World Cup To Be A Social Affair

As you read this column, we are in a golden period of the World Cup for England fans. Roy Hodgson's boys are as yet undefeated; the country is still full of optimism and the tabloid media is full of hype and hyperbole.

Of course, we have not actually played a game yet.

The last two World Cups have been great for TV and the ad revenues. Held in South Africa and Germany, which have friendly time zones for broadcasters, they were an advertising bonanza for ITV. While the broadcast media sector is still predicted to see the usual revenue uplift generated by massive sporting events, this will be the first truly social World Cup. The trade media is full of how canny brands are directing huge efforts and resources at the social channels. Twitter is already telling us about how well it’s going. “The 2010 World Cup was the largest period of sustained activity in Twitter’s history. In early March, we had already passed the number of tweets generated around that tournament,” says Luke Wiltshire of Twitter.

When you look at the situation dispassionately, you can see why this is happening and you can see why a lot of brands are focussing activity around the buildup to the tournament and on social channels. Let's look at the scheduling of England's first game. The match kicks off at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. The ritual of family and friends gathering around the TV to watch the game will be diluted by this timing and the pubs frequented by many during World Cups may not be the most pleasant places by that time on a Saturday night. Many will be taking to the sofa by themselves with their children safely tucked up in bed. And yet watching sport is always enhanced when there is a communal element -- and that for many will be provided by the social channels. The combination of live TV and Twitter is always a great one, as shown by the recent Nielsen research which shows that 60% of UK users tweet while watching TV.

Of course, in addition to the timing factors, the unknown element for advertisers is the England team itself. The 2014 World Cup differs from so many tournaments in that nobody gives England a chance. There’s little of the usual flag waving in the media, the red and white bunting is conspicuous in its absence from the pubs and shops, and cars are managing to drive around without the cross of St. George flying from the window. So if the general public does not expect much from England, why should advertisers? It cannot be overestimated just how much of an impact on the broadcaster’s revenues England's performance has. Why book hugely expensive TV slots for the knockout stages when England could well be back home by then?

I spoke to the CMO of a well-known fast-food brand at an event last week. He told me they had put a huge amount of time and resources into a social campaign that hits the second the final whistle goes on England’s participation in the tournament. They also have a second campaign prepared should England do well but, frankly, he doesn’t expect to have to use it. Also, in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily this week we heard that Listerine was lining up a big campaign on Facebook, where the company will track which posts drive the most interaction and allocate paid media behind those posts in real-time. "By adjusting our paid media behind the social content that performs the best, we will be able to maximise our advertising dollars to deliver the strongest consumer engagement opportunities for our brand.”

There will be vast amounts written about how the digital world comes of age during this World Cup. The same happens around every major sporting event (2012, the first mobile Olympics, anyone?) but what makes this interesting is how the clever brands make their plays with an unfavourable time zone -- and importantly, an unfavoured team.

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