Red Square each match day.
Fox Sports will also provide real-time video highlights to Twitter, including every goal scored, player and coach interviews and press conference coverage.
The partnership demonstrates a breakaway from the traditional broadcast model, which has been suffering. Case in point: late in 2017, ESPN laid off 150 employees due to a lowering subscriber base and rising live broadcast costs.
For Twitter, its involvement with the World Cup signals that the platform’s time has arrived for online video.
Since the 2014 event, Twitter has developed a more mature video product, with live video and video-on-demand publishing capabilities.
“One thing that is objectively unique about the World Cup is the unabashed nature of the volume of conversation that we learned back in 2014,” said Andrew Barge, head of US sports broadcast partnerships at Twitter.
The 2014 World Cup created about 672 million tweets specifically around the event, according to company research. This is a deeply engaged global audience, and video can up the ante.
Alex Josephson, head of global brand strategy at Twitter, said the platform has a concentrated audience for soccer: 53 percent of users in the US either play soccer, watch soccer or follow soccer-related personalities on the platform. And 56 percent plan to watch the World Cup despite the US failing to qualify for the tournament.
Josephson said brand-related soccer conversations are up year-on-year by a clip of 17 percent. Moreover, Twitter users are accustomed to—and expect to—hear from brands during events like these.
“That really sets up an interesting opportunity combined with the fact that we’re seeing soccer-related videos shared on Twitter year on year increasing at a rate of over 140 percent,” said Josephson.
For advertisers interested in seeing how this will play out, Tom Wiesman, senior director at Analytic Partners, said in general, Twitter doesn’t necessarily work well as an everyday advertising medium. But, for events like the World Cup and news, it’s a different story, “that’s when the ROI is much, much stronger,” said Wiesman.
Advertising for the 2018 tourney has already taken a hit.
FIFA—soccer’s governing body and organizer of the World Cup—was hit by multiple corruption scandals over the last few years. These have undoubtedly tarnished its reputation and hurt the bottom line, as this may be the culprit for Sony and Emirates Airlines not re-upping as official FIFA partners, said Wiesman. However, despite losing major sponsors, overall the top tier is up to eight, from six in the last World Cup.
Analytic Partners’ research finds the biggest decline is in the second tier of the World Cup’s commercial structure. FIFA has gone from eight to five in that category—Budweiser and McDonalds are the only returning brands, and six cut ties including Johnson & Johnson and Continental.
FIFA created the National Supporter tier in 2013 to sell new regional deals, but has struggled to fill it, seeing only three out of a possible 20 local brands come on board. That, however, could simply be a matter of dollars and cents. It’s still a significant investment to make for a smaller business when you compare it to a global brand.
Upscaling for World Cup Advertising
When you look at the scale of the advertising of the global brand powerhouses it helps to put it in greater perspective.
Hyundai Motor Company inked a deal with FIFA in 1999 through 2022 as the official automotive partner. Of the nearly 20-year alliance, Hyundai Motor Marketing Personnel said it has achieved its status goal of becoming widely known as a global car brand.
Part of Hyundai’s strategy it said, is to live and breathe with its fans in various ways.
This year, it’s sponsoring the “History of Football: The Greatest Story Ever Played” with the the History Channel. The 14-day program will broadcast internationally, exploring soccer in different countries.
The brand’s new fan engagement exercise is its online hub, the Hyundai Cheering Stadium. Fans log on, select a country of choice, enter a virtual stadium and hoot, holler, cheer, alongside thousands of other fans. A live cheer counter with both the supporting and opposing team match-ups show users how many other visitors are in the stadium.
Hyundai has also partnered with other soccer legends, such as Thierry Henry and Lukas Podolski in its “Hyundai World Football Heritage” series. These videos, sitting on platforms like YouTube and Facebook, cover fan culture through the eyes of each player.
Elsewhere, it’s evident that ad spend hit astronomical proportions. Adidas forged an alliance with FIFA 1970 when it became its supplier of the official match ball. For these games, the sports gear company brings together the intersection of athletes, musicians and culture to communicate that “creativity is the answer” to be successful on the pitch. Flashes of soccer players Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Paul Pogba, as well as musicians Pharrell Williams and A$AP Ferg, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, soccer icons David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane and many more encourage breaking the rules, putting your own spin on things. What’s more, Adidas set it up so that viewers across geographies will get a different experience.
When you click onto the Adidas website, you get cutaways of famous athletes, video and photos, boiling down aspects of creativity. The campaign incorporates the hashtag #HereToCreate and runs on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Adidas has also signed on as presenting sponsor for Fox Sports streaming efforts across all digital platforms for the duration of the World Cup.
Visa launched its Russia World Cup campaign with a digital spot bringing soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic onboard as its representative. The credit card company’s FIFA World Cup sponsorship began in 2007. Here, Ibrahimovic appears in settings around the globe, to correspond to Visa’s “Everywhere You Want to Be” theme in its digitally-top-heavy campaign. The launch sees Ibrahimovic in a press conference announcing his return to the World Cup. Visa aims to capitalize on his 31 million Instagram followers by encouraging fans to follow his journey with the company on his social media account as well as its own.
The Human Dimension In Branding
Twitter’s Josephson said the successful brands do collaborate with soccer athletes or personalities. “That would really guide you where you actually have a unique value proposition to the audience—to say something or bring them content that is relevant to their interaction on Twitter,” he said.
This applies to all platforms, of course. The hero factor inspires people to be the best versions of themselves. The social component gives users the feeling of connectedness. By a single keystroke, engaging a user with his/her hero in some capacity suddenly makes these heroes within reach.
Twitter’s Barge points to the ‘human dimension’ the platform brings to brands. “It really allows them to join a global conversation and inject their personality or their values at a moment’s notice,” he said.
Because the World Cup plays on a global stage, brands willing to spend lots of cash to showcase their best marketing efforts may do well. As real-time continues to dominate, those that invest their eyes and ears in the digital space will come to understand how to win.