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Will Social Media Advertisers Win the World Cup?

As FIFA World Cup 2022 opening matches got underway in Qatar amid multiple controversies, soccer’s world governing body issued a press release announcing it had sold out of all of the tournament’s sponsorship packages, with YouTube, Visit Las Vegas and Fine Hygienic Holding—a Middle Eastern cleaning and disinfecting products maker—becoming the last remaining Regional Supporters.


Given media reports that multiple sponsors were expressing disappointment in the wake of the myriad issues surrounding the event, including the last-minute ban on stadium beer sales, and—according to an unnamed sponsor quoted by The Guardian, “felt let down by FIFA in lots of ways,” it would not be surprising if most brand partners of what is historically one of the best sponsorship platforms in the world are just hoping for a draw in terms of their participation in this year’s event.


In a blog post just over a year ago, we noted the trend of brands staying away from official sponsorships in order to “distance themselves from either missteps by the sponsored organization or controversial cosponsors they would prefer not to associate with.” Thus it is worth asking the question whether brands that are associating with this year’s World Cup without being an official partner will wind up in a better position than FIFA’s Partners, Sponsors and Regional Supporters.


This group includes the multitude of marketers who have purchased time during live broadcasts of matches during the next four weeks, in addition to the volumes of highlight shows and other shoulder programming that will reach billions of viewers in total.


Many of those advertisers will run their standard creative and count the eyeballs that are exposed to it. Others will go a big step further and take the opportunity to develop contextual ads that use soccer culture, imagery, history, personalities, etc. to forge a connection in consumers’ minds between themselves and the world’s most popular sport.


But perhaps the biggest winners will be the brands that take things to the next level and interact with soccer fans through social media tie-ups. With many sponsors and advertisers touting their “for the fans” positioning, interactive engagement with social media users can be the most relevant way to demonstrate that interest to millions of fans throughout the world.


For example, marketers such as Peacock, Chevrolet, Hublot and Adidas are taking advantage of Snapchat’s AR-powered tools and other content aimed at soccer fans.


According to Adweek, streaming platform Peacock has begun a video takeover campaign on Snapchat, along with a First Lens campaign, “meaning that its lens is the first camera ad experience a Snapchatter sees in Lens Carousel on a given day.”


Peacock’s lens “will enable Snapchatters to digitally paint their cheeks with the flags of any of the 32 countries participating in the World Cup and, when the user opens their mouth, audio of the iconic goal call by announcer Andrés Cantor will be joined by animated text and confetti, continuing as long as the user’s mouth remains open.


Chevrolet will debut a First Lens campaign on Black Friday in support of its Silverado truck model, Hublot is offering an AR lens that lets users digitally try on its co-branded World Cup watch with bands in the colors of their favorite countries.


Snap also is launching its new “live garment transfer” technology with Adidas to let people virtually try on jerseys to see how they look and move based on their body type.


Those brands are joined by others who are experimenting with new tech to connect with fans through Web3 integrations in the metaverse, through NFTs and other applications. All are seeking to make an impact beyond traditional marketing with soccer fans who are, according to a Kantar study of 29,500 soccer fans across 31 major global markets, more likely than the global average to seek out novel experiences, make friends via the internet and buy the latest tech. They also tended to have higher incomes, comprise a slightly younger audience, identify as early adopters and use streaming TV or video.


And no doubt many of the brands involved in those efforts, both official World Cup partners and those that are not, also see digital media options as a way to hedge their bets against relying on official alignments with unpopular organizers and governing bodies.

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