Where dreams of global goals are made...

The FIFA World Cup is about to kick off in South Africa and official sponsors and partners are lining up to exploit its global opportunities. Brands are turning to six strategies to reap the benefits of match fever.

When the roar of the crowd erupts in Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg on 11 June, brands will be hoping that they will score some gain of their own from that magical moment.

Official FIFA sponsors and partners will be hoping that the millions of pounds that they have invested in that association will work hard for them in South Africa. This year’s World Cup is an opportunity for marketing on a global scale. Brands are taking to the field with six distinct strategies to help them stand out from the crowd.

1. The single-minded marketing strategy
Sabina Heuss, FIFA’s group leader of marketing, communication and research, certainly sells the benefit of an official association as one of the best single ways to engage with consumers. She claims: “The World Cup represents one of the most effective global marketing platforms for reaching out to the consumer.”

For some brands, global sporting events have become their entire marketing strategy. Visa has invested millions of pounds to become an official partner of the World Cup. This, along with its Team 2012 Olympic association “is where the marketing budget is spent”. The financial services brand sees these global events as the best way to achieve brand preference, says Visa Europe senior vice-president of partnership marketing Colin Grannell.

Visa has taken over from MasterCard to be one of the official partners at this year’s event. It kicked off early with its World Cup link, airing an advert in February 2010 across 17 different markets, showing an armchair fan running to the World Cup and scoring a goal, using his Visa card along the way to buy things. 

Grannell says the brand will be maintaining a high level of activity right the way through to the last blow of the whistle at the finals. David Atkinson, managing partner at integrated agency Space, says that this strategy “serves those brands well where there is another strong global competitor in the market”. It gives those sponsors the upper hand against their rivals, as an official World Cup association puts them in the top spot, he adds.

“The World Cup represents one of the most effective global marketing platforms for reaching out to the consumer”

Sabina Heuss, FIFA

For Visa, the aim is to demonstrate that it is the leader in the financial services market over its rival MasterCard. By taking over the official status from its competitor, Visa hopes its brand will be the dominant one in people’s minds before, during and after the World Cup.

2. Assert market leadership
Leading brand Coke is also using its official FIFA partner status in an attempt to dominate its second-place rival, Pepsi. It wants to use the tournament to drive home its global “open happiness” marketing mantra, by developing a World Cup campaign around the theme.

The drinks brand says it has never been more committed to a tournament. “It’s definitely the largest campaign we’ve ever implemented around the world,” says Emmanuel Seuge, group director for worldwide sports and entertainment marketing at Coca-Cola.

It has been working on owning the celebration of a goal and is running programmes on the digital side to encourage people to upload their celebrations onto YouTube. This is also reflected in a global television ad.

3. Make a message global
Seuge adds the World Cup is an event that unites people and suits a brand that operates on a global scale. “Wherever you are in the world, the passion for football is all about connection, celebration and happiness – and that’s what our brand stands for.”

While each territory will have a local element to the campaign, showing local people celebrating goals, the World Cup association is where the opportunity lies to really act as a global brand, says Seuge. 

In a Forrester report, “Create an Adaptive Global Organisation”, the author Steven Noble says brands must look for opportunities that reinforce their strengths in multiple markets: “Brands must harness the strength that comes from their global reach,” he says. Seuge adds that the World Cup is how his brand is able to use its strength as a brand leader to get its marketing messages across to football fans and increase its presence in developing countries.

In an interview with Marketing Week last year, Coke chief marketing and commercial officer Joseph Tripodi said events like the World Cup can put Coke’s business on a “different trajectory globally”, just like the money it invested in the Beijing Olympic Games transformed its business there.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is also planning to dominate its sector around the world through leveraging the opportunity of the South African tournament. Its vice-president of global connections Maarten L Albarda considers the Budweiser World Cup affiliation as its best opportunity to dominate multiple markets. “The World Cup is our biggest global property, both in scale and importance. In terms of consumer passion, it is unrivalled.”

The brand has been associated with the World Cup for more than two decades, but it will be the first tournament that Budweiser will operate under the merged AB InBev. Budweiser marketing director for Western Europe James Watson says that now the beer brand is part of a bigger company, there will be “much more of a global focus than has been seen before.”

This international focus has resulted in “very positive brand equity shifts already”, claims Watson. He expects brand measurement to show further uplift as the competition progresses.

But Space’s Atkinson doubts whether the American beer brand can really be seen as the global beer leader of the World Cup. He suggests: “The connection was obvious when the tournament was held in the US, but I can think of other beer brands that would be better suited to this official association.”

Atkinson believes that it is difficult for a brand like Budweiser to convincingly communicate a global message, when other beer brands dominate certain territories. “Carlsberg, for example, is far more successful at engaging with England fans, with its ‘official beer of the England team’ status. It’s convincing because it uses this football association in everything that it does,” he says.

4. Build a digital empire
Other research suggests that if companies associate with large-scale sporting events it can have a dramatic effect on their brand online as well as offline. Many brands associating with this year’s FIFA World Cup are investing heavily on digital marketing (see Strategy: Build A Digital Empire, below, for details on how some brands are using the online space). Experian has carried out some analysis on how brands using digital platforms are viewed by consumers. Experian Marketing services managing director Jim Hodgkins says: “Sponsorship of international sports events, such as the World Cup, can make a huge difference to customer engagement online. A successful sponsorship campaign can make the brand synonymous with the success of the event or team.”


Run and run with it: Brands must demonstrate their association with football in everything they do, according to David Atkinson from Space

Adidas, which was the official kit sponsor of Team GB at the last Olympics had the highest level of searches online that year for the four weeks’ duration of Beijing 2008, according to Experian’s analysis. Traffic to Puma’s Usain Bolt “Race Bolt” online game shot up, says Hodgkins, the day Bolt won the gold in the 200 metre sprint, breaking the world record at the same time. Those brands which are clever in the digital space in this year’s World Cup could have a similar level of success on a global scale, he suggests.

The brands that focus on the fans around the world will be more likely to benefit from their multi-million-pound investment, says Space’s Atkinson. “Brands need to be careful not to make it too corporate,” he warns. Those which make it less about the game and more about their business risk damaging their reputation on a global scale.

5. Evolve the business
Research carried out by Space in the last World Cup in Germany noted that those brands which demonstrated “they were there for the fans” benefited from “brand love”, whereas those brands which didn’t risked the wrath of fans, who were left wondering why the brand had a presence at the tournament. Nationwide, for example, was seen by fans as helpful during the tournament. The banking brand offered travel assistance and help sorting out accommodation. However, Hyundai’s association bewildered some fans, who wondered why the car company was trying to sell cars when they were trying to watch the matches.

Atkinson says companies have to work hard to become convincing “football brands”. He points to Castrol, which he says has become a football brand even though it only committed to football in a big way for Euro 2008. Castrol vice-president of global marketing Polly Flinn agrees that her business’ wide-ranging programme is designed to show that the lubricants brand has moved into the football space in “a credible way because of the official assoc­iation with FIFA” (see Castrol case study).

6. Promote, promote, promote
Billington Cartmell managing director Jason Nicholas says that World Cup sponsors have to “demonstrate their association with football in a compelling way”. But, he argues, brands don’t have to operate on an official or global scale to benefit from this year’s World Cup. The agency works with brands that have official association with the England Team and those businesses that want to capitalise on the football frenzy without investing millions of pounds. “McCoy’s crisps can play in this space, for instance, because they are positioned as man crisps”. The snack brand has created two flavours for the tournament – Sausage Striker and Chicken Winger – along with a competition called “Are You A Real Fan?”. Prizes include football trips around the world.

Meanwhile, supermarkets are trying to win the hearts and minds of football-loving shoppers with football-themed promotions in a bid to increase footfall during the summer months. Billington Cartmell is working with Morrisons on its 2018 bid association. Morrisons has just launched a trading card promotion (see Tesco case study) in competition with Tesco’s Match Attax trading card promotion, which launched earlier this month.

Supermarkets will be battling hard to be the supermarket choice over the coming months. The British Retail Consortium estimates that the last World Cup benefitted UK retailers to the tune of £1bn, and grocery stores are lining up to benefit from the sales uplift from this one.

But the official sponsors and partners believe they can benefit greatly on a global scale with their official association with football. Space’s Atkinson says whichever strategy a brand follows, “it will resonate more with consumers if it is closer to the stuff they love”. And those global sponsors will be working hard to bring fans closer to the game in an attempt to be the most loved brands of this year’s World Cup.

Strategy: Build a digital empire

Castrol – The Castrol Index website analyses football performance of the players in South Africa. It uses technology to predict which team is most likely to win the World Cup. Brazil is Castrol’s most likely winner with a 23.6% chance of victory, according to the predictor. Castrol is using this digital platform to show the link between the technical performance of its product and the technical performance of the game. The lubricants brand wants to engage with techie fans who want to know more about the game than the result.

Budweiser – The American bottled beer has launched an online reality show called “Bud House” where 32 people from countries taking part in the World Cup will live in Cape Town for the duration of the tournament. Content from this set-up will be distributed through several channels including YouTube. 

Coca-Cola – The fizzy drinks brand has made a big investment in digital for this World Cup. As well as its partnership with YouTube where fans can upload goal celebrations it has been using social media site Facebook to promote this campaign. The brand has produced an ad for the digital space called The Quest, featuring an animation of an African boy. Coke hopes to engage with younger fans by using online methods during this year’s tournament.

Author: Noona Uranta



During the last FIFA World Cup in 2006, a whopping 26 billion people tuned in to watch the tournament. As Castrol vice-president of global marketing Polly Flinn says, this many eyeballs makes its official FIFA sponsorship package “a very efficient and effective media opportunity”.

But just what benefit does the BP-owned lubricants brand get from its association with football? Oil and the beautiful game do not, at first glance, mix.

For Castrol, aside from perimeter banners around the pitch, its football sponsorship gives the brand a marketing opportunity in the digital space. The Castrol Football

website has been created for all those fans who want to know the technical ins and outs of the game.

On the Castrol website sits the Castrol Index, which rates the world’s best players. Flinn says there is a clear link through Castrol’s brand promise of technical performance and this rating of players through their technical performance on the pitch.

She claims: “Football seemed a pretty natural extension for us. Football fans are really interested in what is happening behind the scenes from a technical standpoint.”

The official link with FIFA means that the Castrol Football service benefits from the 15 million unique visits that the governing body’s website attracts, adds Flinn.

Aside from the numbers of fans whose attention Castrol is hoping to attract during the tournament, the oil brand believes the investment pays for itself when it comes to engaging with customers, whether on the consumer or business side.

“On the consumer side, it helps us to keep relevant,” she says. “For our business customers, it is an opportunity to build long-term relationships.”

But isn’t this a very expensive way to engage with people? The brand is planning to take significant numbers of partners and competition winners out to the event itself in June.

“The investment is paid off before they even step on the plane to come to South Africa,” says Flinn. After all, she points out, the people going to the World Cup are chosen in a way that aims to stay true to the brand’s focus on technical performance.

“Those customers and consumers have won based on performance-based targets or via competitions,” she says. “We spend an enormous amount of time building programmes to justify that investment.”

It’s the emerging markets that Castrol is particularly keen to attract. Around a third of its income came from emerging markets in 2009. Driving preference is key here, and an association with football is seen as the star player when it comes to encouraging people to make Castrol their first choice brand.

Flinn claims that Castrol has the strongest brand loyalty in the category in its core markets. And the aim is to make it the brand of choice in the emerging markets too.

It hopes that its long-term commitment to football will be the most efficient way of making it the number one lubricants brand across the globe.


Eith Colin Grannell, senior vice-president for brand management, Visa Europe

What does an official association with the World Cup allow Visa to do with its brand messaging?

We use these global stories to drive preference for our brand. It gives us the opportunity to have a consistent message about our brand. We can talk about our products and service, talk directly to card members and the retailers. It’s such rich content.

What makes Visa choose the World Cup? Is it the sheer size of the event, or is it about the football?

We look for things that closely link with our brand. The World Cup is aspirational. It is about the team and the community. So we think that sits well against our financial services brand. It enables us to talk to our customers about something that they’re passionate about.

Do you take a consistent global or a more local approach when you speak to different territories about your association with the World Cup?

The concept allows us to market locally. When we are talking to the Italians we talk about the Italian team. Similarly, when we talk to the French we talk about the French football team.

There are many brands trying to benefit from football fever so how do you make sure your messages don’t get lost among the noise of other brands’ communications?

It’s a very different sponsorship to our Olympic sponsorship because there are so many sponsors associated with football in general, like shirt sponsors, for example. We make what we do global and start as early as we think we can with messaging. Our FIFA ad campaign was probably one of the first to go out. We will make sure we sustain the activity right the way through to the finals, keeping it as up-to-date and as topical as we can. We try to make the rewards and benefits of our association as compelling as possible.

How will you measure the success of your World Cup association?

Awareness is important to us, but it’s not the complete end game for us. What we’re doing is to try to drive preference for our brand, getting customers to use their cards more in place of cash and cheques. There are wider measurements and awareness is only one thing. We have measurements around branding. We’ll measure the impact around the promotions – in terms of the message and the take-up of the promotions.



The supermarket strategy for the England fans

As fans settle down to watch the FIFA World Cup from the comfort of their sofas, supermarkets are in competition with each other to provide food and drink supplies to get people through the highs and lows of the tournament.

The official supermarket of the England Team, Tesco, is hoping that the party spirit, coupled with its access to the three lions logo will get more customers through its automatic doors. David Potts, retail and logistics director at the supermarket, claims: “The three lions will become synonymous with Tesco.”

It is planning a wide range of activities to capitalise on this official football association, and is expecting to sell more televisions and food and drink. It will also be selling official England merchandise during the tournament.

It has already launched a promotion for Match Attax trading cards that it hopes will become the big collectible of this World Cup. It will also include footballing legends in its trading card packs. It launched ahead of Morrisons’ promotion of its partnership with Panini stickers and trading cards.

Like others, Tesco has launched a digital site to promote its association with football legends. People can vote for their favourite legend on the site. It is also using food and drink to get to the heart of England fans. From last week it was selling food branded with the St George’s flag. Potts says: “The public will be in the mood to party and our job is to make sure that everything they want and need can be found at Tesco”. England branded sandwiches and pizzas are being sold to further promote its partnership with the England football team.

Competitions with brand partners Coke, Mars and Walkers will enable Clubcard holders to enter a competition to win VIP trips and entertainment systems every time they buy one of the associated products, and Potts adds that this initiative will help keep the momentum going as the tournament approaches.

Even the footballers’ wives will be getting involved in the supermarket’s push to promote the World Cup in-store. Alex Gerrard (Steven Gerrard’s wife) and “friends” have designed a new Bag For Life which will launch in May. This will coincide with the launch of England merchandise and the supermarket is hoping that fans will flock to the stores to snap up flags and branded shirts.

It faces competition from Morrisons, the official sponsor of the 2018 bid, and Asda, as its parent Wal-Mart is the official supermarket of the World Cup. But Tesco is hoping that it will score the winning goal during the World Cup, to be the supermarket of choice for England fans.

World Cup Facts:

The official website FIFAworldcup.com registered 4.2 billion page views during the previous World Cup, more than double the traffic in 2002.

The FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany was watched by 26 billion people across the globe. That amounts to total coverage of more than 73,000 hours, which equates to a television channel broadcasting 24/7 for over eight years.

It is estimated that official World Cup association costs up to £30m.

The last tournament attracted 18,850 journalists accredited from around the world – 4,250 print journalists; 1,200 photographers; and 13,400

TV and radio representatives.

FIFA World Cup sponsors include: Castrol, Budweiser, Continental, McDonald’s and MTN.

FIFA Partners are: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Visa, Emirates and Sony.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Great article looking forward to seeing the World Cup and seeing which brands get it right.

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  • Does anyone have any Rugby World Cup case studies they would like to share? Sponsor and non-sponsor activation....

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