FIFA's World Cup: a marketer's GOOOAAAL

With the World Cup less than a month away, it's hard not to get caught up in the fervor of it all, especially for marketers. It's easy to see why when you consider the data.

The World Cup arena in São Paulo
The World Cup arena in São Paulo

With the World Cup less than a month away, it’s hard not to get caught up in the fervor of it all, especially for marketers. It’s easy to see why when you consider the data.

In the 2010 World Cup, 620 million in-home viewers tuned in to see the Spain vs. the Netherlands final and, according to FIFA, the cumulative audience for the tournament was 3.2 billion people. This year, 196 countries will be broadcasting and livestreaming the tournament – that’s a lot of eyeballs.

Of those billions watching, millions more will be actively engaging with these month-long games online. There are scarce occasions to engage a global audience, although 2014 is giving marketers twice the opportunity with the recent winter Olympics. Beyond being the most popular sport in the world — with over 3.5 billion fans worldwide — this particular event ignites national pride in a way that leads grown men to expose their painted bellies to the world and yell obscenities until their voices crack.

To many marketers, leveraging clannish affiliations on a global scale is like taking candy from a baby. This year, as in years previous, marketers are racing to get on the World Cup bandwagon — serving up iconic memorabilia, patriotic lessons, and extensive branding messages to hungry fans.

The big question is: are marketers producing messages that endure? Are they using the right approach to get glory, admiration, and, ultimately, business results out of their media and sponsorship dollars? Or perhaps the real question is, will consumers engage with the brands of the World Cup or just the World Cup itself?

While it’s too early to tell, there are some factors that could help up a marketer’s game (pun intended):

A focus on positivity: Shock and scare tactics are all the rage right now in advertising (Demon baby? No, thank you). But a global game that focuses on teamwork, camaraderie, and friendly, competitive encouragement? That screams positivity. Brands have an opportunity to tap into the hearts, spirits, and memories of their consumers. Celebration shots, fans hugging, players high-fiving — a collective ray of sunshine to wipe away any negative press or off-key messaging of years past.

Listicles: BuzzFeed has one-upped David Letterman in the Top 10 list department. List-format articles — listicles — are rapidly becoming the lingua franca of online journalism. The World Cup presents so many opportunities to use the rankings, lists, and gif sets that readers gobble up online. Top 20 hottest players, rankings of the loudest stand sections, best fan costumes of 2014 — the list is endless (ha!). Marketers can flex their creative muscle to come up with their own lists to tap into the moment and leverage their own brands. Chipotle’s Top 10 soccer ball sized burritos? Best choreographed goal celebrations sponsored by Dancing with the Stars? Who knows – either way, listicles produce subtle and shareable content, something marketers are sorely in need of.

Accepting urgency: The World Cup is being live-streamed again this year, increasing the capacity of viewership hundreds of times more than in recent years past. Urgency is built right in — there’s no time for commercial breaks because a rare event or play might happen, which means marketers have to be much more clever — and quick! — in delivering their messages. Cross-platform interaction amongst fans is commonplace, so there are plenty of outlets to nab attention and earn impressive engagement levels at multiple stages.

While there will certainly be some big marketing wins coming out in the next few months, it’s important that brands don’t scramble to get into the game without considering how to best engage their audiences. It will be tough for unofficial sponsors to cut through the noise, but arguably even tougher for official sponsors who need to see a return on the additional $130 million they pay for the right to be called "official." At that price, a miss at the world’s most-watched sporting event is enough to make any marketer cry.

Katy Kelley is VP of global marketing at Cohn & Wolfe.

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