Fifa World Cup Sport Advertising

As Nike is proving, the World Cup's big winners won't necessarily be the official sponsors

By Simon Haynes |


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June 2, 2014 | 5 min read

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I’ll be honest, I’m a rugby fan. You’re more likely to find me at Twickenham than the Emirates. But there is something about the World Cup. It’s almost holy. It surpasses football code preference. It even surpasses understanding the rules. Even Australia (like me, better known for their rugby prowess) plays in the World Cup.

Simon Haynes

It is the biggest sporting event on earth, attracting more than 3.2 billion television viewers – or 46 per cent of the global population – during South Africa 2010. And that was up 8 per cent on television viewers of Germany 2006. Even on Twitter, the biggest event in December 2013 was the World Cup draw, beating out Sochi, the Ashes and #RIPMendela.

So it should be a no brainer to sponsor, right? The association should be marketing gold dust. Exposure to half the global population. Social media guaranteed. Opportunities to exclude competing brands. But event sponsorship, particularly something as sacred as the World Cup, is a tricky thing to get right.

In doing some research for this piece, I asked a few people what their favourite World Cup marketing campaign was for Brazil 2014. Admittedly, it is still early doors. Quite a few people said they hadn’t really seen anything yet. Some said they had seen one or two interesting campaigns but couldn’t remember the name of the brand. There was one response which almost everyone gave – Nike.

Nike’s Winner Stays/Risk Everything advert has already been well dissected by the media so I won’t do it here. But for those who haven’t seen it, do. It was one of the first World Cup adverts to the market in April and has been well received by critics and fans alike, attracting over 65.5m views in three weeks and over 12,500 results in YouTube (from different languages to parodies).

But Nike isn’t a sponsor of Brazil 2014. The sportswear sponsor is competitor Adidas. And the advert that everyone is referring to doesn’t actually mention the World Cup or Brazil 2014 once. It even includes Zlatan Ibranhimović, whose national team Sweden didn’t actually qualify, and he features in his Paris Saint-Germain kit – so not even the national strip. So why is this everyone’s favourite “World Cup” advert?

Every advertiser, tech provider and their dog has been talking about making the individual and the conversation central to any marketing strategy this year. Native advertising, content advertising, long-form video and digital storytelling are battling it out to have 2014 be their year. Brands that are winning have found a way to make a human connection with people – and that’s exactly what Nike has done. Kids having a kick around in the local park pretending to be their heroes. Who hasn’t done that?

They don’t need to overtly mention Brazil 2014 or the World Cup. By pulling the advert back to an experience that most people can relate to, something that they did particularly around the World Cup as children, Nike makes the connection and wins, at least in this office, the best advertising campaign of the World Cup so far.

But, as I said, it’s early doors. Brazil 2014 doesn’t officially start until 12 June and I’m sure there will be some great advertising throughout the tournament. We’ll have our UK business director, Dominic Gramatte, out on the ground in Brazil and assessing what brands are doing this World Cup. Dom’s a World Cup veteran having attended Germany 2006 and South Africa in 2010 and this time, being in the centre of the mobile and social media revolution, the advertising already feels different to him.

Personally, I’m hoping for more disruptive marketing. Customer-centric brands. Storytelling brands. Creative brands. Brands who show the individual are central to their marketing strategy. And these might not necessarily be the sponsors. Because for me, they’re the people who are really going to kick marketing goals in Brazil 2014.

Simon Haynes is UK managing director at IgnitionOne. Throughout the World Cup, IgnitionOne is running a Fantasy Football competition with a chance to win a trip to Brazil up for grabs. You can sign up for free at

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