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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Global marketers such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike are describing the 2010 FIFA World Cup as a larger event than even the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That scale -- combined with the intensity of interest in the sport, the national pride of fans and the fact that it's the first major global sporting event ever held on the African continent -- figures to sell a lot of sneakers and soft drinks.
"It's the No. 1 event in all of sports," Trevor Edwards, Nike's VP-brand and category management, recently told the company's investors, adding that the World Cup will be viewed by "half the world's population."
And it's why FIFA sponsors -- a group to which Nike doesn't belong, by the way -- spend up to $40 million for the privilege.
Coke, for instance, says its campaign for the World Cup will be the largest in the company's history, as well as its most integrated. The company's entire platform is built around the ebullient goal celebrations of soccer players, which Coke easily links to its long-held "Open Happiness" tagline.
The marketer's TV commercials, from Argentinean agency Santo, chronicle the history of goal-scoring celebrations. Coke has a 120-country, 17-language deal with YouTube to encourage viewers to film and post their own goal dances, and it even has persuaded FIFA to condone the awarding of a fan-voted trophy for the player with the best goal dance. There's also a celebration-themed anthem from Somali-born artist K'naan that is already charting on iTunes, and celebration-themed packaging and retail work, among other things.
"Consumers today are so connected and brands are talking to them in so many ways," said Emmanuel Seuge, Coke's group director of worldwide sports and entertainment marketing. "We need to be super-focused and super, super clear if we expect to break through the clutter."
Mr. Seuge said the roots of Coke's one-idea approach stemmed from a meeting between 13 agencies and Coke executives in South Africa in 2008, when executives presented the celebration concept and said they were only interested in approaches that utilized it.
That's a distinct shift for major sports sponsors, who traditionally assemble myriad programs around an event that sometimes have little apparent thematic connection to each other beyond the advertisers' logo.
Other marketers attempting to link their activities under a big, overarching idea this year include Visa and Anheuser-Busch InBev. Visa, a top-level FIFA partner, is conducting all of its activities under the same "Go" platform it uses for the Olympics.
Its World Cup plans include a Facebook* app that lets fans monitor the match schedule, track scores and standings, chat with each other and even connect with the FIFA store. The "Visa Match Planner" app is part of a campaign that also includes TV, out of home, retail and social-media facets, all under the "Go" umbrella.
A-B, for its part, is operating off a platform called "Budweiser United," which emphasizes the brand's general ubiquity in sports while nodding to its new owners' even more global aspirations. One key component of A-B's effort, which also includes extensive advertising, is a digital reality show that will feature fans from all 32 participating countries living together in a "Big Brother"-style house.
Nike is rolling out a new campaign called "Write the Future," which it describes as an evolution of its "Next Level" soccer campaign that focused on improving as an athlete and getting to an even higher level. Mr. Edwards said that the World Cup represents the ultimate level, and that all of Nike's work around the event will revolve around that idea.
The campaign includes an epic TV spot, from Wieden & Kennedy, that Mr. Edwards said is one of the best the company has ever produced, as well as a digital and mobile app called NikeFootball Plus, which features some of the best players in the world offering tips on tricks and training to get better. Nike isn't an official FIFA sponsor, but it sponsors several top teams and players, which gets it onto the field.
Some other major sponsors, such as Adidas and McDonald's, are taking a somewhat more piecemeal approach. Adidas has an overarching theme called "Every Team Needs" that it's emphasizing heavily in digital work featuring soccer stars describing different types of players, but it's also investing heavily in new ball, footwear and apparel launches tied to the tournament that are under separate platforms.
McDonald's, meanwhile, is operating a dizzying number of programs on the ground, including one sweepstakes that lets kids escort their favorite players onto the field, and another that gives South African women the chance to be part of an on-field dance routine. There's also a McCafé for the on-site press and a handful of digital programs meant to encourage fan interaction.
But, unlike Coke, McDonald's is deploying its activities at the games differently in each market.
Dean Barrett, McDonald's senior VP-global marketing, said the company's focus on utilizing the sponsorship in its stores trumps any desire to take a more homogeneous approach. "There are always some things that we can do globally, and digital is something that can be global," he said. "But the reality is that the World Cup is team-driven and local-market driven."
On the lookout for ambush
The World Cup is the undisputed pinnacle of two things: One is soccer, and the other is ambush marketing.
"There's just so much passion behind soccer and such a large audience," explains Jim Andrews, a senior VP at sponsorship firm IEG. "It's irresistible."
He's not kidding: According to FIFA, the 2006 World Cup, held in Germany, featured 3,300 "rights violations" in 84 countries, a major concern given the eight-figure amounts that FIFA's six top-level partners and seven World Cup sponsors pay to officially align with the world's biggest sporting event.
Who could forget, for instance, the 2006 stunt pulled by Dutch brewer Bavaria, which handed out thousands of pairs of Bavaria-branded bright-orange lederhosen to fans of the Dutch national team? FIFA, defending exclusive beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch's turf, ordered fans to remove the lederhosen before entering the stadium, and many went on to cheer for their team in their underwear.
The story naturally generated global PR buzz for Bavaria and also cast A-B as a villain.
After the episode, FIFA now bans "commercially-branded clothing or accessories which are mass-distributed prior to the matches by commercial entities clearly targeting FIFA World Cup fans."
The 2006 tournament also saw its official sponsor airline, Emirates, ambushed by hometown airline Lufthansa, which painted soccer-ball patterns on the nose of its planes, leaving many travelers with the false impression that the German carrier was a World Cup backer.
This year, however, FIFA's lawyers struck quickly to prevent South African airline Kulula from touting itself as the "Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What."
The airline's Twitter feed didn't take to the news kindly: "Oh dear, letter from FIFA's lawyers says we broke their trademark of the use of 'South Africa' and think our non-WC ad was about soccer. ... Even the use of our national flag was an issue. It's absolutely outrageous. We've signed over our country, its symbols and our economy to one [FIFA President] Sepp Blatter. Nasty."
Not all cases are clear-cut ambushes of official sponsors. While Adidas is the games' official licensee, it has to contend with rivals such as Nike and Puma that sponsor many of the individual teams and players, and run soccer ads (that don't specifically allude to the World Cup) in heavy rotation, all the while telling investors how crucial the World Cup and its massive is to their business plans.
"As the official partner of the 2010 FIFA World Cup... Adidas will be the most visible brand in South Africa and is extremely well positioned to maintain its footing as the world's most popular soccer brand," a spokeswoman said in a statement.