Six lessons from the 2014 World Cup for marketers

From real-time plans blending search and trending data to damage control strategies for badly behaved brand ambassadors, Brazil has been a World Cup to remember for marketers. Marketing Week picks out the top six lessons for brands to integrate into their marketing strategies.

Search and social audience marketing can give real-time content the edge

Aside from the “quick wins” of reacting to the big stories of the tournament – Tesco’s “bottled it” Brahma beer ad following Brazil’s German thrashing for example – brands have used real-time data to produce more quantifiable campaigns.

Google, Facebook and Twitter have all been serving brands with real time trends, from search to audience profiling, to find the harder, more powerful moments capable of pushing content through the clutter.

Kraft Comida, the Hispanic market aimed business, commercialised data by combining World Cup fixtures and search trends to post themed recipes on YouTube and Facebook ahead of matches.

Elsewhere, Bobby Brittain, marketing strategy and activation director for Coca-Cola’s GB World Cup push, says the company’s own approach has “been a winner for us” in terms of “mass consumer engagement”.

He adds: “This has been made possible by breaking down the old hierarchical structures and relying on our newly created Global Hub Network to rapidly identify, react and respond to conversations about the tournament taking place around the world.  We can now roll out this successful model to maximise brand visibility across digital platforms for future major sponsorship events.”

There is still no substitute for paid media

World Cup advertisers flirted more with the paid ad offerings from Google, Facebook and Twitter but it’s a cautious courtship. Even as brands boost their social media spend, only a relatively small portion of it is going to ads.

Content marketing will bridge that gap as internal processes become more structured and marketers more responsive to consumers’ using multiple devices.

It is an approach Facebook has actively been promoting to brands, particularly when working with FIFA sponsor McDonald’s to amplify reactive videos (see above) across mobile devices.

Rob Newlan, the head of Facebook’s EMEA creative shop, says: “We’re encouraging personalised marketing at scale on the platform. It’s this marked shift we’re seeing from putting content on a page and hoping people see it to targeting those people that are really going to engage with the creative. Putting that media theory and planning in place alongside the creative is how we can really drive sales impact through campaigns.”

Sarah Groarke, managing director for sports marketing agency Sports Revolution’s social media unit Snack Media, argues: “I don’t think it’s a case of social replacing paid media. It’s about using paid and organic social reach to drive your objectives. [Google+] may not be the Facebook killer that everyone thought it would be, but for brands it could be the way forward as Facebook places more and more emphasis on paid content rather than organic.

“Google Hangouts are becoming more and more popular with Premier League teams such as Manchester United and Arsenal, and with search ranking heavily impacted by usage, it seems a natural habit for brands.”

Sponsorship marketing may be under pressure

Ambush marketers reacting to the tournament’s big moments with speed and precision have shown that being an official sponsor does not mean much on the virtual field.

Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil was the most discussed sporting event on Twitter and fleet-footed brands such as Paddy Power and Audi saw their responsive posts exploit the buzz to generate thousands of retweets.Unilever adopted the tactic when amplifying the Peperami brand’s unique view on the game through a HeyHuman-created campaign.

Alec Mellor, marketing controller at Unilever, says: “The very fact that we’re not tied to aligning to a corporate manifesto allows the brand to win the hearts and minds of the anarchic football fanbase on Twitter.

”Brands with an international footprint have the opportunity to capitalise on this while smaller ‘local jewel’ brands have the opportunity to punch above their weight with compelling content going viral across a platform without boundaries [like] Twitter.  We have seen success from this outside of the UK for example with our Suarez bite Vine (see above) picking up coverage in markets where aren’t currently operating.”

But it’s not necessarily game over for sponsorship marketers and there is still untapped value in owning those official rights to an event.

Smart sponsors are recognising that the traditional model – where the rights holder creates value by controlling and restricting access to their asset – is outdated and are looking to give consumers a real sense of ownership.

Adidas overhauled its digital strategy to overcome this challenge, partnering with Google and Twitter to give fans unprecedented access to its players and teams. The strategy helped it emerged the clear winner of the official sponsors of the World Cup in terms of Buzz, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex.

Marketers need stronger game plans to exploit the globalisation of the World Cup

The surge in football’s popularity in the US combined with its ongoing growth in Asia cast the 2014 tournament in a broader global light than previous World Cups. The challenge for every World Cup marketer was to leverage this scale with many missing a trick by not linking their online and oflline campaigns closer.

Nike, Budweiser and Adidas erected newsrooms to bring different parts of the business together to shape consistent customer experiences around the event. Media owners across the globe also tried to exploit the shift, with Yahoo’s biggest European social media push to date extending its impact to the US, for example.


Robert Bridge, vice president of international marketing at Yahoo, says: “I’ve been most pleased with how the campaign’s integration across multiple teams has delivered that maximum reach for us as a media site and really been able to drive links back to our sports hub from our social channels.

”It was the first time we also used Tumblr from a content marketing perspective through our [Jose Mourinho-backed] ‘Special Ones’ campaign. The US is more engaged in the sport and that’s a great platform for a US-driven business like ours going into the future.”

Coke’s Brittain points to the company’s strong offline promotion for bolstering its wider activity. “We’ve also learnt from the success of relevant, timely on-pack promotions, worldwide with our recent ‘Win A Ball’ giveaway of up to one million footballs.  The campaign idea was based on using the World Cup as a vehicle to inspire people to move and encourage them to be more active, more often.  

“It also supported our charity partner Street Games, with donations for every entry.  With over 700,000 redemptions to date ‘Win A Ball’ is expected to be one of our most successful on-pack promotions ever”, he adds.

Sports advertisers rethinking TV as the second screen

Smartphone usage, plus the popularity of social networks has created a huge new playing field in sports marketing and anyone can have a voice. This is was brought into sharp focus around the World Cup with McDonald’s, Adidas and Coke ploughing significant funds into boosting their mobile reach.

From mobile apps to mobile-skewed media plans, marketers gambled on the channel to offset the cluttered airtime during the tournament. Underlining the shift has been a change in mentality from brands becoming more reactive with their media planning yet more organised in how that flexibility is facilitated.  

Broadcasters are unlikely to discount traditional TV strategies anytime soon but they too are waking to the potency of search data and trending social themes with dynamic content. ITV served up virtually instant video highlights to mobile devices, for which it had sold pre-roll idents to brands such as Sony and Gillette.

Unlike TV idents, every time the goal highlight is viewed the sponsor’s ident gets to run.

Chris Pearce, joint chief executive of TMW, which has worked on second-screen campaigns for Unilever, says: “The use of video significantly enhances the viewer experience and likelihood to share.  It’s a neat and compelling piece of technology that facilitates what I’d call ‘joyful utility’.  

“Perhaps controversially, video advertising on Twitter is not constrained by the same rules as TV so there are many more options for brands.  Twitter Amplify could be used to distribute branded content that is associated with a TV programme, as VO5 did recently at The Brits.” 

Controversy spikes interest, but also erodes brand value eventually


Years of preparation for the World Cup can be unravelled the moment a player strikes out, or, in the case of Luis Suarez, bites back.

Adidas, which counted the Uruguayan striker as one of it’s global World Cup brand ambassadors, quickly reacted to Suarez biting Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during the group stages by axing the player from its worldwide campaign and reminding him of his “responsibilities”.

The company also voiced its support of the four month ban from world football imposed on the player by FIFA, which reflects a wider trend of sponsors becoming more willing to take an ethical stance to protect their reputation. However, it stopped short of terminating its deal with the player altogether, possibly realising his professional achievements next season with FC Barcelona could dilute the gross misconducts of the past – as it has before.


Germany win World Cup

Adidas nets World Cup sponsors victory

Seb Joseph

Adidas’ sponsorship blitz on the World Cup is set to bolster its dominance of the football category, where it is the market leader in terms of sales, with the company’s ties to winners Germany and a host of skilful players lifting public perception of the brand above rival FIFA sponsors. 


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