"Once every four years the whole world lives in the same time zone." That's how ESPN described the FIFA World Cup's impact—the biggest sports event on Earth attracts (and manages to unite) more than three billion people from many cultures and walks of life. For that reason, the World Cup is an incredible opportunity for brands to gain exposure—and, more than ever, they're taking advantage of the captive audience.
In recent months, a flood of green and yellow product packaging—referencing Brazil, where the World Cup is being hosted—has appeared, in all categories. But does an association with a big sports event (or a celebrity player) in and of itself really help a brand? What is gained beyond visibility? Does the association yield a significant return? Does the association fit the brand? And, most importantly, will people remember the brand and the ad—or just the ad? For example, the memorable ad that featured Neymar and Messi competing on the field, images of Rio de Janeiro, happy people, and a smart phrase at the end: Was it a message from Gatorade? Adidas? Or was it McDonalds?
Being a sponsor, even if large amounts of money are invested, is not always enough to create value for brands. To take full advantage of the rich opportunities the World Cup offers to connect with consumers around the world, brands must keep two key assumptions in mind:
1. Continue the story of your brand
Itaú, one of biggest banks in Brazil and FIFA national supporter, is known for supporting initiatives that seek to "change the world."Applying this to its World Cup sponsorship, its traditional hashtag #issomudaomundo (#thischangestheworld) was adapted to #issomudaojogo (#thischangesthegame). Through its social media messaging, the brand communicates that fans, with their spirit and enthusiasm, can change the outcome of a match. Putting money behind that message, the bank sponsored a song to inspire the crowd—and it became a national hit.
Coca-Cola accomplished a similar feat in 2010 with the song "Wavin' Flag" by Somali-Canadian artist, K'naan. Though it was originally written for Somalia and the aspirations of its people for freedom, the song did not become a global hit until it was chosen as Coca-Cola's promotional anthem for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Remixed to match the celebratory nature of the event, Coca-Cola integrated its jingle, well known from Coca-Cola commercials, into the mix, generating a direct association between the song and the brand. The song was not only a top ten hit on charts around the world, it also effectively captured the sense of global unity that prevails during the World Cup as well as the optimistic spirit Coca-Cola seeks to convey.
In this instance, such meaningful sponsored activity, aligned with the brand's identity, makes it impossible to speak of the 2010 FIFA World Cup without thinking of the song "Wavin' Flag." Similarly, the hashtag "thischangesthegame" will long be associated with the 2014 Cup as well as the bank, Itaú. In these cases, the investment was strategic and well-executed—and has contributed to building brand value.
2. Create an emotional connection
Among the brands vying for the spotlight at the World Cup, the ones that reap the most benefits from this amazing sponsorship opportunity are the brands that forge an authentic, meaningful emotional connection with consumers. Beats by Dre accomplished this with its five-minute-long World Cup commercial, "The Game Before The Game," which begins with Neymar and his father talking on FaceTime, then bounces around the world to different Beats-wearing soccer stars preparing for matches. Even though it was prohibited from appearing in the Cup, the commercial struck a chord and generated over 20 million views on YouTube.
Stories create connection—and connection benefits brands. The World Cup offers ample opportunity to move and inspire people, which is how brands can really stand out.
As Arnab Roy, director of futbol marketing at Coca-Cola, put it, “[Futbol] is easily the No. 1 global passion and the FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting platform. It has been a proven asset within our system to drive brand love and brand value.”
Paula Camarão is a Strategy Analyst at Interbrand São Paulo.