Every four years we have a FIFA World Cup. And every four years we examine what brands do at retail to leverage the surge of interest in soccer among U.S. consumers. I recently traveled to several markets across America and visited more than 60 Hispanic grocery and mass merchandiser stores to determine how successful different brands were in using soccer fever to generate shopper excitement. Efforts varied, but each fell into one of the following five categories, or tiers.
Tier 1: World Cup Owners
Among the more noticeable in-store soccer promotions were those by Anheuser Busch and Coca-Cola. It was immediately apparent that each brand had made profound global sponsorship commitments. On display were robust pre-store and in-store assets: everything from circulars to packaging. Clearly, investment wasn't lacking; relevant execution was. For example, these global in-store campaigns for Coke were executed in-store mostly in English and thus failed to resonate with the corazón, or heart, of the Hispanic shopper. Retail activation ended at a brand endorsement level, leaving limited thought and dollars for localization or customer-specific activation.
Tier 2: Team and League Sponsors
Among brands that could not afford a FIFA World Cup sponsorship, but had budgets sufficient to underwrite U.S., Mexico. or MLS teams, it was clear that many were trying harder at retail than brands with a FIFA global sponsorship. Sweepstakes offers, packaging, POP-with-texting to win, or snaptag prizes were common among the former, but not the latter. Indeed, brands like Bimbo or Glad seemed to be comprehensively invested in all of their soccer-themed promotions.
Tier 3: Player Pivot
One of the more imaginative tactics brands used to piggyback on the soccer boomlet included campaigns by Home Depot and Avocados of Mexico to leverage player appearances and/or likenesses. This was highly effective, particularly when the players were retired from the Mexican national team. Why? Because, believe it or not, popular soccer stars never quite fade away. Cases in point: Jorge Campos, Cuahutemoc Blanco, Pavel Pardo — the list goes on and on. Brands successfully embracing this tactic learned that the brand-athlete retail relationship need not be long-term. Actually, such initiatives are ideal for brief, tactical activation. Big miss: Pepsi and Messi. Their spots aired at nearly every World Cup halftime show on Univision, yet I saw not one brand standup in-store anywhere.
Tier 4: Soccer Thematic
Other brands did a good job playing off the popularity of soccer more generically. They achieved this by applying thematic treatment and what I call “back door” tactics to leverage consumers' soccer fever. There were some great gift-with-purchase tactics, such as Klass's special pack that featured a soccer ball. The free ball wasn’t quite that, since it was a bundled purchase. Still, it was prominently displayed in a couple of stores. Coors also had a great soccer promotion with a twist. The flash was that you could win a trip to watch your team play their final World Cup match in their home country. Granted, not as good as going to the real thing, but definitely a second best, beating by far a local viewing party. Honorable mentions go to Modelo and Tecate for a excellent work in activating soccer and executing it with relevant, impactful bilingual pieces in several stores.
Tier 5: Under the Radar Wild West Activation
This was perhaps one of the more intriguing activations because of its guerrilla tactics. In fact, a significant number of independent retailers went at it a little recklessly leveraging marks, logos, and even hosting viewing parties in clear violations of FIFA trademark or other legal guidelines. It's worth noting that the Hispanic retail environment has an incredible number of independent chains. Given that these are smaller and have a lower profile, such use of trademarked images and protected terms in circulars and even in-store with makeshift signs and design activities may have been under the radar. FIFA issues warnings about the proper use of its nomenclature, but clearly they cannot police everyone.
Brazil's World Cup may be over, but it provided a permanent boost for the sport in America (much as the 1994 World Cup did). Soccer is a global platform that will continue to increase in relevance and appeal in the U.S. I do believe the President was correct when he tweeted that the USA would be winning the whole thing sooner than anyone realizes. Beyond the World Cup, activation is the headline. The coming Women's World Cup, Gold Cup, and Copa America will surely offer more opportunities to leverage growing soccer's popularity with shoppers.