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Battle of the Brands: The World Cup Edition

Every four years, the FIFA World Cup captivates the world’s attention as we watch 32 countries vie for the ultimate prize – glory in the world’s most popular sport.

The World Cup is one day away, and if you’ve been following the run-up to the summer games, it’s clear the players aren’t the only ones preparing for a battle. With about half of the world’s population expected to watch this year’s event, it’s no surprise that brands are using the 2014 World Cup to create a stronger connection with their core audiences and to increase their market share. Two of these brands are the biggest sportswear companies in the world: adidas and Nike. In the fight to win the soccer market, the two use different strategies to differentiate themselves.

The adidas brand is sticking with its 40-year tradition of sponsoring the World Cup, which costs the company almost $70 million total for every four-year cycle. In addition to providing the World Cup match ball and sponsoring the tournament, adidas sponsors four teams that have a good shot at winning (Spain, Germany, Argentina and Colombia), and is partnering with ESPN for advertising spots during the matches.

Basically, adidas will be everywhere for the next month – and they paid for it – but the company also stresses the importance of social media in its marketing campaigns.

The adidas brazuca ball – the official World Cup match ball – has its own Twitter account (@brazuca) with more than 143,000 followers. It marks the first World Cup match ball and adidas product to have a Twitter profile, which will help the brand connect with audiences in other regions according to Michael Ehrlich, senior PR manager for soccer at adidas.

As part of the brazuca ball’s digital campaign, adidas equipped a special brazuca ball with six cameras to capture 360-degree views of some of the best soccer scenes around the world, which were showcased on the brand’s YouTube page. For adidas, giving brazuca a personality through Twitter gives people a chance to interact with the tournament’s most visible and embedded icon. To date, the video generated 7.8 million views.

The success of the World Cup campaign is crucial to helping adidas raise its goal of $2.7 billion in revenue from its soccer division. And by the looks of it, it has no plans to relinquish the sponsorship title anytime soon, as the company sealed a deal to extend its partnership with FIFA until 2030. Here’s to scoring some great ROI, adidas!

Nike, on the other hand, is living up to its well-earned “ambush marketing” name. Although Nike is not an official sponsor of the tournament, the company is sponsoring a total of 10 of the 32 finalists – including Brazil – so don’t be too surprised when you see the iconic swoosh on more than just social media.

Nike entered the soccer market in 1994 (after the World Cup came to the U.S.) and is quickly catching up to adidas in the soccer gear market. In fact, Nike’s market share steadily grew to $1.9 billion in revenue in 2013, and is expected to grow more after the World Cup.

For this year’s World Cup, Nike took advantage of digital and social media, producing various commercials to join the World Cup conversation and encouraging engagement with their audience without mentioning the tournament by its name. Its biggest success was the “Winner Stays” video.

In just seven days, the video generated more than 50 million views. The performance of this helped make the “Risk Everything” campaign the second most viewed campaign of 2014. The key to the video’s success was inspiration. Playing off the idea that every kid’s dream to play like their favorite player, Nike turned this idea into a reality without losing the company’s mission of “inspiring athletes with innovative gear.”

Just three days before the tournament, Nike took an unexpected turn in its “Risk Everything” campaign and unveiled a five-minute animated video titled “The Last Game.” For a full analysis on the video, check out this article from AdWeek.

In the end, Nike’s success can be attributed to its superior content creation and ability to maximize all available opportunities in unique ways. It uses a “content is king” approach to its marketing to create an innovative social media campaign and viral videos. While not a sponsor, I’m positive Nike will see a great ROI from its World Cup PR game.

The Big Marketing Question
The Nike and adidas World Cup battle amplified the quintessential question in marketing: Is it more effective to leverage your brand through the payment of sponsorship rights, or to ambush the event through the creation of relevant but “unofficial” communication?

At the end of the World Cup, I’m sure both brands will benefit from their associations of the event. While I have my thoughts on which brand is “winning” the World Cup marketing battle, I’d love to hear your thoughts: Nike or adidas? Share your opinion in a comment below.

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