2014 FIFA World Cup: The Newest Digital Cross-Cultural Brand

In the last year, I have introduced a new approach to marketing, which I have coined cross-cultural marketing. Cross-cultural marketing can best be defined as one marketing program that leverages ethnic markets to reach across both ethnic and general markets (i.e. the total market). Start with ethnic segments to develop marketing programs that cross over into the general market. Ethnic consumers, like Hispanics, are front and center in a cross-cultural model. 

The last three weeks have seen a tipping point in the United States in the popularity of soccer generally and the FIFA World Cup specifically. Soccer has seen a slow and steady increase in popularity in the U.S. since 1994, yet it still lags far behind American football, baseball, basketball and hockey – the Big 4 – in terms of viewership, attendance, and overall passion. A recent Freakonomics podcast entitled “Why America Doesn’t Love Soccer (Yet)” provides a nice overview of the trends in U.S. soccer popularity. 



Latin American and European immigrants have driven much of the growth in popularity in soccer over the last two decades, and the spike in popularity during this year’s FIFA World Cup. The largest group of these immigrants are Mexican-Americans who are incredibly passionate about soccer and the Mexican national team, aka “El Tri.”

The tipping point I’ve noticed during this year’s FIFA World Cup has been a “crossing over” of soccer interest into “futbol” passion by both Hispanics, Europeans living in the United States and most importantly non-Hispanic native-born whites. This crossover has led to major ratings jumps for World Cup matches particularly those involving team U.S.A. and Mexico. USA-Portugal had 24.7 million viewers while Mexico-Netherlands had 10.4 million viewers on Univision alone.

The passion has been fueled by social media and digital technology, enabling the heavily Hispanic brand advocates of World Cup soccer to promote the sport via social media by changing their Facebook profile pictures to face-painted country faces, posting various World Cup related memes, and encouraging viewership “anywhere” with online streaming of the games on ESPN and Univision. The success of many Latin American teams in the tournament, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, and Chile, has provided a further catalyst driving this crossover.

2014 FIFA World Cup soccer has become the most recent and high profile example of the power of cross-cultural marketing. This enthusiasm for the Latin American teams, led by Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica and Chile has crossed over to the general market not by trying to be more like mainstream sports, but by letting their passion cross over – turning World Cup soccer into a truly cross-cultural brand. Some brands saw this coming and were prepared, such as Hyundai with their “#BecauseFutbol” campaign (a great example in and of itself of a cross-cultural approach).

How can other brands learn from the 2014 World Cup and tap into the potential of cross-cultural marketing? Here are three key takeaways:

  • The power of cultural authenticity – understand how your brand “lives” among ethnic consumers and then embrace and support it. 
  • Identify and empower your passionate ethnic brand advocates – they will drive crossover much like Hispanic futbol fans.
  • Take advantage of digital – particularly social media – to grease the wheels of the cross-cultural crossover.
4 comments about " 2014 FIFA World Cup: The Newest Digital Cross-Cultural Brand".
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  1. Jackie Bird from Redbean Society, LLC, July 10, 2014 at 12:19 p.m.

    Totally agree with you, although I'd be cautious to claim ownership of the term cross-cultural marketing as many of your colleagues have been strongly advocating and implementing cross cultural marketing principles for quite some time. One factor to consider in your analogy and when thinking about using a cross-cultural strategy is that for ethnic to drive crossover, the brand already needs to have a strong multicultural following. This is not necessarily the case for most US brands, with some exceptions. #Fútbol originates outside of American mainstream, has not only a strong following but a high degree of passion attached to the "brand". Therefore, its crossover potential is higher. That said, as the multicultural and particularly the Hispanic consumer segment continues to grow exponentially above the rate of other population segments, it will be increasingly important for marketers to ID the cultural insights that allow their brands to embrace a #TotalMarket strategy approach. This may be the case of #Hyundai which I agree has done it brilliantly in their #WorldCup advertising. Again, a case in which the ethnic insight leads the creative idea.

  2. Jose Villa from Sensis, July 10, 2014 at 8:07 p.m.

    Great comments Jackie!

    I don't claim to have invented the term "cross-cultural marketing", but I do appear to have a very different definition of it than most other marketers (brands & agencies included).

  3. Jackie Bird from Redbean Society, LLC, July 11, 2014 at 9:44 a.m.

    Thanks Jose. You may be right. But think that from a general market practitioner's perspective, the same concept would apply for universal truths that touch all people, regardless of culture or ethnicity. In fact, global marketers then adapt these universal truths to local culture from market to market for higher relevance. From my perspective, cross cultural marketing understands from inception that culture is a behavioral driver. Thus, in an ethnically diverse market such as the US and given the high representation of multicultural consumers that are influencing mainstream, we find that multicultural insights become the sought-after universal truth. Hence, fútbol, Sofía Vergara, American Family and Pitbull, among many other examples of cross cultural behavior. Nice chat...anyone else care to join us?

  4. Jose Villa from Sensis, July 13, 2014 at 8:29 p.m.

    One day I'm going to write an article about how Hispanics don't comment on articles ;)

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