With a projected 3.2 billion people watching and 770 billion minutes of attention on this year’s FIFA World Cup, soccer is offering a major assist for companies wanting to elevate their brands. Every four years companies gear up for soccer, playing the matches in their offices on big TV screens and thinking creatively about marketing campaigns.
For most companies, any World Cup-themed campaign requires an extra dose of creativity, thanks to the fiercely protective attitude tournament organizer FIFA has towards its mega-brand. While news publications like Fast Company or the New York Times can freely discuss the World Cup, those two words are trademarked and off-limits to unofficial promotional activity.
FIFA legal teams frequently employ strong-armed tactics to ensure only its paid-up sponsors can use branded terms and logos in marketing campaigns, even cracking down on Twitter users. But there are still plenty of unofficial ways that brands are making the most of the current futebol fever. Here are some of my favorites:
The headphones brand launches the biggest ad campaign in its history—a short film starring numerous players including Brazilian superstar Neymar—just in time for the World Cup.
Then the company garnered even more attention when Reuters reported that FIFA banned players from wearing Beats headphones at stadiums in order to protect official sponsor Sony. The organization obviously learned a lesson from the 2012 Olympics when Beats products were frequently seen on television after the company sent thousands of free headphones to competing athletes.
The famous Brazilian flip-flop brand Havianas is not a World Cup sponsor. Instead, Grupo Amazonas is producing official FIFA sandals, but Havianas is not letting its rival go unchallenged. The brand has produced a colorful range of flip-flop designs featuring the tournament’s competing nations and aired a cheeky ad featuring veteran star Romario sending a Brazilian shoe to Diego Maradona—former star of Brazil’s fierce rivals Argentina. Bloomberg recently reported that the stock of Haviana’s parent company Alpargatas was on the rise.
While the World Cup’s official car sponsors Hyundai and Kia have run some humorous spots (I can particularly relate to this one about time-shifted viewing), Volkswagen U.S. has unofficially gotten into the act with a dynamic and funny series of online ads.
When a goal is scored, viewers of espn.com and Univision.com see a VW Golf in the colors of the scoring team put one in the back of the net. But the real treat is the branded twist given to commentator Andrés Cantor’s signature cry, "GOOOOOAL," which becomes "GOOOOOLF." Cantor also appears in a TV spot providing a colorful commentary as his son drives a VW GTI.
Hightail hasn’t invested in the World Cup to the extent of the above brands, but we definitely wanted to be part of an event that will captivate the attention of our 45 million global users. To celebrate the tournament we are showcasing a daily series of extraordinary soccer-themed photographs by Brazilian photographer Caio Vilela, as well as submissions from our users. Hightail may not be one of the official World Cup sponsors, but our campaign still highlights our passion for soccer and the amazing creations that are shared using our service.
Is it worth it? Like the winner of the World Cup, we won’t know the results until the end of the tournament on Sunday. But it’s a lot easier to get an ROI on an unofficial marketing campaign than it is if you shell out the $25-$30 million a year required to become an official FIFA partner.
The World Cup, and other events like it, offers a unique opportunity that every brand should look to take. It requires some unconventional thinking, but a shot of creativity can help you reach your goooooal.
—Mike Trigg is CMO at Hightail.