Hours Away from the World Cup, Brands Big and Small Turn Up Soccer Spirit

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With just hours until the World Cup kicks off in Brazil (with Jennifer Lopez, who finally confirmed she’ll be performing the anthem in the opening ceremony), millions of fans and brands big and small are preparing to cheer on their favorite athletes and teams. And while much of the attention has been on the brand battle between Nike and adidas, there are plenty of local brands looking to get in on the action too. 

Over in Australia, local bookmaker Sportsbet.com sent a 151-foot hot air balloon shaped like Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue into the skies about Melbourne. The balloon, which wore an Australian soccer jersey with the words #KeepTheFaith on the back, was likely a reference to the national team’s tough World Cup opponents, but spirit-lifting or not, the stunt didn’t go over too well with local religious leaders and business owners. 

Meanwhile, British sportsbook Paddy Power caught its own share of flack after it posted an image showing the words “C’mon England PP” carved into a large swath of the Amazon rainforest. The company eventually had to clarify that the image was photoshopped and not real in order to avoid any further brand damage. 

Another local sponsor getting into the spirit is UK plumber Dyno, which is launching a campaign to keep everyone’s toilets flowing freely during the World Cup. The brand will have “Rush to Flush” squads on-hand to handle emergency call-outs in hopes to avoid the same fate as four years ago, when there was a “25 percent increase in blocked toilets across the UK during the England vs France game.”[more]

But small, local brands pose much less damage to FIFA, which is charged with protecting the World Cup trademark and marketing rights around the tournament from ambush marketing attempts from non-sponsor brands.

Soccer’s governing organization has reportedly trademarked over 200 words (including all Brazil’s city names, with Natal a problem for marketers as it’s the Portuguese word for Christmas) in preparation for the 2014 World Cup.

The move is in line with the tournament, the sport, and the event’s tagline, “All In One Rhythm,” but such stringent guidelines has caused duress among local business owners and the Brazilian people in general, who are already enormously frustrated with the organization for its exorbitant spending on the Cup. 

FIFA has already disciplined travel site Decolar.com for its “Viva O Mundial” campaign, which “featured the World Cup synonym ‘mundial,’ soccer ball artwork and the sale of travel packages to Brazilian cities that are hosting World Cup matches,” according to Digiday. But even official World Cup sponsors aren’t completetly protected from trademark violations. 

Hyundai, which is an official sponsor of the Cup, got itself in trouble with the Brazilian Football Confederation, which holds the rights to the Brazilian National Team, after one of the brand’s commercials “focused solely on the Brazilian National Team’s quest for a sixth World Cup title (although without using any CBF trademarks or team members) rather than the World Cup in general—hence violating the CBF’s (and Brazilian National Team sponsor Volkswagen) rights,” according to the site. 

But perhaps one of the best ambush marketers in recent history, Beats by Dre, will be flying under the radar this year after creating quite the scene at the 2012 London Olympics, the New York Post reports. The International Olympic Committee didn’t take legal action but did slap the wrists of athletes who weren’t paying the proper respect to the Games’ official sponsors.

“Call it lesson learned,” a source close to Beats told the Post. But that doesn’t mean Beats will be sitting out of the Cup entirely. The brand just launched a commercial, “The Game Before the Game,” featuring Brazil’s Neymar Jr. and other top-notch players, putting the ad in the No.3 spot on Unruly Media’s World Cup viral chart

As for other potential ambushers, digital will be the way to go if they really want to get their message across this World Cup, which is gearing up to be the biggest social event in soccer history. “You don’t need to be the biggest sponsor anymore to make the most noise,” Sarah Wood, founder and COO of Unruly Media, told Bloomberg. “If the goal is to generate conversation and engage football watchers, it’s far more effective to invest in smart marketing and creative content that people want to share.” 

Notably, six of the top 11 most-shared World Cup-related ads are from non-sponsors, but that doesn’t mean that major sponsors like adidas are cooling their heels. According to Adweek, adidas plans to launch a new series of localized ads Thursday that will “test out a few new types of digital ads from Google.” The web, mobile and video ads are all pushing consumers to a microsite that features daily trivia questions and prizes. “All of [the engagement] will happen in the context of the major soccer tournament, following the natural interest of our consumers and keeping the conversation live and interactive, beyond the 90 minutes of the game,” Rodrigo Messias, Adidas Brazil’s director of marketing, told Adweek.

GoPro is also getting in on the action in a very GoPro-way with its latest ad, “Brasil—For The Love,” which immerses viewers into Brazil’s street soccer culture. The brand, a non-sponsor, plans to continue to post soccer-related content throughout the Cup, according to Adweek

Looking for an early clue to help work out your bracket? 25-year-old loggerhead turtle Cabeção, or Big Head, who lives in Brazil’s Praia Do Forte, made his official prediction for the opening match. Surprise, surprise; he picked Brazil.  

• Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markjmill

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