The countdown has begun. Yesterday (4 March) marks 100 days until the start of the Fifa WorldÂ Cup in Brazil, and anticipation is building.
As domestic football seasons around the world enter their final stages, fans are starting to look ahead to the big kick-off in Sao Paulo on 12 June and the delights of a soccer-filled summer.
Now is a critical time for brands to plan their match strategies and score goals against competitors, withBudweiser owner and Fifa sponsor AB InBev announcing a significant increase in its marketing spendÂ just last week.
Despite the huge sums involved in World Cup sponsorships - Fifa raised more than $1bn from global brands in 2010 - questions remain about how best to derive maximum marketing value from the tournament. The World Cup is a four-week frenzy when brands fight for consumersâ€™ attention, so achieving cut-through during the event is a difficult task for all marketers.
The Brazilian Institute of Tourism forecasts that visitors to the event will spend over $11bn (Â£6.6bn) in the country: more than 20 times the earnings of South Africa during the last World Cup. The cost of media buying is set to soar too, with Brazilâ€™s Globo TV network due to make $600m from regular ad slots booked by sponsors during its World Cup coverage.
Fifa, meanwhile, predicts that it will collect around $4bn for its own coffers from Brazil 2014, with the majority coming from TV rights and around a third from sponsorship and marketing. This would be an increase on the 2010 World Cup, when it raised $3.7bn in total and $1.1bn from sponsorship.
Many sponsors apparently feel they are getting value for money. In January, Visa became the fifth Fifa sponsor to extend its deal and commit to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, joiningÂ AdidasÂ ,Â Coca-ColaÂ , Hyundai-Kia andÂ AB InBevÂ .
Consumers expect honesty, authenticity and engaging content from brands, but not all sponsors are hitting the right spot. Last weekÂ the Brazilian tourist board forced Adidas to stop selling World Cup t-shirts in the US that featured suggestive images of women. Brazilâ€™s Ministry of Womenâ€™s Affairs said the shirts exposed women to the â€œbarbarismâ€ of sexual predators.
Adidas will hope to move on from this episode with its upcoming World Cup campaign. This will undoubtedly draw on the sportswear brandâ€™s huge roster of football ambassadors including Lionel Messi, Philipp Lahm and Iker Casillas. Adidas, which recently extended its Fifa partnership until 2030, has predicted that sales from its football division will break the â‚¬2bn (Â£1.6bn) barrier for the first time in 2014 as a result of the World Cup.
Other sponsors are less focused on growing sales and more concerned with raising brand awareness. Irish poultry brand Moy Park sits within Fifaâ€™s second sponsorship tier alongside brands such as McDonaldâ€™s and Budweiser, as a result of a deal signed by its Brazilian parent company Marfrig to sponsor the 2010 and 2014 Word Cups.
While Moy Park lacks the same profile as many of its fellow global sponsors, director of brand marketing Andrew Nethercott believes the sponsorship is an important tool in growing awareness and product distribution in its key European market. Â â€œIt shows we are serious about developing the Moy Park brand into a leading player and that we want to bring a bit of excitement into the poultry aisle, which is not the most exciting place to shop,â€ he says.
The majority of the companyâ€™s business in Europe comes from supplying poultry for retailersâ€™ own-label products, though Moy Park branded products are well known in Ireland. It aims to increase the penetration of the brand in the UK with on-pack promotions offering shoppers the chance to win trips to the World Cup, as well as strengthen its retail partnerships through corporate hospitality.
â€œThose key [retail] customers that travel out with us will get an opportunity to look at the wider Marfrig business and the supply chain in Brazil,â€ notes Nethercott.
Castrol, the industrial and automotive lubricants brand, will similarly useÂ the World Cup to raise awareness and build relationships with its business clients. Last month, it signed Brazilian football star Neymar to front its World Cup activity, adding to previous partnerships with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Cafu. Castrol aims to create a clear association with the sport and engage football fans and clients around the concept of high performance.
â€œNeymar demands the best performance from himself in every game he plays, just as Castrol demands the best performance from our oils every time the engine starts,â€ says AS Ramchander, vice-president of global marketing at Castrol.
Beyond simply signing up footballers, brands are turning to more sophisticated forms of content creation to engage fans, with some sponsors putting music at the heart of their campaigns. Brazil is synonymous with carnival drum beats and dancing and this theme will run throughout the tournament, including during the opening and closing ceremonies. Fifaâ€™s tagline for the World Cup is â€˜All in one rhythmâ€™.
Coca-Cola had success during the London Olympics in 2012 by harnessing music in its Move to the Beat campaign, which featured pop stars such as Mark Ronson and Katy B, claiming that it had more than 25 million views. The soft drinks brand is pursuing a similar tactic for this yearâ€™s World Cup by launching an anthem called The World is Ours.
To promote the song, performed by X-Factor USA finalist David Correy, Coca-Cola is inviting consumers on its social media channels to submit video clips that show their â€˜moments of happinessâ€™. The brand has partnered with creative collaboration platform Talenthouse to select a minimum of 20 winning clips for the final music video, which is set for release next month.
Music is also an obvious fit for Fifa partner Sony. Last year the brand launched a similar crowdsourcing contest SuperSong in which it asked aspiring musicians to submit videos of their original songs. The winning entry was selected earlier this year and will be performed by Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin for Sonyâ€™s official soundtrack for the tournament.
The campaign is designed to provide additional content across social media channels and emphasise the brandâ€™s values and products, rather than just its football sponsorship. The SuperSongÂ FacebookÂ page currently has more than 120,000 fans. â€œWe hope Sonyâ€™s unique combination of technology, TV content production and entertainment expertise will provide an entirely new, interactive World Cup experience,â€ says Soichi Kawachi, vice-president in charge of brand at Sony.
Sponsors are in the box seats, but there are plenty of opportunities for other brands to leverage the World Cup too. While Locog, the organiser of the 2012 Olympic Games, imposed tight restrictions against non-sponsors that sought to associate themselves with the Games, sanctions are less of a concern for brands planning campaigns around the World Cup. Non-sponsors can partner with a wide range of football teams and properties provided that they donâ€™t break Fifa rules by using World Cup logos, for example.
PepsiÂ has already revealed how it plans to take on Coca-Cola this summer. In January, the brand unveiled a 19-strong â€œfootball super squadâ€ for 2014 that includes longstanding Pepsi brand ambassadors such as Sergio Aguero and new faces like Germany striker Mario Gomez.
The â€˜squadâ€™ was announced on social media as a teaser to Pepsiâ€™s upcoming football activity this year. This will include a global TV campaign during the World Cup and special commemorative packaging in the lead-up to the event, as well as digital content featuring the players.
Menâ€™s shaving brand Gillette, meanwhile, has also begun its build-up to the World Cup with the launch last month of its â€˜inner steelâ€™ campaign on YouTube, featuring brand ambassadors Lionel Messi and Roger Federer. Â The video, which at time of publication had been viewed more than 16 million times, introduces viewers to Gilletteâ€™s new special edition range of razors. These are designed in the different colours of footballing nations around the world.
Such activations allow the brand to flirt with the themes and imagery of the World Cup without straying onto Fifa territory. Gillette has a long association with football and was a World Cup sponsor for 30 years until 2006.
â€œDelivering cut through in a cluttered environment relies on quality, memorable creative and sufficient reach â€“ but more importantly on driving a real connection with the consumer,â€ says Jared Regan, Gillette brand manager at parent company P&G UK and Ireland. â€œThe credibility Gillette carries in sports and sports marketing goes a long way.â€
Both sponsors and non-sponsors will go into this World Cup with the most advanced advertising platforms of any previous tournament.Â ITV, which shares British broadcasting rights for the World Cup with the BBC, has claimed that it can â€œcommercialise the full 90-minutesâ€ of matches for brands by using second-screen devices and real-time advertising.
In addition to its flagship TV channel, viewers will be able to watch matches live via the ITV Player streaming service on PC, mobile and tablet, enabling brands to reach users on the move. The network is also developing a mobileÂ responsive site for its World Cup content that will provide users withÂ real-time updates.
â€œThe site will incorporate a variety of content including pre-match analysis and interviews from our pundits as well as live match data and interactive polls,â€ says Stephen Poole, multi-platform group sales controller at ITV.Â â€œAll of this adds up to lots of opportunities for brands.â€
Poole says ITV is in talks with numerous brands regarding its more innovative ad formats for the World Cup. These include the live ads currently used by gambling brands during football broadcasts, second screen takeovers and broadcast adverts that incorporate the music discovery app Shazam. Â ITV also aims to replicate the success of its existing entertainment apps during the World Cup. Such apps often incorporate brands via interactive ads and games.
â€œWe know that second screening can play an important part in many live TV events â€“ just look at the success we have had with our companion apps for The X Factor and Britainâ€™s Got Talent,â€ says Poole. â€œThis is also an important part of a live tournament such as the World Cup.â€
Technological advancements in outdoor media also present brands with opportunities to innovate this summer. Outdoor media agency Admedia reports that according to TGI figures, its pub and bar audience is 102 per cent more likely than the national average to download video content onto their phones and 77 per cent more likely to scan QR and NFC codes. The company manages the inventory of a number of pub chains including Yatesâ€™s, Slug and Lettuce and Rileys Sport Bars and is preparing to deliver a range of different ad solutions during the World Cup.
Last month, Prime Minister David Cameron called for an extension to pub opening hours during the World Cup to allow fans to watch England matches that kick-off late â€“ a move that could present brands with further engagement opportunities. A final decision from the Home Office is pending.
Controversies and responsibilities
Although the World Cup is a big opportunity for marketers to innovate, there are inherent risks for brands too. The criticism levelled at sponsors during last monthâ€™s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia is indicative of the challenges that brands face when attaching themselves to events of huge political and cultural significance.
In the case of Sochi, the most controversial issue concerned the Russian governmentâ€™s position on homosexuality and the rights of gay people in the country. Several sponsors found themselves in the line of fire on social media during the event. McDonaldâ€™s, for example, saw its #CheersToSochi hashtag â€˜hijackedâ€™ by gay rights campaigners on Twitter.
Ongoing social unrest in Brazil could present sponsors with further problems at the World Cup. Violent protests erupted in the country last year over a range of issues including poverty and political corruption, as well as the huge cost of hosting the World Cup. The demonstrations have continued into 2014, suggesting that disorder could break out during the tournament.
For brands the question is whether to distance themselves from such controversies, or engage with the issues directly and take a stand. In the case of Sochi, sponsors took the first course of action and issued statements that avoided specific comment on Russian policy in favour of their own positions on equality and human rights.
Rob Mason, managing director of sports and media business IMG Consulting International, believes that sponsors of major sporting events have always faced this dilemma. He argues that in most cases brands should avoid acting as the moral arbiters of wider issues and remember that they are ultimately â€œonly sponsorsâ€.
â€œI donâ€™t think sponsorship is any more risky than it was before,â€ he says. â€œBrands go into major deals with their eyes reasonably wide open and know that things could happen that they need to be prepared for. If youâ€™re willing to publicly comment [on an issue] and judge that wrong, your own reputation can be trashed in two seconds flat.â€
Managing reputational harm is one of the many potential challenges that brands will have to overcome amid the World Cup hysteria this summer. But if marketers can align creative and engaging campaigns with smart PR, their rewards from Brazil could be huge.