Has Social Killed World Cup Sponsorship?

It was the World Cup of social media and second-screening that made ambush marketing as easy as making a joke and getting inventive with hashtags. In fact, maybe ambush marketing is the wrong term if you don't have to actually ambush anyone but join in and lead conversations.

I also believe it will, by definition, go down as the World Cup where marketers will begin to seriously question the merits of being an official sponsor. At the partner level, this is believed to cost $25m to $50m per year, while at just the sponsor level it is believed to be closer to the $10-$20m mark. Remember, this is Fifa we're dealing with here -- you can't expect any openness and transparency.

So the headline sponsors would have chipped in between $100m and $200m to be officially involved with the competition, which takes place every four years -- and those below them around, say, $50m to $100m.

Looking back in sponsorship history, such deals are believed to have greatly enhanced brand awareness, but is that still the case?

The figures would suggest not. 

The latest research from GlobalWebIndex is fascinating because it examined brand recognition at the start and the end of the competition to see how they have done. It also compared a list of brands correctly identified as sponsors before and after the tournament and found the top five were the same before and after the tournament. Coca-Cola was not surprisingly in the top spot, with McDonald's, Visa, Adidas and Hyundai making up the top five.

The really crucial question, then, was how well each was identified as a sponsor at the start compared to the the end of the event. 

Here, there really is a mixed bag. In Brazil, as you'd imagine for the host country, recognition remained high and increased in many instances.

On the other side of the pond, it's a very different story. While most brands stayed roughly where they were, recognition for Adidas and Coca-Cola dropped 26 percent and 18 percent, respectively -- although Adidas obviously sponsored many of the sides in the tournament, including the two World Cup finalists, Germany and Argentina.

This was not just a British phenomenon. The same picture emerged in the USA where sponsor brands remained relatively stable -- except for Adidas and Coca-Cola, which saw 23 percent and 21 percent declines in recognition.

Interestingly, among rival brands that were not sponsors, a similar picture emerges of brands being wrongly associated at the end of the World Cup remaining relatively constant -- although curiously, 3 percent more consumers thought that Pepsi, Red Bull and Heineken were sponsors at the end of the event, and 6 percent for Subway.

Only MasterCard saw a significant dropoff, with 10 percent fewer people believing they were a sponsor at the end of the tournament than the beginning.

Put very simply, the World Cup did very little to make people more aware during the event of who was and was not an official sponsor. 

GlobalWebIndex correctly says that most sponsors outscored their non-sponsoring rivals by roughly a factor of two to one, but this wasn't the case in every sponsorship segment. The number of people who correctly differentiated between Adidas being a sponsor and Nike was just a couple of percent, as it was for picking out Sony as an official partner and not Samsung.

So -- you get the headline figure that nearly a third of consumers still think Nike sponsored the World Cup and just over a third know it was Adidas.

The German sports company will no doubt point to improved shirt sales around the event -- it is publicly claimed to be chasing two billion Euros worth -- but the question will remain how many they would have sold with or without being an official World Cup sponsor. Put another way, one can only imagine Nike sales of Brazil's kit, and others, shot through the roof in the run up to and during the tournament without being a sponsor.

So clearly sponsorship must work for some brands -- or at least it must have in the past -- for them to be spending so much money to be an official endorser. 

When rivals can use social media to such good effect and plaster adverts for their own brand around the time of the event, however, there must be some serious question marks over spending more than $100m or more work out to be cost-effective when fewer people associate you with the event at its end than its beginning and nearly as many people think your rival sponsored it and not you?

Then let's just throw in a geopolitical hand grenade. The next two World Cups will be in Russia and Qatar. One can only imagine how keen brands are right now to have their names giving glory to Putin's regime and how many want to be associated with the first Arab World Cup, which is widely being seen as being awarded with at least the faintest whiff of corruption?

With being an official sponsor loaded with such potential negative connotations, it's very plausible there will be reduced appetite moving forward for spending mega-bucks on sponsorship when non-sponsors can avoid seemingly endorsing the host nation and can put their marketing dollars where the vast majority of fans are -- at home watching the game second screening.

1 comment about "Has Social Killed World Cup Sponsorship?".
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  1. Perry Mizota from Above the Noise, July 28, 2014 at 2:08 p.m.

    We were interested in the differences between a sponsor and a non-sponsor when it came to social media engagement so we monitored activity throughout the World Cup. In most cases, non-sponsors weren't that aggressive during the World Cup but the adidas/Nike battle was a fascinating one. Our findings can be found here...

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