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Football or festive? The advertising dilemma awaiting brands around winter 2022 World Cup

With Fifa confirming that the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be played from 21 November until 18 December brands are now faced with some serious commercial decisions over which event – football or Christmas – will prove to be the biggest sales driver of their products as traditional seasonal plans are disrupted.

The decision to host a winter World Cup, designed to dodge Qatar’s blistering summer heat, kicks up a new dilemma for brands over whether to forgo a Christmas campaign to focus on football for the period, despite both events being highly significant when it comes to driving sales uplift.

As an official World Cup sponsor and iconic holiday brand Coca-Cola will perhaps be hit most hard by the timing of the tournament. Traditionally the drinks giant uses the World Cup to drive engagement around the brand during the summer key when people are hot and looking for refreshment, while its ‘Holidays Are Coming’ drive is synonymous with the Christmas period.

Rob Sellers, managing director of Grey Shopper, said Coke will have to actually question the benefit of being a sponsor in 2022. “If I was them I would be seriously looking at do we get double bubble if we go big on Christmas and the World Cup or do we think the World Cup investment will get lost in the sense that people buy Cola-Cola at Christmas anyway. If I was them I would be significantly thinking about going to FIFA and saying actually we are not going to get the value out of the World Cup investment that we originally negotiated that we would.”

The cannibalisation of the two promotional periods, could also prove a challenge for brands who might choose to sell in two promotions to retailers at the same time, although the idea of running two campaigns concurrently isn’t one Sellers imagines is a scenario that will play out given the “finite” amount of shopping media and store media available to brands.

Outside of the official sponsorship arena, brands who haven’t invested in the World Cup could benefit from a football/festive mashup in the shopping aisles. Gillette for example already runs a large number of activations around football – its ambassadors include players Neymar, Joe Hart and Lionel Messi – and leans heavily on gifting around the Christmas period.

“For someone like Gillette who hasn’t spent a lot of money on sponsoring the World Cup it might actually be a good opportunity because they can build a gifting story to stand out at that time of year – when everyone is in gifting mode – around their football activity,” added Sellers.

Another issue arising from the winter timing of Qatar is the knock-on impact it might have on commercial and broadcast revenues around the 2022-23 domestic competitions like the Premier League and La Liga, which will likely have to start sooner.

“This is most likely to affect activation budgets and be positive news for UK media owners. TV viewing tends to be bigger in the winter months due to the weather, said Antony Marco chief executive of Sports Revolution. “So the opportunity to activate around TV advertising will be much greater than during the traditional summer event when TV viewing as a whole tends to be lower.”

In the end then, brands will have to deep dive into historical sales figures around previous World Cup and Christmas activations and make the decision about which route to go down. This could prove an interesting challenge for Coca-Cola for example which has advertised around every World Cup since 1950 but last year saw little sales benefit despite ploughing millions in to the Brazil tournament.

“Ultimately this will be a business decision by brands, they will know which of Christmas or a World Cup promotion traditionally delivers more sales uplift. Maybe the solution will be a clever way to link the two,” added Joel Seymour-Hyde, vice president of strategy at sponsorship consulting group Octagon.

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