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A Guide to Advertising during World Cups

Written by Łukasz Wojnowski

Why you don’t want to be disfellowshipped

Let’s be honest. The World Cup is an event that hardly any advertiser wants to be excluded from. Speaking of brands now, not everyone can afford the luxury of ignoring the numbers that the World Cup brings. In 2018, FIFA published a report that stated there were about 3 billion searches related to the World Cup on YouTube that year. The materials were viewed by about 5 billion people. From a marketing perspective, when you have the budget, you can’t help but use the opportunity to refer to the World Cup in your messaging to bring in views and engagement.

Here, in a moment, we will start talking about how to do it. But before we get into that, let’s focus on the big players. We will see why not taking advantage of the opportunity to appear on stage while the whole world is watching is a waste for promoters. Currently, the advertising market around the World Cup is a bit like assembling a team for the championship. When you are a player like Coco Cola, Hyundai, Visa or McDonald’s, you don’t stay on the bench. Not to mention sports brands such as Adidas.

In 2014, Adidas Football launched its primary campaign titled ‘All in or nothing’ during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. World football stars were involved in the campaign, including Lionel Messi and David Beckham. A popular clip was made, in which Kanye West’s song God Level had its debut. It was the most expensive advertising campaign from the brand, which at the same time delivered huge profits. The brand gained almost 6 million new fans across its global social channels. Around 38 million viewers watched the clip on Youtube. In addition, under each post on Twitter, Adidas placed the hashtag #allin. In total, there were 2.1 million #allin hashtag mentions on Twitter, and it was also used on Facebook and Instagram.


The event is unique in its own way

Most of the watchers during the World Cup will simply be focused on the event itself. But the advertising sector has a completely different perspective. Both before, during, and after the World Cup, there will be other important circumstances that advertisers cannot ignore. For many brands, there is an additional challenge. Not only do they have to plan a budget for one of the largest sports events in the world, but also for other major events such as Black Friday and Christmas.

For the first time in history, the World Cup 2022 will be held in the Middle East, in Qatar. And it will take place for the first time just before Christmas. What may turn out to be very complicated for one marketer, for another it is a chance for a completely new methods of communication with clients. The number of ways to combine these two threads certainly provides a lot of opportunities for experienced players. You don’t have any ideas? Below, Fox Soccer gives quite a nice overview of how Santa can be included in the World Cup, which may spark inspiration.

Of course, not everyone can hire stars and sell footballers’ jerseys. But it seems that even those who are hesitant to associate their brand with football can tailor something for themselves.

Reactive marketing: a key action

Truthfully speaking, when this text is published, it might be too late for many brands to plan something for the World Cup. A lot of channels sold out their placements a long time ago, leaving almost nothing. But with a great idea and a good team on board, you can prepare and publish something on your social media channels. A good idea will always defend itself and find its way to the user, so you do not have to give up or accept compromises in quality. But if you can, it’s more reasonable to have everything planned in advance and that is how all experienced brands behave.

Everyone with experience in online advertising also understands how effective it is to react to current events. Recently, real time marketing reigned supreme due to the unexpected departure of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Previously, appropriate reactive marketing had also been employed, after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. By using the right language and intuition, you can translate practically anything into your advertising message.

As the World Cup takes place, there will undoubtedly be many advertising departments ready for the first opportunities to send out reactive tweets. Twitter is becoming a place where real time marketing has its source, and every good idea spreads faster than anywhere else. This platform has become a haven for people with ideas, despite being a bit more challenging for people to generate reach and awareness in the ‘transition’ period.

Ok, time for numbers

To see how advertisers can best promote their brands during the World Cup, let’s look at the statistics from the previous championships. There are regional dependencies that everyone in the markets must respect. At a time when brands are more or less getting ready for the World Cup, many viewers’ attention will be focused only on the events on the pitch. According to Search Optics, during the 2018 World Cup in Russia, traffic and conversions in England decreased by 5-6% (during game days), which can be considered a reasonable margin of error, as the English team achieved measurable success and ended up in 3rd place.

The situation was different in the Australian market. When the Australian team was playing, the average traffic per site increased by 7%, and conversions by 21%. Remember, however, that for the team itself, the World Cup lasted much shorter and it ended after 3 games, so it’s hard to predict how would the statistics go if Australia went through the next tiers of the tournament.

It is not without reason that we mention differences in markets. On the extreme opposite, there are Latin American countries for which football is sacred. It is a tradition in the cultures of these countries that whole families watch matches together in front of TV sets. Therefore, the numbers themselves must be mentioned here.

In Argentina, website traffic during the game day decreased by 37% in 2018, and conversions dropped by an average of 58%. In Brazil, website traffic decreased by an average of 32%, while conversions, depending on the brand, dropped from 32% to as much as 87%. This only shows that it is also worth planning brand communication well in advance, and sometimes slowing down during the match days.

The last thing about markets and audiences

Presumably, countries whose teams do not take part in the World Cup are not that affected by the football fever. Ignoring the World Cup in brand communication, however, is not an option. In China, which will not participate, advertising spending will increase to 6.5% this year, to 630 billion yuan ($ 97.9 billion). According to Nielsen, a large portion of this spending will go to millennials. Mike Wragg, global head of Nielsen research said that this ‘bulge’ of millennial fans is not usually seen in other markets, demonstrating that the sport can be huge in the country a decade from now.

Differentiating communication for both demographic groups and communities is extremely important. Sometimes not doing research can only burn your campaign budget. Reaching the Hispanic population in the US can be different from reaching them in Latin countires, and looking beyond the label is the key here. It is estimated that around 31% of millennials from that society in the US are football fans. Split levels are vital. We are talking not only about age, but also that communication should be adapted to individual groups depending on their place of origin.

It’s not hard to notice that this applies not only to football and what is associated with it. However, football gives additional opportunities to follow the message and is undoubtedly a pathway that many brands will still use.

Advertisers in ‘the land of controversies’

There is no one simple answer to the question of why the World Cup in Qatar is so controversial. But it awakens so many controversies that, depending on the participants of each debate, everyone will want to start talking about it, bringing a different viewpoint.

Let’s present a few examples of stories related to this World Cup. Everyone coming to the event, including fans, will have to download an application on their phone that tracks every activity performed on the device. It can also edit and delete data from phones.

One of the companies building stadiums for the World Cup also built concentration camps for Uighur prisoners in China. And recently, Qatar thanked Russia for its support in organizing the event. On top of that, almost all the stadiums are to be air-conditioned due to the hot climate in the Middle East. However, air conditioning has been tested for 10-15 years and is known to cause dryness, coughing, and infections in most cases. The players from the bench are in the worst situation, because they will need to warm up by the nozzles.

Additionally, FIFA is still not transparent, as it is adopted, for example, in public institutions. It does not present contracts, invoices or reports on its financials, ethics, and compliance standards. Their ‘take our word for it’ attitude has been criticised in Scandinavian media before.

On top of that, there are sensitive cultural issues. Staff and waiters in restaurants, seeing a couple, will address only the man, ignoring the woman and treating her as the property of her partner. For some people, that is considered outrageous. Unfortunately, the list does not end here, and we will undoubtedly face many situations where some brands will point out these issues when they promote their products and services at the event.

Ambush marketing: a new approach

As with previous World Cups, we will certainly witness various ways in which companies deal with bans and sensitive issues without being so direct. Have you heard about Ambush marketing? If not, let’s take a look at what it means and go through some examples, so you can identify them when they appear.

Ambush marketing is a strategy where an advertiser hijacks an event. They do this to compete for exposure against competitors and to make themselves stand out. There are several approaches to choose from, so it all depends on the brand.

During the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Activia gave the world’s most popular commercial through a clever and costly ambush, culminating in a global soccer-themed music video for Shakira’s song La-La-La. It featured some of the most famous players in the world and encouraged public support for the World Food Program’s School Meals Initiative. It is not difficult to guess that problems such as hunger in the country where the championships are held, are not in the first message from FIFA.

The same year, players were banned from wearing Beats headphones in stadiums due to FIFA’s deal with its official sponsor, Sony. Still, FIFA could not prevent Beats’ advertisements from being shown around the world as they did not contain an explicit reference to the event. That’s when the headphone manufacturer stepped in with a campaign called ‘The Game Before The Game’ which featured famous football stars without referencing the event.

At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, some brands took a tougher approach. One campaign highlighted Russia’s weak stance on LGBT rights by donating £10,000 to an LGBT-focused charity for every goal Russia scored. Now, imagine this ocean of possibilities for ideas among marketers. For a country where ‘everything is forbidden’, many universal laws around the world severely limited, and some community groups not respected, it is not surprising that advertisers used ambush marketing.

However, based on the experience of previous World Cups, FIFA introduced additional records in the so-called ‘2022 World Cup Laws’ to prevent similar cases from happening. This may make the lives of some advertisers a little bit harder.

The game during the game

Each World Cup creates a lot of opportunities for advertisers and their ideas. The numbers generated then by the market usually grow, and you just need to choose the right moment for yourself and consider a message. What’s more is, the dynamics of advertising changes slightly with each World Cup. The biggest players on the market usually transform event opportunities into success, and stay away from referring in their messages to the problems faced by the host countries.

However, there are advertisers who do not shy away from sensitive issues, and the market rewards the most inventive and courageous. More people are also realising that advertising can become a place to send important messages. This can benefit the brand as well as open up a place for a debate, which can increase engagement. It can also show that being indifferent to the problems of others is not in our nature.

Whichever approach you want to use in your marketing strategy during the 2022 World Cup, it is undeniable that this event will be an opportunity for many companies to put a penny on it.

Łukasz Wojnowski

Account Manager

Lukasz joined MediaGroup in 2014 as part of our Display team. Before that, he worked in a polish agency with brands like Honda, Unilever, and Raiffeisen Bank. In the last few years, Łukasz has been working as a director of social marketing and PPC, using his experience to develop teamwork and helping to improve the performance of our client's campaigns across different channels. He is an experienced marketer with strong analytical skills. Łukasz also has a high interest in media psychology, a subject of his studies in an academy.

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