Nike Leads Brand Marketers Kicking Up World Cup Fever on the Web

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The vast majority of football fans around the globe will be watching World Cup games on TV, whether that’s in a pub, in a city square with thousands of others, or alone at home where no one else can see you worry through each excruciating minute. However, all those fans will also be heading online to search for highlights, commentary, and a place to share their extremely knowledgeable opinions. Marketers are placing their bets that this World Cup will shape up to be a major online event.

After all, Google reports that “searches related to the tournament over the past four years have outnumbered those for the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the Tour de France combined,” according to Bloomberg. That kind of data has led every brand and its brother to launch World Cup-related online content. Sports Illustrated is hosting a standalone Planet Futbol site to cover the Cup and draw as many eyeballs as possible, as Adweek notes.

One of Nike’s World Cup ads, the “Winner Stays” spot (above) featuring top footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, had 78 million views online (on YouTube and beyond) in April before it even debuted four days later on TV, partially due to Ronaldo, the world’s most popular athlete on Twitter, tweeting it out to his ardent followers, Bloomberg adds. Still, Nike didn’t feel compelled to release it on different platforms concurrently. Online ruled the day.[more]

Unlike TV, the Internet never forgets, and lets fans curate a deeper experience, such as allowing them to pore over the last 20 years of Nike’s World Cup-related ads. “The marketing of the World Cup has changed dramatically since 2010,” said Facebook marketing executive Carolyn Everson, according to Bloomberg. “Four years ago the centerpiece was television. This is going to be a mobile World Cup,” streamed and consumed on the go, and on portable devices.

That’s why Nike, which is not a FIFA sponsor, is decreasing its TV ad buys and increasing its spend on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, Bloomberg notes. In contrast, adidas, which is an official sponsor, will put about half of its media spend for the Cup online. At the last Cup four years ago in South Africa, online accounted for only a fifth of the budget for adidas. One element it may regret—a digital effort featuring bleeding (cow) hearts, which has angered animal rights activists.

Other brands, meanwhile, are taking a subtler approach to bleeding hearts in their online World Cup video messaging. Johnson & Johnson, FIFA’s official healthcare sponsor, hopes its new soccer-focused “Once Upon a Care” online video will appeal to parents’ hopes and dreams for their kids, promoting corporate citizenship over soccer, and winning of a different kind.

Fellow World Cup sponsor Hyundai, which has signed on through 2022, has been benefiting from online viewership of its ads, with two new spots in its “Because Futbol” campaign. One chronicles a fan who does everything he can to not see game results during his workday and the other is based around the idea that there is a baby boom nine months after a World Cup in a Latin American country.

McDonald’s, which is an official FIFA sponsor, scored an online hit with one of its World Cup-related ads that features five folks from across the globe freestyling with soccer balls in the streets of Rio, including two youngsters, an older man, a young man, and a young woman—part of the brand’s “We swear it’s not CGI” tricky World Cup 2014 campaign. (Its YouTube channel offers behind-the-scenes looks at the tricky shots.)

Sponsor Coca-Cola, meanwhile, also gets tricky in its new online “World of Possibilities” spot, showing veteran US player DaMarcus Beasley’s fancy footwork, all while not spilling a single drop of Coke:

Non-sponsors such as Nike are obviously taking as much advantage of the world’s love of football as possible. British betting service William Hill is releasing a few football-related ads that show support for the English fan while also noting, of course, that people can bet on pretty much anything during the course of the game, not just whether a team wins or loses, Brand Republic reports.

It isn’t just sports-related media properties getting in on the action. CNN International has signed four sponsors—Hyundai, Hublot, Nikon and Embratur—for its World Cup coverage. “An event on the scale of the World Cup is where CNN International’s global platform and our reputation for high-quality content is of particular value to premium brands,” stated Rani Raad, CNN International’s chief commercial officer.

A lot of money is going to change hands so brands can try to make themselves look more attractive to consumers, but it remains to be seen if it will all be worth it in the end. Buzzfeed notes that Nike’s stock price always takes a big drop right after the last six Cups, before regaining its footing as the year progresses.

• Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markjmill

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