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It’s an Ambush at the 2018 World Cup!

It’s an Ambush at the 2018 World Cup!

4 Minute Read

·         Ambush marketing at this year’s World Cup extends beyond a 30 second spot and brands are getting creative when advertising at the games this year.

·         Non-Sponsors are using FIFA soccer players as brand ambassadors, leveraging the host country and soccer culture in their campaigns.

·         Ambush marketing is effective in generating PR and buzz, but only official sponsors are able to develop a true relationship with the property.


With the World Cup bringing in over 3 billion viewers as one of the highest watched events in the world, brands are getting creative when marketing their products to capitalize on this global event. While official sponsors have made the significant upfront investment to secure their place in the action, many non-sponsor brands use “ambush marketing” (the practice by which a rival company attempts to associate its products with an event that already has official sponsors) — tapping into the attention surrounding the event without actually becoming a sponsor — to generate PR buzz and social chatter. At the 2014 World Cup, 6 out of 12 brands analyzed that created the most “social buzz” were non-sponsors which showcases the effectiveness of a strategic ambush (Way to Blue). Brands are not just simply creating 30 second spots – they often look to the rich iconography of the host country, soccer specific imagery and use of athletes to build an association with the most popular sporting event in the world. MKTG takes a look at non-sponsors who have uniquely marketed around the World Cup without being an official partner.

Types of ambush marketing seen this year:

#1 Using FIFA soccer players as brand ambassadors

With non-sponsors using elite players that belong to the league in campaigns that coincide with the World Cup, consumers are able to make the connection. Wish, the discounted online shopping platforms, launched their first global campaign #TimeOnYourHands. Wish partnered with 7 elite soccer stars (Neymar Jr., Paul Pogba, Gareth Bale, Gigi Buffon, Robin van Persie, Tim Howard, and Claudio Bravo) in an effort to build brand prestige through a humorous campaign launched on all platforms. Not all players in the campaign qualified at this year’s World Cup, but nonetheless have a large following. Wish saw this opportunity to ambush by using them as brand ambassadors for the brand.

Each athlete also had their individual spot which was shared on their social media and created further conversation with fans. Wish complemented the creative with a global media buy which allowed the growing e-commerce brand to gain major awareness.

#2 Brands are leveraging the host country

Carlsberg is the official beer sponsor of Denmark, a team that qualified for this years World Cup, which was held in Russia, a country known known for the caviar delicacy. Carlsberg leveraged the Russian caviar culture in their advertising in order to draw a connection with the host country. Carlsberg handed out the beer-caviar in Denmark as part of an activation to draw the connection closer and bring an element of the games back to Danish fans.

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#3 Brands are using soccer culture

Without directly referencing FIFA or the World Cup, brands use soccer as content in their marketing. Apple launched a YouTube series titled “How to Shoot Soccer on an iPhone X” which showcases the iPhone X as the ideal device to film the sport. The campaign specifically highlights photography/videography elements that are most likely to be used when filming soccer – such as backlighting.

When players walk onto the field, in ads and in real life, we see backlighting used on the players to create the dramatic effect. Apple wanted their consumers, which many are soccer fans, to re-create these moments they see online by using their product.

#4 Target consumers on-site through social media and trending technology

Russia faced Saudi Arabia this year at the World Cup - two countries who are infamous for not supporting the LGBTQ community. During the game, Swedish underwear brand, Bjorn Borg, saw an opportunity to use augmented reality to promote their Marriage Unblocked Campaign ("a digital platform that enables anyone to walk down the aisle digitally, store their encrypted vows forever and get a certificate of their digital marriage"). They targeted fans through social media and encouraged them to use their Augmented Reality to display an image supporting LGBTQ love.

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By using a popular piece of technology and targeting fans during the game, a non-sponsor was able to take control of an in-stadium asset, something only official sponsors would only have access to.

These ambush tactics work in the short term to generate PR and create buzz, but are they truly associating with the property? Brands, like McDonald’s, who have been partners with FIFA and the games for decades, are able to stamp their name within the league, ultimately trumping non-sponsor ambush tactics. This is due to official sponsors having access to key assets such as:

1.       FIFA IP: Using FIFA branding in all marketing communications before and during the tournament.

2.       Marketing opportunities using tickets and hospitality offers at the event.

3.       Exclusivity within the product category

4.       Access to sponsorship tools, such as LED advertising boards.

Only through official sponsorship can brands have access to these key assets and develop a relationship with the property and fans overtime.

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