Who will win the marketing world cup?

The 2018 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Russia with 32 national teams fighting to win the coveted gold trophy. It is also the ultimate test of global sporting brands and their content strategies. In a tournament dominated by heavyweight spenders we believe there could be some surprise winners on – and off – the pitch.

How do you win football’s World Cup and maximise your impact if you are a debutant brand with a challenging budget and a relatively small number of fans? The answer is to ignore the big ticket sponsorship packages and use compelling content to drive a “tactical” digital strategy, according to Kenny McCallum, New Balance’s general manager of global football.

For New Balance, which only started making football kit three years ago, it is a creative and bold decision that could pay handsome dividends. More than 3.2 billion people watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, according to FIFA and Kantar Media, with one billion fans tuning in to watch the final alone. Some 280 million people watched online or on a mobile device as fans increasingly adopt new technology for sports content.

That’s a huge number of eyeballs – and potential customers – gazing at logos on boots and shirts.

Marketing mission… impossible?

McCallum’s mission is to score a marketing goal and win market share from the two big spenders – Adidas, a title sponsor, and Nike. It really is a case of little and large. Adidas, for example, sponsors 12 teams, including the 2014 champions Germany, and a host of global stars from Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who is often touted as the best player in the world, to France’s Paul Pogba, the possible break-out star of the show. New Balance sponsors, wait for it … Costa Rica and Panama, plus five players unlikely to send teenagers out on a flurry of shirt buying.

Both the mega-brands have massive advertising budgets, ubiquitous logos and a presence large enough to ensure their names will be linked to the spectacle of the event itself as well as the performance of the world’s pre-eminent players. Watch the World Cup and you will watch Adidas and Nike. It’s a win-win. An Adidas ad: [Link]

New Balance, in contrast, can score points when it comes to exploiting new media by creating a variety of like-minded communities – tribes that often enjoy their point of difference. So don’t expect grandiose TV ads featuring New Balance stars; wait for quirky and thought-provoking videos that spread through social media, popping into in-boxes and on to the next like or follower.

It makes sense. In the three years since it started producing football apparel, New Balance has significantly boosted its audience across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and is now the fourth biggest football brand on those platforms after Nike, Adidas and Puma.

Kit and content – Russian inspiration

To launch the campaign, New Balance launched a limited edition Russian-inspired football and lifestyle collection called Otruska, which included two new boots, the Furon 4.0 and the Tekela, and released two films depicting two sides of the Russian spirit, or dusha – beauty and power. Watch the film: [Link]

With its Russian credentials on show, the brand has begun its two-pronged world cup campaign – it is providing kit for a small selection of participating teams and launching a docu-series called ‘Make it to Moscow’, which explores the football culture of Russia. The series offers both short- and longer-form video to suit relevant platforms.

The four-part documentary series was produced with creative agency Zak and stars three YouTubers – Theo Baker, Charlie Morley and Jemel One Five – and a Russian Vlogger Alex Zhuravlev, who tour four of the host cities, Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Kazan. Dressed in the Otruska product line, they embark on a series of interviews and four-a-side games with local teams before clashing in a Moscow final.

Hosted on global media network and other social channels, the content will be pushed to New Balance’s audience. A new episode will be rolled out each week during the tournament. The team-orientated theme is no accident as the target audience is the team player who is, apparently, a digital and social animal.

“Competing with Adidas and Nike is a perennial challenge, but there are certainly areas and opportunities that you can exploit when you’re not paying the official sponsor ticket price or investing heavily above-the-line,” McCallum told Marketing Week. “The competition can get carried away with the ‘hype aspect’ of the tournament. You see dollars tied up in official sponsorship, but we’re looking to engage in a real sense and uncover the cultural sense of football within Russia.”

Umbro – the national anthem

Another underdog trying to fight above its weight in the World Cup is Umbro, which has come up with a novel and imaginative way to make a noise… by writing a football anthem for the England team, which this year is lacking an official version. Like New Balance, the brand is looking at nimble ways to fill gaps left by Adidas and Nike.

The brand teamed up with musician Brett Domino – an alter-ego of comedian Rob J Madin – to create a video that gives top tips on how to write a hit football song and ends with an unofficial England anthem, which might just go viral. Watch the video: [Link]

It was a challenging task, however, as Umbro is not allowed to mention the tournament because it’s not a World Cup sponsor. Like any underdog, Domino had to be crafty – any mention of the event or company were beeped out as if they were swear words. But who said winning the marketing World Cup – especially if you one of the long shots – was about playing by the rules?

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