Even in a media landscape as fragmented and diverse as the one we live in today, certain events transcend channels, demographics, and even physical borders. Every four years the world’s most popular sport holds its biggest tournament, and 3.5 billion people from over 200 countries tune in.
Amazingly, those skyhigh numbers are more than just a rough guess. A massive survey of over 80,000 people by research firm GlobalWebIndex estimates that 47-percent of the world’s total online population will watch this year’s World Cup either online or on TV. In a soccer-obsessed Latin America, that number jumps to 65-percent.
“40-percent of the world will be asleep during some of the marquee games, so alternative media channels like social media networks are expected to play their largest role yet.”
Aside from the sheer number of people it reaches, the World Cup is also covered by advertisers due to the quality of the eyeballs tuning in:
“As well as producing large audiences — in some countries, the largest of the year — the World Cup disproportionately attracts people who are hard to reach on television: young, upmarket and mobile consumers who are more likely to spend their time outside the home and adopt the latest media technologies,” said Zenith, a global media group.
Quaking With Excitement
The games kicked off on June 14th in Moscow and the early matches are already generating significant interest from all over the globe. Mexico’s upset win over Germany was celebrated so passionately that there were reports of a minor earthquake from fans jumping up and down.
Major brands and advertisers have shown up en masse not only to associate themselves with the positive spirit of the game but also to take advantage of the incredible reach that only comes from a global mega event.
However, FIFA, the governing body sanctioning the tournament, is famously protective of its crown jewel and imposes numerous restrictions on advertisers. Each game is comprised of a 45-minute half which must air continuously, with no ad breaks.
Consequently, brands have lined up to sponsor all the ancillary programming surrounding the games, such as pregame shows. Verizon staked its claim to the halftime shows and Volkswagen is supporting all postgame coverage. Wells Fargo attached their brand to “FIFA World Cup Tonight,” a late night highlights and wrap-up program.
You can also expect to see plenty of sponsorship branding from FIFA’s official partners and perennial World Cup advertisers Anheuser-Busch InBev, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Adidas.
In the U.S. the biggest investors in advertising for the 2018 tournament are coming from the financial services, technology, and film sectors. Ad inventory from several Hollywood studios that was intended for the NBA Finals was switched over to the Cup after the basketball series ended early in a four game sweep.
ESPN/ABC, which held the rights to broadcast the last World Cup in Brazil, sold about $187 million worth of ads in 2014. In 2015, Fox reportedly paid over $400 million for U.S. TV rights through 2026. No doubt, they were concerned when the U.S. disastrously failed to make the cut for the tournament (for the first time since 1986), but expectations are still high.
Mike Petruzzi, senior VP of ad sales for Fox Sports Media Group told Ad Age: “We think this will be the biggest, most lucrative World Cup to air on English-language TV.”
The Rise of China
Not everyone is so bullish, however. After several embarrassing scandals, including allegations of corruption that made headlines in 2015, several major brands, such as Sony and Johnson & Johnson, decided to sit out this tournament.
A number of big and still growing Chinese brands have stepped up to fill in that gap. Alibaba, Hisense, and Yadea are all second tier sponsors in 2018. China, like the U.S., failed to make the cut this year and won’t be fielding a team, but intend to make their presence felt.
“…the World Cup disproportionately attracts people who are hard to reach on television: young, upmarket and mobile consumers who are more likely to spend their time outside the home and adopt the latest media technologies.”
Chinese companies are moving strongly now because for the first time they are ready to start building their brands more aggressively in foreign markets, in addition to the goal of associating a chinese brand with the sport.
New Media Takes Up More of the Omnichannel Dial
The other big story coming out of the Cup is the continued shift in video consumption habits. 40-percent of the world will be asleep during some of the marquee games, so alternative media channels like social media networks are expected to play their largest role yet. Many brands have responded by transforming their social platforms into ground zero for targeting consumers at scale.
Visa, for example, produced a series of digital-friendly, six-second videos that are complete with subtitles to deal with browsers and platforms that auto-mute. The campaign launched in 45 markets and 24 languages, but can only be found online. Budweiser created one campaign they dubbed “Light Up the FIFA World Cup,” which has spots in 15-, 30-, and 90-second versions, optimized for online and offline viewing.
Kenny McCallum, New Balance’s general manager of global football, told Marketing Week that the shoemaker is also opting for a social-heavy plan: “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.”
Ads aren’t the whole story, however. Adidas, a classic soccer brand that always shows up big at the World Cup, is recognizing that their core consumers are young, digital-savvy, and big users of ad-blocking technology. That’s why they are also including a major investment in brand ambassadors and content marketing.
Adidas’ top influencers, including recording artist Pharrell Williams, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, and supermodel Karlie Kloss (as well as dozens of others based in York, London, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, and Los Angeles) will be creating and sharing content developed in partnership with Adidas on their personal social media accounts.
The most beautiful game and its grandest tournament is over 100 years old. In that time remarkably little has changed. Sure, a rule here or there was tweaked, but objective is still the same: get the ball in the net.
The same can’t be said about the economic and media environment that surrounds it. Technologies, consumer habits, and brand strategies are in constant flux—perhaps more so right now than at any time in history. The brand winners at this year’s tournament will have to adjust their game plans accordingly.