Social media to create a ‘fertile environment’ for advertisers at Russia World Cup

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is predicted to inject an additional $2.4bn into the global ad market, as the tournament’s ‘younger’ audience encourages advertisers to showcase the brand building powers of social media.

With 3.2 billion people from more than 200 countries set to tune in to Russia’s 2018 FIFA World Cup, which kicks off this afternoon (14 June), some of the world’s biggest brands are busy preparing to grab the attention (and money) of consumers.

Such is the opportunity that Zenith has forecast the World Cup will contribute an additional $2.4bn of ad spend to what is expected to be a $579bn market in 2018. That might seem a small percentage – it’s 0.41% of the total industry this year. But that is up from 0.3% in 2014 – when spend was up by $1.5bn in a market worth $488bn.

And given that growth this year in total across the advertising industry is forecast to be $25bn, that means the World Cup alone will be responsible for 10% of all the growth in ad dollars as the tournament showcases the brand building powers of both traditional television and social media.

That growth comes despite concerns over how much brands would get involved in the World Cup this year. FIFA has struggled to get sponsors on board amid wider allegations around corruption and bribery at the sport’s governing body. Nielsen Sports estimates that the value of World Cup sponsorship dropped between the 2014 even in Brazil and this year, from $1.63bn to $1.45bn.

And there have been doubts as to how much brands would get involved given the political situation with Russia, as well as its stance on LGBTQ rights and race.

Social media vs TV

Social media offers brands a place to start a conversation around the games, often triggering increased traffic to news and sports sites, more internet searches and higher sale of newspapers.

According to Zenith, this is because opportunities lie both in the size of the audience and the demographic. For instance, many of the tournament’s 3.2 billion viewers are young, upmarket and mobile consumers, meaning they’re typically harder to reach on TV.

Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting and director of global intelligence at Zenith, says social media was “hugely” significant in Brazil, but this year it could be so important that in some markets it may well exceed television in terms of spend.

“Social media is going to be a lot more active this time around because it has matured a lot in the last four years,” he explains. “A reason for this is the fact platforms have gone from being text based and photo based to being heavily video based as well. A lot of people are sharing videos, like match highlights, which will create a lot of activity and a fertile environment for brands to advertise in.”

In 2014, TV was touted as the advertising platform likely to benefit the most from the World Cup but that’s not particularly the case this year, according to Barnard. For example, television coverage in the UK will be split between BBC and ITV, so we won’t see an ad spend boost from BBC alone.

“TV will certainly be important, and always has been, but that may or may not change compared to the last tournament. In some countries matches are broadcast on non-commercial channels, so in the UK we do see a big upside for ITV over the next few weeks but that will be counter-balanced by lower spending on the other channels,” he says.

On top of this, 40% of the world is asleep when games are played, meaning many consumers are likely to look for alternative ways to watch the game, such as via social media where Zenith is expecting heavily paid social activity around the matches as brand seek to join the conversation.

But Barnard says there’s already a tendency for young sports fans to share highlights and clips via social media during the domestic competition rather than to watch the match on television and Zenith expects a similar trend to filter through to the 2018 World Cup.

“We just see that as normal behaviour now that has risen over the last few years. And at the World Cup this will be the case because a lot of people won’t be watching the matches live in some time zones,” Barnard says.

China’s aggression and market movement

China’s national football team might not have qualified for the World Cup, but that hasn’t stopped the Chinese brands from making aggressive moves to take advantage of the global audience.

While the host nation Russia will experience a $64m boost to ad spend – accounting for 2.1% of all Russian advertising expenditure in 2018 – the biggest increase will come from China. There, the World Cup will contribute an extra $835m in ad spend.

This is a significant rise from 2014, when the entire Asia Pacific region was only expected to spend an additional $250m.

There are a number of reasons Chinese brands may have decided now is the time to invest in football. No brand from the country is yet synonymous with the sport, offering an opportunity for the company that become “the football brand”. Plus, in general, Chinese brands are much more focused on expansion outside China compared to during previous World Cups.

That is clear from World Cup sponsors this year. Commercial property company, the Wanda Group, is one of FIFA’s seven official partners, alongside Coca Cola, Adidas, Gazprom, Qatar Airways, Visa and Hyundai/Kia. Three of the tournament’s official five sponsors are Chinese – while, three of the 2018 tournament’s official five sponsors, namely TV and fridge maker Hisense, smartphone developer Vivo, and dairy firm Mengniu.

“The Chinese are making a particular effort around the World Cup to market the event and that’s also coincided with a strong demand from brands to associated themselves with the sport,” says Barnard. “There’s no real brand that a Chinese consumer will associate with football yet. No brand owns football yet in China so there are a number of brands competing to become the ‘football brand’.”

Where big brands are present

This year many brands are using social media as their main channel for targeting consumers at scale.

For instance Visa has tailored its campaign to suit time-poor consumers and a younger, more digital-savvy audience by producing short six-second videos containing subtitles, which are made exclusively for social media. The campaign is set to launch across 45 markets and in 24 languages. Budweiser’s ‘Light Up the FIFA World Cup’ campaign slot will be broken down into 15-, 30- and 90-second ads for both TV and social media.

New Balance’s general manager of global football Kenny McCallum recently spoke to Marketing Week about its World Cup activations, which aim to “get under the skin” of consumers who are very much “digital and social animals”.

READ MORE: Find out what brands are doing this year in Marketing Week’s World Cup blog

McCallum says it is vital to be able to penetrate the football market using a digital and social approach. The brand’s ‘Made it to Moscow’ series will offer both short- and longer-form video to match whichever platform it’s appearing on, with the sole aim of ensuring the brand “remains present”.

“The choice for a consumer is better than ever and the convergence of digital into live events is changing and will continue to change. The way we look at it is each platform has a role to play and consumers have expectation of those platforms,” McCallum says.

Coca-Cola, one of FIFA’s long-standing top tier partners, revealed its World Cup campaign will feature two TV spots as well as a limited-edition Coke can design, sporting numbers zero through nine so fans can share their score predictions on social media.

And yesterday (13 June) Paddy Power unveiled its ‘Rainbow Russia’ campaign which appeared in today’s print edition of the Metro. Paddy Power is pledging to donate £10,000 to LGBT charities for every goal scored by the 2018 World Cup’s host nation, Russia.

The World Cup kicks off today (14 June) 4pm with a match between host nation Russia and Saudi Arabia.