Real-Time Marketing at the World Cup: What Worked, What Didn't, And What We Learned

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has come to a close, much to the disappointment of global soccer fans, but not for Germany, who walked away with the trophy—to hold onto for the next four years.

The competition on the pitch wasn’t the only action happening during the month-long sporting event. Behind the scenes, prepared brand marketers camped out in their social media ‘war rooms’ watching the matches and poised to deliver stand-out, real-time content to their online fans and audiences as events on the field unfolded. 

Which brand took home the title for best real-time marketing? Who took the biggest social media misstep? 

According to our data, Adidas wins the prize for best brand building during the course of the tournament. Not only did its #AllIn hashtag score a whopping 1.1 million mentions on social media—the most of any brand-associated tag—the athletic label also tied Sony for most partner brand mentions with 2.1 million mentions each. And by July 7, still six days before the final match, Adidas had doubled its YouTube subscriber audience. The company not only scored big in social but also on the bottom line. Ernesto Bruce, Adidas America’s director of soccer, stated their goal was to have around a 15-percent growth from the last World Cup but they doubled that with 30-percent growth. He also noted Adidas will sell 70-percent more Germany jerseys in the United States than it did during the 2010 World Cup.  



On the other end of the spectrum was Delta Air Lines. Seizing the moment of the United States’ victory over Ghana on June 16, the airline tweeted congratulations to Americans with a picture of the Statue of Liberty next to a picture of a giraffe, meant to symbolize the African nation. But as most of us know, giraffes have nothing to do with Ghana. Delta apologized, but they still endured a backlash for not doing their homework about the country.

There are some clear lessons marketers can take away from the strategies and plays of brand winners and the losers at the 2014 World Cup. Here they are: 

  1. Timing is everything.Take advantage of memorable moments. Adidas succeeded because, as its team revealed, it centered its marketing tactics on the stories coming directly off the football field precisely as they happened. Any time a player sponsored by Adidas had a great moment in the game, Adidas tweeted it along with their #AllIn hashtag. Then they displayed it on digital billboards in public spaces and retail stores in relevant countries, building immediate followings. But when the next moment came, it erased the last one—so the content never stopped being fresh, the story never stopped developing, and the brand never stopped building momentum.
  2. Balance timing with thoughtful content. The Delta blunder showed that even when marketing happens on the spot, it still has to happen thoughtfully. Sure, timing mattered with the tweet about the U.S.-Ghana match. The closer to the winning goal the airline could tweet its message, the more attention it would get from the fans taking to their mobile phones to send their own messages about the action. But that’s the problem: a well-timed bad tweet draws a lot of attention.
  3. Planning is crucial. Yes, real-time marketing happens on the fly. But much of the marketing action that takes place during the event can be planned, at least to establish foolproof background knowledge. For instance, Delta had days to do some research on Ghana and its team before the actual match; with some foresight, it easily could have prepared a relevant and non-controversial picture instead. Even the Luis Suarez bite came with some history. No brand may have anticipated he would add to his biting legacy in front of a global audience, but knowing something about his past could have set the creative wheels turning, just in case. As it was, several brands executed witty posts closely following the incident.

Successful brands like Adidas did their homework, in both the long and short term, gathering material on sponsored players so they could more easily act in the moment. And as matches developed, they planned ahead: when the Colombia-Brazil match held the audience in suspense, the brand quickly pre-packaged tweets featuring Colombia’s star, James Rodriguez. 

The 2014 World Cup was undoubtedly an exciting tournament to watch, both on the field and on social media. Did your brand use real-time marketing during the World Cup? What did you do to make it successful?

Leading up to the event, I wrote a post with advice on how to score big with real-time marketing at major events like FIFA. Read it here.

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