World Cup 2014: The Battle for Brand Glory Will Be Fought on Social Media


The 2014 World Cup in Brazil, which kicks off on Thursday, may be the most expensive FIFA tournament to date, but it will also be the most social soccer event to ever occur.

For brands on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+ and Instagram, hashtags have now become as valuable as 30-second commercials. Among branded hashtags now beckoning World Cup fans, Mondelez has claimed #PassTheLove, Marriott is using #TravelVictories and Johnson & Johnson’s Listerine is promoting #PowerToYourMouth in its first global social campaign.

“Connecting with fans posting through social is a critical opportunity for advertisers, who can engage with these viewers and potentially capture the momentum of Twitter TV activity around games to amplify brand messages,” Stephen Master, SVP of sport at Nielsen, told Mashable.[more]

Indeed, this World Cup will be as much of a multi-screen event (TV/web/mobile) as it will a live one, with FIFA leading the charge with its Global Stadium hub that will aggregate World Cup news, scores and stream live match footage for online, mobile and social viewers.

Official FIFA partner Kia is wooing US fans for the first time with its #becomeafan campaign starring Adriana Lima, while sibling FIFA sponsor Hyundai (hashtag: #becausefutbol) is taking over New York’s Times Square.

Tourists and locals alike will be greeted with Hyundai’s massive billboard centered around a Tumblr-powered microsite that features 120 pieces of original art created largely by six Tumblr influencer/artists. A “where to watch” feature lets fans in 12 cities find nearby places to tune in for the games while memes enable users to remix existing artwork or create their own. Both planned and real-time posts will appear as teams compete. 

The adidas social campaign, fronted by Lionel Messi, echoes its global “all in” brand platform with the hashtagline #allin pushing consumers to social. “Social media allows us to tell more stories than a 30- or 60-second TV spot may typically afford,” said Tom Ramsden, global brand marketing director for adidas football. “This will undoubtedly be the most social World Cup ever and probably the most social event in history.”

Twitter’s head of global World Cup effort, Lewis Wiltshire, agrees. “The 2010 World Cup was the largest period of sustained activity for any event in Twitter’s history,” he told The Guardian. “In early March we had already passed the total number of tweets generated around that tournament, so Brazil is huge.”

With that, brands are leveraging the power of their Twitter stars like Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, a Nike athlete and the world’s most popular Twitter sports celeb with 26.6 million followers. Nike also just released “The Last Game,”  a five-minute animated short film that includes Ronaldo and a roster of other soccer stars that aligns with its #riskeverything World Cup social campaign. 

Twitter, meanwhile, is launching its own World Cup offensive with a dedicated timeline where users can track all 64 matches and experience action both on and off the field using official hashtag #WorldCup. It also will be tallying mentions of World Cup-competing countries to crown the World Cup of Tweets using its new feature, “hashflags” which uses country codes to add flags to hastags.  

Over on Facebook, the network is aggragating all #WorldCup-tagged action on its Trending World Cup page, which also features game scores and highlights. The social site also created a fun account, Facebook Ref, which will provide commentary on the games. 

Social marketers can target Facebook users by interests like “soccer” or “FIFA World Cup,” and as Ad Age notes, “the fact that Facebook’s cluster will be updated daily makes it look like part of the effort to challenge Twitter’s supremacy in social TV, wielding its far greater global scale.” 

And that’s where Facebook will be especially important for marketers. “Developing countries will be a key target for global brands,” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson told the Washington Post. “The challenges (include the fact) that all the games are taking place in one place and the customers and marketers are in multiple time zones. This will require around the clock marketing.”

Visa is betting on Facebook to reach fans with partner-based coupons tailored to user preferences. “You can tell by looking at the social graph, if someone is also interested in music, shopping, fashion … which results in better target messaging to you as an individual,” said CMO Kevin Burke. 

Beyond social, the most important platform for World Cup proliferation will be mobile. According to Comigo, game highlights and full match replays will be watched by 63 percent of viewers on their computers, and around a quarter of viewers will watch highlights on their tablets and smartphones. 

“For the first time in 2014, we, all of us, are carrying around a mobile stadium in our pockets, where you will be watching, learning scores, team sheets, changes, injuries, substitutes—all of it—and sharing it,” said Will Platt-Higgins, director of global accounts at Facebook, according to RT. “That is a hugely compelling thing for a marketer.”

And for those a bit underwhelmed by the on-field prowess of Ronaldo, Messi and the like, here’s Purin the Super Beagle to restore your interest in the global sport. 

• Connect with Sheila on Twitter: @srshayon