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Is this World Cup the biggest social and mobile phenomenon of all time?

Many are calling this World Cup the biggest social and mobile event of our time. What is driving it all?

Photo Credit: AP/Hassan Ammar
(Photo Credit: AP/Hassan Ammar)

Many are calling this World Cup the biggest social media event ever. Adobe Digital Index, an online marketing firm, projected that it will be the most social sporting event — greater than even the Olympics and Super Bowl. And Omnicon Media Group, a global advertising and marketing company, said it’s the “biggest social and mobile phenomenon of all time.”

Is there something unique about this tournament driving engagement or is it simply the biggest social media event because it’s happening right now?

Let’s take a quick look at factors driving these coronations.


Never has there been more mobile phones or smartphones in use. More than 91 percent of people on earth have a mobile phone. According to eMarketer, 4.55 billion people worldwide will use a mobile phone in 2014. Of this amount, 38 percent, or 1.75 billion, will be smartphone users.

Additionally, advanced streaming technology has enabled us to view World Cup games away from televisions and on our smart devices through the Watch ESPN App, Univision Deportes App and a host of other services and sites.

The technology tools and platforms are there for fans to engage in the World Cup from wherever they are with their trusted companion mobile device at their side.

Photo Credit: AP/ Frank Augstein
(Photo Credit: AP/ Frank Augstein)


More than ever, brands are bypassing traditional TV and print advertising for more digital roll-outs of their marketing campaigns.

Nike and Adidas are two examples of big brands making this switch.

According to Bloomberg, Nike’s TV ad buying during the World Cup has declined as it bulks up on digital advertising through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to reach its audience.

Adidas is spending more on Internet promotions than on television for the World Cup, which also is Adidas’s largest campaign ever. The company is relying heavily on social media to distribute its content and messaging.

Brand content isn’t just ending up on the web after airing on TV, it’s being specifically created for web.

Not only are the means of advertising shifting towards digital, but the demographic reach of World Cup advertising is also expanding.

Soccer has traditionally been thought of as a male-oriented sport, but Omnicom’s research suggests that this year’s World Cup is reaching a 52-to-48 percent male-to-female demographic.

As a result, brands are opening up with more female-friendly advertising such as Johnson & Johnson, which has been marketing its Acuvue contact lenses and Johnson’s Baby in addition to the J&J brand during its World Cup campaign.

(Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports)
(Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport via USA TODAY Sports)


The time zone of the host country is having a big impact on how fans follow the tournament.

North, Central and South American countries can watch the games as they happen during normal hours, meaning fans not only have the social media tools at their disposal to discuss the Cup but an actual audience with which to communicate.

Friends, family, colleagues and co-workers are available to receive photos, videos and commentary as it happens. Social media users are generally more reluctant to share information or content if there isn’t an active audience to receive it.

This is a contrast to the 2010 South Africa World Cup where many games were aired in Western Countries at early hours of the morning, limiting the amount of live, meaningful social engagement.

In Asia-Pacific countries, World Cup games air in the middle of the night. As a result, to keep up with the tournament, Asian fans are taking to social media in full force to share content that happened overnight and stay updated through their online circles, according to Omnicon.

(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)


This World Cup has certainly not lacked in excitement.

There have been plenty of surprises (e.g. Columbia, Costa Rica), notable exits (e.g. Spain, England), come-from-behind wins, late-game goals, and tons of developments that give people something to talk about and keep up the chatter on social media outlets.

Moreover, the scoring bonanza has done wonders for social.

Through 35 matches, there have been 104 goals, approximately three goals per game. This is a hefty increase over the 2010 South Africa World Cup which delivered just above two goals per game.

The formula is simple: more goals = more highlights = more video shares.

(AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
(AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)


Not so fast, says Brian Fitzgerald of the Wall Street Journal, who suggested before the games began not to crown this the social World Cup too soon. Only 30 percent of respondents in a WSJ survey said they intended to use their smartphones for “social” purposes, defined as sharing group photos and video, commenting on the matches and managing fantasy leagues.

According to the survey, most of the smartphone usage swirling around the World Cup would relate to typical data gathering and accessing live or streamed content:

WSJ Chart

These are survey results of intentions, not outcomes, which of course will not be fully known until the tournament is over.

That said, it’s tough to ignore the massive reach of this year’s World Cup through the social media-sphere.

As brands become more digitally savvy and consumers become more accustomed to engaging via social media, it’s only a matter of time before the records the 2014 World Cup is sure to set are broken by the next big global sporting event.

Should the 2018 World Cup in Russia be that next record-breaking event, given the Russian government’s spotty record on Internet censorship and press freedom, it wouldn’t be just about numbers – it would be about a whole lot more.

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