The 2014 FIFA World Cup won’t kick off until June 12 but already several matchups have captivated observers.
Host team Brazil against Croatia in Sao Paolo to start the tournament.
Portugal against Germany in Salvador to open play in the event’s most challenging group.
And Adidas against Nike everywhere to determine which of the two sportswear giants is the world’s foremost soccer brand.
Between them Adidas, which sponsors the World Cup, and Nike, which outfits 10 of the tournament’s 32 teams, control a 90-per-cent share of the global market for soccer shoes. And while Adidas’ official ties to the tournament figure help it use the World Cup to boost sales, Nike has moved aggressively in the run-up to opening day.
In late April, Nike unveiled a the four-minute “Winner Stays” ad featuring a playground game that magically transforms into a match involving Cristiano Ronaldo and other stars. The ad alludes to the World Cup without ever mentioning the tournament and has been viewed 72 million times on YouTube.
Adidas is countering with a 74-second spot featuring Argentina’s Lionel Messi, which hits Canadian airwaves Monday but is already racking up big numbers online.
The success of these viral video ad campaigns signals a shift in tactics for World Cup advertisers as audiences and advertising dollars migrate to the internet.
“Online is where the bigger plays are and FIFA needs to explore where they can really exploit this,” says sports marketing consultant Keith McIntyre, president of the KMAC Group. “Adidas sales guys are fantastic at selling these programs into retail, but Nike isn’t relying on the event. They’re there (online) 12 months a year.”
So while World Cup sponsors are still spending on TV ads and in-stadium signage, ad campaigns involving social media have become crucial. Listerine, for example, has hired an ad agency to drive social media conversation during the World Cup using the hashtag #PowerToYourMouth.
“World Cup soccer has the power to be the most talked about subject in social media, ever,” said Gail Horwood, vice president for worldwide digital strategy Johnson & Johnson in an interview with the New York Times. “We’re going to tell the story of the matches through the mouths of the fans using two 24-hour newsrooms, in New York and London, with support on the ground in Brazil.”
And for non-sponsors with a stake in the tournament’s outcome, social media is an unregulated space where brands of all sizes can compete. So while Nike’s ad received a huge boost when Ronaldo tweeted it out to his 26.5 million followers, companies like Puma can craft online ads playing up their connection to contenders like Uruguay and Italy.
“(Non-sponsor) brands have to be able to compete on a creative level,” says Vijay Setlur, a sport marketing instructor at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “They can’t spend on traditional marketing, so they have to be very bold and very creative to get their message across.”
But will the World Cup marketing blitz translate into sales for apparel manufacturers?
That depends on the product in question and the outcome of the tournament, says sports apparel industry analyst Matt Powell. He says Adidas is already reaping increased revenue from sales of World Cup souvenirs, and the popularity of the Brazuca soccer ball it developed for the event.
Drawing a parallel between World Cup success and soccer shoe sales, however, is more difficult.
If Italy wins the tournament, Powell says Puma –which trimmed its profit forecast because of weak sales last year — will see a significant increase in profile and in sale. Meanwhile for Nike and Adidas, whose combined wholesale soccer shoe revenue tops $4.5 billion, a sales boost is tougher to measure simply because the numbers are already so high.
That doesn’t mean the ad money they pour into the World Cup is wasted. It just means it’s an investment in the overall brand with a long-term return instead of an immediate payoff.
“This is really a marketing story and not a sales story,” says Powell, of Princeton Retail Analysis. “It’s about getting people chattering about the brand and about the shoes much more than it is about selling a lot of the shoes.”