How to Leverage the World Cup Without Sponsorship

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Official FIFA sponsorship is expensive, but plenty of marketers are using the games to boost relevance.

The games are well underway, and so are some elaborate marketing campaigns, many of which come from official FIFA sponsors such as Adidas, McDonald's, and Sony. However, non-sponsors such as Corona and Nike taken advantage of the World Cup frenzy, and other companies can, as well.

Marketers must keep several things in mind when pursuing World Cup–related campaigns, but the hype is accessible. Here, experts weigh in on five ways marketers can capitalize on the World Cup and increase brand relevance without official sponsorship and without contriving soccer association.

Realize the opportunity and audience

Similar to Super Bowl season (possible even more so), the World Cup offers marketers a huge opportunity to connect with millions of consumers on a common topic. These large-scale sports events magnify people's passion for the games, allowing brands to zero in on extremely passionate customers and potentially unearth brand champions.

“The World Cup presents amazing opportunities and the most powerful is the ability to identify consumers who are trendsetting millennials—[consumers] who are really the type of people marketers dream about,” explains Bryan Melmed, senior director of insights services at digital advertising company Exponential. “These are soccer fans in general and they tend to be globally aware, progressive, highly educated, and generally affluent. They're the type of people who take brands and products seriously. They're very much connected to the World Cup.” Hispanic audiences in particular are highly engaged in the World Cup, especially those in South America, Melmed notes.

Track sponsored marketing and competition

To create World Cup campaigns as effective as those of official FIFA sponsors, non-sponsors must monitor sponsors' campaigns. What's the rhetoric of their messaging? How are other non-sponsored brands leveraging the games?

“Marketers must track what the big sponsors are doing. Look at how much engagement they're getting. Look at your brand's competition. What are they doing?” says Opher Kahane, CEO and cofounder of market intelligence company Origami Logic.

Tell stories around the sport, not just the Cup

Marketers must remember that the World Cup hype extends beyond the event itself. Football (soccer) is an international sport with a massive, involved audience. This audience loves the game itself, not just the World Cup. “Brands should develop storytelling around soccer. It doesn't have to be specifically about the World Cup,” explains Maren Lau, CMO at Latin American marketing company IMS.

Lau mentions a recent ad Nike ran on its Facebook page. The ad features children playing soccer in the streets, eventually progressing to the kids playing on the field with famous athletes and heroes such as the Hulk. “[It's] a story about the common person playing with the greatest of the great,” Lau notes.

Be relevant to fans and to your business

Brands flock to big sporting events such as the World Cup to increase their relevance with customers who are fans of those sports and events. However, the World Cup may not be relevant to a brand's business. “If you play into a sense of victory, pride, competition, [World Cup marketing] is a natural alignment. If you're not then you look irrelevant and contrived,” says Exponential's Melmed. “You should shy away from World Cup marketing if you aren't connected to the game's audience. If you're not paying attention to this audience, then you're harming the relevance of your brand.”

Engage a brand ambassador

“Leveraging a brand ambassador or playing to an emotion are great ways to market during the World Cup,” says IMS' Lau. Lau points to Pepsi as an example. The soda brand ran a campaign that featured famous retired athletes with the slogan, “As a fan you never retire.”

“This leverages fans' loyalty by asking them what they'll do for their team,” Lau says. “Brands can use similar tactics to increase relevance as long as it makes sense [for the brand and its audience].”


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