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The big picture: Can brands score a goal at the Football World Cup?

FIFA's stringent rules about association and partnership do not allow much space for most brands to market themselves. But the select few who got through are leaving no stone unturned to leverage the opportunity as the world’s most watched sporting extravaganza is all set to roll

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | June 12, 2014


Finally, it is here – starting this evening! The Football World Cup is the world's biggest sporting event. With a billion-plus people glued to their television sets watching the teams slog it out on the field, it is hardly a surprise that brands would choose to ride the FIFA bandwagon. What exactly works for brands to make a deal once in four years? What are the things being planned for Brazil's one month in the global spotlight?

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

"The marketing opportunities that FIFA offers are tremendous. It is one of the largest sporting properties of the world. It lasts for over a month and every country watches it. As a brand, you want to be part of something as big as that," explained Lloyd Mathias, Chief Marketing Officer of HP India.

The huge viewership spread across the globe, coupled with a month-long primetime viewing, makes it a wonderful opportunity. This has been recognised by most brands and media specialists in India as well.

Ajit Gurnani Ajit Gurnani

Ajit Gurnani, Head-West of media planning agency MEC, said, "On a global scale, the kind of interest the World Cup creates is unparalleled. Brands want to utilise this opportunity which comes only once in four years. International brands which have an association with FIFA are leveraging the opportunity with more than just advertisements. In a window of 30 days the build-up has been tremendous."

Rameet Arora Rameet Arora

Brand marketers also feel the same way. Rameet Arora, Senior Director, Marketing, Communications & Menu Management, Hardcastle Restaurants (the company that operates and manages McDonald’s restaurants in West & South India), said, "Soccer in India has been gaining attention and momentum for the last decade and has made its way up to being the 2nd most watched sport in the country. A research commissioned by FIFA showcases an increase in the number of Indians 'interested' or 'very interested' in football from 26 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2013. India is also scheduled to host the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, which is slated to be one of the biggest sporting events to be held in the country. Our association with the FIFA World Cup will help us in building brand values and customer engagement with the millennial generation in India as we share in the excitement of the biggest sporting event in the world."

Advantages of the Sponsorship Structure

It is evident that brands will take up an opportunity that gives them huge eyeballs. But what exactly do the brands stand to gain in such a scenario?

Mallikarjun Das Mallikarjun Das

According to Mallikarjun Das, CEO, Starcom Media Vest Group (India), "there are two or three ways a brand can come out victorious from an association with FIFA. Firstly, it helps you to connect to an upscale audience. In our country, other than the North-East, West Bengal and Kerala, football is a Sec A sport. So your target audience become the higher section of society. Secondly, and this is especially true for a national brand – it can up the imagery for the brand. By partnering with the game, you can have a more international approach. Thirdly, since it is still growing in the country, we can safely say that the youth make the largest viewership. Through an association with FIFA, a brand can stand to connect with the youth."

Vinit Karnik Vinit Karnik

Vinit Karnik, Head of Sports and Live Practice, GroupM, pointed out, "One needs to understand the way it is structured from the sponsorship part. This year the partners and sponsors like Coke, Castrol, etc., are activating the local markets depending on the entitlements they have. Those who aren't partners will have to buy sponsorship on air; they will be allowed to only show ads on TV during matches."

Unlike IPL or even other international sporting events, FIFA has strict guidelines about brands using the FIFA and World Cup logo while advertising. Accordingly, only a partner, sponsor or supporter can use the logo. The commercial strategy that FIFA follows is based on a three-tier sponsorship structure. The first or primary tier consists of FIFA partners; the second tier is that of FIFA World Cup sponsors; while the third tier comprises National Supporters for each FIFA event. The benefit of such a structure is that it allows each brand to distinguish themselves from competing brands in their product category.

While the FIFA Partners have the highest level of association with all FIFA events, the World Cup Sponsors have rights to brand association, the use of selected marketing assets and media exposure, as well as ticketing and hospitality offers for the events. The national supporters are allowed to promote an association in the domestic market. This third tier is, however, limited to the host country. What Indian brands stand to win then is mostly through broadcast partnerships.

Market Response

GroupM’s Karnik further says that he has already noticed a lot of activity and conversation about how to leverage FIFA. Most consumers are, however, unsure of how to use the opportunity. Mathias agreed with Karnik on this. According to him, the build-up was quite slow at first but has picked up in the last few days.

With an increase in interest in FIFA, brands have also started to look at sports other than cricket as possible marketing platforms. "One of the questions brands ask is that what should be my non-cricket sporting strategy? A hell of a lot of money is spent on cricket. For football, since it is still picking up in India, it is possible to build brand associations right now. The brands which get associated now will benefit in the long run," pointed out SMG’s Das.

The interest in football has increased in recent times. Social media is proof of this: there are more than 5 million ‘likes’ on FIFA and football related pages. According to media planners, this conversation will only increase during the FIFA period. And while FIFA itself is big, it will also have a 'halo-effect' on other sporting extravaganzas such as the Indian Soccer League.

According to Das, "while FIFA in India is not as big as IPL from media spends point of view, the viewership will be at least two times higher than that of 2010. But we must also remember that IPL is a ‘reach event’, meant to reach a larger section of the Indian audience. On the other hand, FIFA is about building associations and reaching a specific section of the society as the target audience."

A good reality check comes from Sony Six. The channel which won the broadcast rights for FIFA 2014 also holds the television rights for IPL. Prasana Krishnan, Business Head, Sony Six, pointed out that though IPL is still bigger than FIFA in India, there is a simple reason behind it. "We have to remember that the volume of inventory is low in football. While for IPL, you have chances to advertise after, say, every over or every wicket, etc., in football you can only advertise during one break. FIFA World Cup would have less than one-fourth of the time for ads compared with an IPL. But even then we have noticed a higher level of interest. We already have six broadcast sponsors and will be booked out by the first match," he said.

What Brands Are Doing

Other than just tying up with the event or with the broadcast partners around the world, most associates and sponsors are taking it to the grassroot. The plans to market their products and football have a lot to do with shared brand ideologies, according to some.

Coca-Cola believes that football as a passion unites people. And since they noticed a synergy with the brand philosophy, Coke created campaigns across the globe. Localised adaptations of global campaigns were launched. Digital and social media played a big role in this juncture as Coca-Cola India trended on Twitter on World Cup Digital Day (April 2).

Debabrata Mukherjee Debabrata Mukherjee

Coca-Cola India's Vice-President, Marketing & Commercial, Debabrata Mukherjee, explained, "We believe that the world is interconnected. Moreover, Coke and FIFA are both global brands. So our approach is also a holistic one. We followed our digital activity with our Indian leg of the happiness flag where we received around 13,200 submissions from people. This was second only to Brazil! Our World Cup trophy tour in Kolkata gave 13,000 people a chance to see and take a photograph with the actual World Cup trophy."

Coke also has on-field presence where the games would be played in Brazil. ‘Coke Screens’ are as much a part of the FIFA heritage as any other. Yet, bridging the gap between the product and the branding, Coke has brought out special edition Brazil cans in the market. There is also an internet campaign where people can win a VIP trip to Brazil.

Meanwhile, sporting major PUMA have unveiled their exclusive kits for eight sponsored teams – Italy, Switzerland, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Chile and Uruguay – who are all strong contenders in Brazil this summer. The home and away kit for each team is now available in select PUMA stores in the country. PUMA, though neither a FIFA sponsor nor a broadcast sponsor, has decided to use the football frenzy to launch new products. PUMA has an exclusive football boot - the evoPWER 1 FG - that is available in India for football lovers. A global version of the evoPOWER boot called 'Tricks' has been unveiled exclusively for the World Cup. Players such as Mario Balotelli, Cesc Fàbregas, Sergio Agüero, Marco Reus, Radamel Falcao, Olivier Giroud, Gianluigi Buffon, Yaya Touré and many more will be spotted on the field in these funky football studs.

Rajeev Mehta Rajeev Mehta

"The World Cup offers multiple opportunities to connect with consumers. PUMA has eight teams at the World Cup including strong contenders like Italy, Ghana and Uruguay. With so many fans watching the best players in the world playing in PUMA jerseys and footwear, we see a strong marketing connect using FIFA as a platform. To keep the football buzz going, PUMA has associated with pubs and bars across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Whenever a PUMA sponsored team wins during the Cup, PUMA will buy a round of drinks for everyone to celebrate," pointed out Rajeev Mehta, MD, PUMA India.

McDonald's has been associated with FIFA for over 25 years. In 2002, the brand introduced the player escort programme around the world, where one young soccer enthusiast would get the chance to escort a player into the field. Bringing it to India this year, McDonald's launched various TVCs and used local store marketing initiatives to create awareness about it. The brand will also extend its global TVC 'Gol' to the digital medium through a mobile app by the same name. Users can create and share their trick shot goals with friends on this augmented reality platform.

"Additionally, as part of the FIFA excitement across the globe, for the first time in McDonald’s history we changed the design of the iconic red French Fry box. A broad selection of artists from the globe was invited to create never seen before new designs that capture the essence of people’s love for the game of football. This unique collaboration is being shared with the world, touching millions of McDonald’s customers and football fans alike across cultures in 118 countries, including India," said Arora.

Not just brands but TV channel Sony Six is also doing its part to make the games popular. The marketing plan for FIFA is far bigger than any other sporting event for the channel, barring IPL. They have already designed a 360- degree campaign and are using the entire Sony network strength of 30 channels to air the World Cup TVCs. Radio stations in 50 cities as well as events in 10-12 cities have also been planned. The channel has created maze like structures and contests for their followers to win prizes. They have also tied up with local pub chains who will telecast the matches live, thereby creating it into something like a football hangout zone.

The Ambush Marketing Factor

Since any sporting event of this scale will have brands queuing up, it becomes all the more important to keep freeloaders at bay. FIFA's policy of allowing only associate and sponsor brands to use the platform is a welcome step. But will it be enough?

Prasana Krishnan Prasana Krishnan

Said Sony Six's Krishnan, "If a brand is a sponsor of the World Cup, it does not mean that competing brands cannot buy airtime by becoming broadcast partners for the game's telecasts. However, brands have to be sure to mention that they are the broadcast or television partners and not FIFA World Cup sponsors."

MEC's Gurnani feel that though ambush marketing will be dealt with strongly by FIFA, there is a chance that brands will still try their luck in the primetime window. Though larger brands are likely to stay away from using ambush marketing techniques, local or smaller brands may. Out-of-home and social media consumption cannot be checked as easily and that is where brands may get away with ambush advertising."

"Globally, FIFA's control over the marketing exercise is far tighter. Though ambush marketing is discouraged and prevented, nothing stops brands from using a general football theme to market. They just have to be careful to not use the FIFA or World Cup logo and any other collateral," pointed out Mathias.

FIFA and the World Cup are going to be bigger than ever before. And brands surely cannot afford to miss the bus as far as marketing opportunities are concerned. They just have to be smart to “dribble” around and get their word out. After all, the world is going to watch.

Also read: Showreel: Best of FIFA World Cup 2014 ads

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