Brands capitalize on 2014 FIFA World Cup popularity and connectivity to engage fans

(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

I’ve had the opportunity to catch many of the 2014 FIFA World Cup matches in Brazil in the past few weeks, and have seen the country’s soccer frenzy up close. And the excitement is infectious: Whether it’s on the beaches of Copacabana, where thousands gather to watch matches on huge screens, fan zones in major cities or fans gathered around their TVs (or smartphones) to take in anything and everything related to the sport, soccer is unparalleled as the world’s major global sport.

In every corner of Brazil, consumers see euphoric messages celebrating the World Cup by both local and global brands eager to grab their attention in this up-and-coming country. Attendance at the 12 venues in Brazil is averaging more than 50,000 per match—outpacing the games of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Tourists are expected to pump roughly $3 billion into the Brazilian economy. The passion for soccer is not limited to Brazil. It’s a global phenomenon. Around the world, interest in soccer and other large-scale sporting events is gaining traction. This, along with the growth in connected consumers, is creating opportunities for brands to connect with their customers in innovative ways.

Interest in the World Cup is at record levels. FIFA estimates that television coverage of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa reached more than 3.2 billion people around the world—half of the global population. Viewership for the 2014 World Cup is expected to top that figure, due to the proliferation of digital and the expansion of broadcast rights around the world.

During the first week of the tournament, live ratings in the U.S. exceeded those of the 2010 event in South Africa among all key demographics. The match between the U.S. and Portugal attracted almost 25 million U.S. viewers, putting it in the same league as the country’s other major team sports—a first for soccer.

Fans around the world now have more ways than ever to follow the sports they love. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is the most widely available in history thanks to the proliferation of devices: Consumers can view matches on nearly 6 billion screens worldwide—and more than half of these are connected (PC, smartphones and tablets). While TV is the primary device, smartphones are the second most popular device that will be used to follow the action. Almost half of smartphone-owing fans around the world will use their devices to watch/follow the World Cup. Many will be “dual screening” (TV and mobile)—37% will use their device at half time, while 35% will use it throughout the game.

Photo Credit: AP/Hassan Ammar
Photo Credit: AP/Hassan Ammar

The reach of traditional media and growth of digital allows advertisers to engage with their fans like never before. Ad projections bear this out. The World Cup is expected to boost total global ad spending by an estimated $1.5 billion this year. It will add as much as $500 million to the Latin American ad market, and $300 million each to North America and Western Europe. Host country Brazil will see a nearly 17% jump in total advertising spending, despite slow overall economic growth.

As this is the most “digital” World Cup ever, ad spending on digital platforms is exploding. During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, advertisers spent twice as much on television as they did online. This trend is continuing: Several large brands are decreasing their World Cup television ad buying as they ramp online ad spending. This trend is also impacting the host country: Digital ad spending in Brazil will jump 28% this year due largely to the World Cup.

Digital offers new ways to engage consumers. Where brand success was once measured by ad impressions and views, it is now measured by engagement—how much time a consumer spends with the brand, how much data they provide and what they recommend. There is now a well-established link between engaged digital consumers and successful branding. Engaged customers have better brand recall and favorable brand perceptions, which ultimately, result in higher sales.

So how are brands engaging fans? Marketing strategies are as varied as the brand themselves. However, some common approaches have emerged. Fans want highlights, statistics, commentary and a place to share their experiences, and brands are eagerly accommodating them by creating social hubs and microsites to share content and drive discussions. Several have launched web series on online video sites to broadcast interactive shows where fans can speak to their favorite athletes through social media. Brands have been eager to feature internationally known athletes in their interactive marketing campaigns.

Several brands are playing up the global nature of the World Cup to highlight how they are global citizens with global products. To demonstrate its global reach, one company has created a mosaic flag created from the photos and tweets submitted by fans around the world. The flag includes thousands of photos from all of the global markets where the company’s products are sold.

None of these campaigns exists in a single medium. Brands are simultaneously leveraging all available platforms—traditional media, video sites, social media and other digital platforms— in a complementary way to deliver a consistent brand message.

The combination of traditional and new media offers brands endless new ways to have a dialog with their customers. Branding opportunities will increase dramatically as digital ecosystems in Brazil, China and India mature.


As EY’s Global Media & Entertainment Leader, Mr. Nendick is responsible for directing and coordinating the organization’s services to clients in the media and entertainment industry. He has significant experience in film and television production and distribution, music, broadcasting, cable and satellite, and new media as well as the convergence of media and entertainment with software and technology. The views reflected in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organization or its member firms.

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