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World Cup is an advertiser’s dream worth millions

world cup advertising Creative Commons
On the pitch, France defeated Croatia in the final of the Russia World Cup in 2018, but the real winners are those who find a way to tap into the commercial side of the event
  • $2 billion will be spent on advertising globally with TV and social media
  • Wise for advertisers to monitor live events to break into conversations

With a projected worldwide audience of five billion people, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is an advertiser’s dream. 

Although some brands have toyed with the idea of boycotting the event, and may eventually do so due to the controversies that have dogged Qatar’s hosting of the tournament, ignoring one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles is not an option for most.  

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Hassan Akasheh, general manager of FP7 McCann Doha.

“Fans will be roaming the streets, hungry to experience something new, to experience the magic of the Middle East, the hospitality, and so much more. 

“It is up to the brands to be smart enough in their communication, focusing on their uniqueness and the meaningful role they play in people’s lives. The stage is set and every brand can shine if they do it right.”

Official sponsors such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Hisense, McDonald’s and Vivo can use any of FIFA’s brand assets, including the emblem and official mascot, in their communication.

Everyone else cannot. Even the official typeface is protected, and any use of FIFA’s intellectual property requires written authorisation. Marketing activity is also strictly controlled within any commercial restriction area and at event locations. 

However, that will not stop some brands from looking to hijack the event. 

Seize the moment

In 2010, Nike outmanoeuvred Adidas and its sponsorship of the World Cup with “Write the Future”, one of the finest examples of thunder-stealing in the tournament’s history.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and featuring the likes of Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney, the three-minute commercial was viewed online more than 50 million times, winning the film grand prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity the following year.  

“Not every brand has such production firepower, but, boy, if you do, put it to use as Nike did 12 years ago,” says Rafael Lavor, head of strategy at Dubai-based advertising agency TBWA\Raad.

“An Oscar-winning director, a killer soundtrack, a cosmic cast, and a narrative built on the ultimate truth about the World Cup’s stakes: it can eternalise or destroy a footballer’s career. A three-minute masterpiece.”

Very few brands will have the financial clout or the star-studded cast available to Nike, but that does not mean they will not be able to make the most of the marketing opportunities provided by the World Cup.

“If you are close to the host country, aim to solve emerging problems,” says Lavor.

“Ticket prices are ridiculous; flights are impossible; no more rooms available; can’t party on the streets; Doha and neighbouring cities will be overcrowded; weather won’t be optimal.

“Imagine the hassles and struggles fans will endure, and ask how brands can solve them.”

If a brand is too far away to be of practical use, they can still monitor the event closely and act quickly. 

For example, when the Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez bit the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during the 2014 World Cup, Snickers piggybacked the incident on Twitter, tweeting: “Hey @luis16suarez. Next time you’re hungry, just grab a Snickers.” Similar opportunities will arise in Qatar. 

“Is there an octopus that can predict the outcome of games? A famous player that keeps flopping in every game? Are some rival nations facing one another for the first time in years? Is there a quirky goal celebration dance trending? Who knows what might spark people’s attention in the next World Cup,” says Lavor.

“The wise thing to do is to have a team in place monitoring every happening, and another one thinking how to break into conversations.”

Advertising bonanza

How much will be spent on advertising during the tournament is uncertain. The run-up to the festive period is already a busy time for advertisers, and a sporting event of this magnitude has never previously been held in November and December. 

Dentsu, the international advertising and public relations company, nevertheless predicts that $2 billion will be spent on advertising globally during the World Cup, with TV and social media likely to take the lion’s share of that spend. 

That figure does not include the millions of dollars that will be spent on experiential marketing, as brands, especially those present in Qatar, seek to capitalise on the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East.

For its part, Qatar has engaged various agencies to help promote the country’s hosting of the event. In 2019, the Manchester-based Media Agency Group spearheaded a global digital campaign to ‘build momentum and awareness’ of the World Cup. 

The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy – the official body responsible for host country operations – also worked with FP7 McCann Doha on strategy and the pre-launch activation of Al Janoub Stadium. The organisers even paid English footballer David Beckham £10 million to act as an ambassador. 

However, the Supreme Committee has been coy about other agencies it has since worked with. It is understood that its roster includes the Doha office of M&C Saatchi MENA, as well as Sixty Degrees and Gem Advertising & Publications.

Other agency partners remain unknown, and in late May the Supreme Committee was still inviting companies to pitch for activation and event branding projects at both Lusail Boulevard and the Old Doha Port.

Embrace controversy

Importantly, Lavor believes brands and their agencies should not be afraid to dig up some of the controversies surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup. Particularly those related to human rights and the LGBT community. 

“The way the LGBTQIAP+ community is being treated, sustainability fallouts, even limitations for public parties and extramarital sex – sponsors simply won’t talk about these issues. But those are some major concerns for the fans,” says Lavor. 

“Non-sponsors should be brave enough to address them. Do you feel like insisting on the cliché thinking that ‘the World Cup is all about uniting passionate fans and cheering for your home-country’? Sure, go for it. I doubt your brand will either solve anything relevant or even be remembered.”

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