Zlatan Ibrahimovic is going to the World Cup – but with Visa, not Sweden

Visa is working with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of football's biggest personalities, in a campaign that will bring him to World Cup in Russia this summer. The work has synced with a swelling of US love for the new LA Galaxy forward and intrigue around his rumoured (and debunked) return to the Swedish national side.

The 36-year-old striker recently whipped up a media storm when he told Jimmy Kimmel Live that he wouldbe 'attending' the World Cup – the assumption being that he would be coming out of retirement to play for Sweden. Coaches confirmed this was not the case. It turned out he was destined to wear Visa colours at the tournament.

Speaking to The Drum, Chris Curtin, chief brand and innovation marketing officer at World Cup sponsor Visa, said the brand was not responsible for Zlatan's claims on Kimmel Live – nonetheless, his comments have done no harm for its campaign.

"We didn't orchestrate that," Curtin said. "Like the world we were just watching."

Working with AMV BBDO London, an agency "completely anchored in the sport and the culture of the fans", the American brand tapped into this fan curiosity in an authentic way. It playfully, and with agility, leaned on the Ibrahimovic World Cup conundrum.

The campaign, called 'Visa's Ultimate Fifa World Cup FOMO', sees the player vow to qualify for the World Cup by himself at a press conference. From there, Visa ferries him towards Russia in his own bus – atop a gilded throne. There's self awareness and humour in the first ad shot by director group, Traktor.

In it, Ibrahimovic proclaims: "A Fifa World Cup without me is not worth watching." He may believe this. And he may be correct.

FOMO ambassador

Curtin said: "Zlatan is the ultimate personification of FOMO," the main theme of the campaign. "We think he is the absolute perfect person to bring that concept to life."

Ibrahimovic is no stranger to outlandish ad campaigns either, efforts which have been well documented in The Drum. He brings a bold (and hopefully self-aware) confidence to proceedings. Since the Swede signed for LA Galaxy from Manchester United in March, he's exploded in popularity Stateside, and this will help Visa make some noise in its home market despite USA's absence from the tournament.

"He brings such charisma and colour to the games. There are so many people around the world that are rooting for him to be a part of it in some way, shape or form," said Curtin.

"He has a huge following and is a massive celebrity after just a month and a half, he has leapfrogged the normal wrap that a lot of these athletes go through."

Much of this celebrity stems from him making an instant impact on the pitch. Zlatan is not being put out to pasture in the MLS. "Right out of the gates he scored two goals, and one was remarkable," Curtin said. "It made people wonder, maybe he will come back for Sweden."

Endemic to the programming

Curtin said Visa is looking to deliver video that "doesn't feel like advertising, but feels endemic to the programming". The financial brand could be paying as much as £100m a year for its Fifa partnership so it is looking to integrate as much as possible with the proceedings.

When asked 'is the partnership worth the money, does it still have the same draw?' Curtin had a resolute answer. "These global sports properties remain the last unchallenged bastion of appointment viewing, they have the biggest audiences in the world, the events themselves stand for things that Visa stands for.

"A borderless view of the world and bringing the world together. It is unlike anything else, and for a global brand like Visa, that's why we are attracted to it. It hits every generation, every nationality and both females and males.

"It is a unique megaphone through which we can tell the Visa story and a unique platform that we can show the best of Visa as a business."

As Official Payment Services Partner of Fifa, the brand is making use of the event as "an artificial moment in time to showcase the future of payments", much like Apple and Facebook lean on Developer Conferences. At the World Cup locations it will ensure payments at 3,500 point-of-sale terminals and 1,000 mobile concessionaires. Furthermore, it will hand out 6,500 payment rings, 30,000 payment bands and commemorative contactless Visa prepaid cards to fans.

Zlatan's influencer team

Visa's Fifa partnership also includes exclusive behind-the-scenes rights denied to other partners. To get the most of this, Visa has snapped up a team of influencers from across the world. From Germany is freekickerz, joined by Japan's Kotaro Tokuda, Mexico's Pamela Allier, UK's Chris MD and Russia's Tatiana Vasilieva. They will reach audiences Ibrahimovic can't.

These influencers, while integrated into the ad campaign, will also have free rein of the stadiums to capture the vital behind the scenes moments that are becoming increasingly integral to fan engagement. Between Ibrahimovic's 31 million Instagram followers and the influencer team's footprint, Visa is expecting a lot out of its content.

To this end, Curtin explained that most of the campaign will lean on digital spend. "We have some TV in select markets, but it will be anchored in digital, partly to reach younger demographics and because we are aware that a lot of it will be consumed on multiple devices. Also a lot of people are starting to share the content."

With the company moving away from traditional marquee event advertising and towards engaging clips featuring respected footballers like the Swede, it makes sense to move into the digital space – although some brands have been reluctant to go all in due to transparency, spend, brand safety and targeting woes.

Curtin concluded: "When we thought about the World Cup being in Russia, there was obviously a massive fandom all over the world for these games. Some of these fans will be going, but a lot of them will be watching from their home country so we thought about this concept of what could Visa do, given its relationship with the event as well as being as global brand. We needed to create a bridge between these fans and the games themselves either physically or digitally."

Much of the work was developed globally but shot in the UK and is comprised of more than 20 hero and social films. Endeavor Global Marketing and Starcom Worldwide are also helping to deliver the campaign.

Visa serves as one of the World Cup’s seven top tier partners, alongside Adidas, Coca-Cola, Wanda, Gazprom, Hyundai/Kia and Qatar Airways.

The work lands just a few days after Budweiser launched its World Cup campaign, featuring drones delivering beer to fans in Russia.

Vote for the ad in The Drum's Creative Works below, and check our World Cup coverage here.

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