The World Cup is one of the greatest spectacles on earth, and, for a month, it’s practically all we’ve been talking about. Now that it’s over, there are many conclusions we could draw from a sporting perspective, but at Good Rebels, we want to analyse the event from a different perspective: brand strategy.
Imagine an audience of 5 billion consumers who will put aside their daily worries for a few weeks to enter a new mood, “football_on,” which will connect them with the event and become their priority. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
In this context, it’s not surprising that the competition was not only between the teams. It’s also been a golden opportunity for brands that, for the past few weeks, have been fighting for another trophy: the attention of users.
When the media noise explodes due to the infinite amount of content generated by sponsors, platforms, influencers, and users all at the same time, the question that arises is obvious.
How to win this battle for attention?
Until now, the key was to seek maximum visibility during the tournament. A strategy that not only helps to improve brand awareness but also improves sales. Consumers perceive brands better that have a more prominent presence, creating a more favourable opinion and gaining brand preference.
However, brands should question the impact of linking themselves to these events, as the desired effect is only achieved sometimes. Sometimes brands put the economic aspect above purpose and values. This is a grave mistake, as it can generate a severe credibility problem with their audiences.
Commitment to values
If there is one word to define this World Cup, it is undoubtedly “controversial.” Since the beginning, this event has been marked by controversy over human rights, conditioning its image, and that of many sponsoring brands. In contrast to the positive impact they had hoped to achieve for their brand and their business, this time, they have been faced with a public that questions their presence at the World Cup and the coherence of the values they defend.
As a result, many brands opted to take preventive measures. One example is Hummel, the brand sponsor of the Danish national team, who decided to hide its crest to protest against human rights violations. Or ING, sponsor of the Dutch national team, which chose not to use the World Cup image in its communication and with its audiences.
Coca-Cola, a classic in the World Cups, has launched a campaign under the concept of “Believing is magic,” focused on the fans, seeking to keep a low profile and minimise the presence and visibility of the brand. Its ad has only 265k views on its YouTube channel. Is it possible that they chose to cede the space to Powerade, as the group’s brand, to avoid taking greater risks?
Lastly, the case of Budweiser, one of the official sponsors that have been banned from selling beer in stadiums. Although it was a blow to the brand, Budweiser reacted quickly and solved the problem by announcing that the unsold beer would be sent to the country that won the World Cup, a smart response.
In contrast, the English beer brand Brewdog launched a magnificent campaign positioning itself as “the proud anti-sponsor” for the lack of human rights, with devastating headlines such as “First Russia, then Qatar. How about North Korea”. It was a great idea that they completed by announcing that they would donate the profits to the defence of human rights, thus avoiding accusations of opportunism.
All this calls into question the strategies some brands followed and the role they should play in this type of event. Although it’s a unique opportunity, only some things go: there are principles and commitments with audiences to which you have to be faithful because otherwise, it can be costly.
New content, new consumption patterns.
Another key aspect to winning the battle for users’ attention is to understand the new behaviour patterns of fans, whose way of consuming content has changed.
Traffic to stadiums is decreasing while attention through screens continues to grow. Beyond the ninety minutes, the experience is amplified through social media with streamers’ comments, players’ tweets, and fans’ Tik Toks, generating many more hours of content that engages fans and involves them in the event. In addition to the World Cup matches, 88% of football fans watch different types of content related to the event, such as highlights, player interviews and match analyses.
A new relationship model.
But the relationship model has also changed. The fan phenomenon has become the epicentre of everything through creating new content and a much closer and more direct way of connecting with audiences.
A clear example is Luis Enrique, the world’s first national coach streamer, who has become a viral phenomenon among younger audiences, for whom the opportunity to have a direct dialogue with him is unique and relevant content.
But more important than the numbers is his impact on popular culture and how the nickname Luis Padrique —born in social networks from the word “padrear” (which means to do very well) — has transcended and has been widely adopted among the coach’s fans. A radical change in the communication strategy that opens an intense debate on this new reality.
To win over audiences, you need more than just visibility during the event to be proclaimed the winner. You must also win on social networks, taking advantage of the fandom phenomenon and the new moments of consumption that arise through a more comprehensive experience.
Nike vs. Adidas.
An example of very different strategies is the battle between Nike and Adidas during the World Cup. They use their best strategies months in advance. Let’s take a look at who wins.
Adidas is the official sponsor of the event until 2030, which gives them a particular advantage (1-0).
Nike is the brand that sponsors the most teams; in total, 13 teams have worn its logo compared to Adidas’ 7, which means more exposure and more chances of winning the cup (1-1).
Adidas, however, is the sponsor of the Argentina team, winner of the competition, which guaranteed it to have its logo on the most iconic photo of the World Cup (2-1). It was a pity that the organisation covered it up with a typical Qatari garment (2-2).
The two brands have dissociated themselves from Qatar in their communication. Draw (3-3).
Perhaps, as it happened in the final with the penalty shootout, the marketing and communication strategy is where the stakes are high.
Adidas launched a spot called “Family Reunion,” where the brand brings together all its best talents: Messi, Benzema, Pedri, and more as if they were a conventional family. The story is entertaining and well told, with a retro look that highlights the new collection launched for this World Cup under the brand umbrella “Impossible is nothing.” The video on Youtube has reached 1.3 M views, which isn’t bad but perhaps not surprising for this type of event. In short: a correct proposal, but nothing more.
Nike wanted to be more ambitious with its proposal. They have understood that to capture attention, they have to be more daring, and instead of launching a spot to use, they have created a piece of branded content almost 5 minutes long. The story, entitled “Footballverse,” focuses on the eternal discussion for soccer lovers: Who is the best player of all time?
To answer the question, the brand pits Ronaldinho’s generation against the new generation of players led by Mbappé. A spectacular production with Deep Fake technology that manages to bring to life mythical players of the brand, such as Ronaldo Nazário, and with multiple winks to historical spots. Pure entertainment.
In addition, the brand amplifies its audiences and makes a nod to its commitment to women’s soccer by incorporating the American Carli Lloyd. Everything under the concept “You are up,” where the players of each era leave their mark and legacy for the next generations. The number of reproductions on Youtube exceeds 7M views, a truly extraordinary figure considering its publication is very recent.
But the most interesting part of the proposal is how the brand experience with football fans, Nike FC, is enriched and extended to other touch points. Through retail channels, they have created the Nike Creators Hub, where fans can meet some of the brand’s influencers or customise their kit while participating in tournaments to prove they are up to the task. The experience is also lived in Nikeland, Nike’s metaverse, with different immersive experiences to connect with younger audiences.
Nike has managed to beat Adidas with a more innovative strategy that uniquely combines entertainment, innovation, and social media fandom.
New rules of the game.
In short: audiences and technology have changed, and with them, so have the game’s rules. This World Cup has taught us a lot about how brand strategies are changing:
- Football is consumed differently, so brands must propose different things. Innovation is the path to success, and we must extend the brand experience beyond the event itself to a multiplatform format.
- When designing experiences and communication strategies, we cannot deny the influence of fans, whom we must put at the centre of our strategy. We must always have a customer-centric vision, and the world of sports is no exception.
- Brands must see the World Cup more as a spectacle than a competition. Relevance is the key. Brands must take advantage of the conversation and work in real-time to connect with audiences authentically and directly.
- The relationship between brands, fans, and soccer teams becomes much closer and more immediate. The best example is Luis Enrique’s communication strategy on Twitch.
- Brands cannot give up their values, which are fundamental to achieving credibility. Consistency is essential throughout the process, so it is vital to choose the right partners.
And now, may the best win.