World Cup Advertising: Louder and Longer, But Will It Last?

For this week’s Thursday Night Insight, Oliver Truman kicks off with B2B’s first World Cup-related blog post of the summer.

Well, it’s almost here. And don’t we know about it.

The 2010 Football World Cup is upon us, and everyone’s got their knickers in a twist. Cue endless speculation about who’ll be in each nation’s team. Cue furious flag waving and shows of unbridled patriotism that would otherwise cause a diplomatic incident. Cue four weeks of shouting at the television. Cue the inevitable Thursday Night Insight analysis of what this all means.

I’m sorry to go all “grumpy old man” on you here, but is it me, or does the run up to the tournament feel like it’s been over-done this time around? Like Christmas, the speculation and hype around the competition (and England’s ritual, quadrennial shaming in a penalty shootout) seems to begin earlier and earlier every time. The adverts get brasher, longer and more stomach-churningly jingoistic, and this year appears to be no exception.

I am perhaps in danger of exaggerating my ennui at the situation, however. From a cultural and marketing point of view, events like the World Cup are fascinating insights into what advertisers try to do to switch us on.

At least from a UK perspective, the theme in this year’s World Cup advertising – like Maradonna in the late 1990s – appears to involve an excess of everything. The recipe for a successful commercial, it would seem, is as follows:

  • Feature celebrities and other well-loved national figures in barrow-loads: There’s no better example than the current Carlsberg advert. Beefy Botham, Phil “The Power” Taylor, Jeff Stelling and Ranulph Feinnes are but a few of the luminaries spouting words of wisdom in what the lager brand describes as “probably the greatest team talk in the world”. Burger King are even running a promotion where the first “prize” is to “Watch the final with Jimmy Greaves” with three of your friends and a Whopper.
  • Find any way of making your product patriotic, no matter how tenuous. A play on words helps: KitKat have done this by suggesting that England fans should “cross their fingers” and hope for the best. Get it? “Cross your fingers”… Like you’d cross fingers of chocolate-covered biscuit.
  • Make it viral: Plaster the thing on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter before you put it on television. Nike did this with their global “Write the Future” campaign and 12 million (and counting) views on YouTube is testament to the interest and awareness levels that social media can generate.

    Also critical is incorporating some interactive element to the campaign – For instance, both Nike and Carlsberg encourage fans to upload films of themselves playing or giving a team talk.

  • Make it really, really long: The premiere of the campaign is the big chance to show the full, unexpurgated version of the advert. Appropriately, the musical backing to the Nike ad is Hocus Pocus by Dutch progressive rock stalwarts Focus – a genre noted for its temporal excesses.

  • Make it meta: “Self referencing”, “Post modern”, “Reflexive” – call it what you will. There must be a snarky, clever, knowing element to your campaign. In the case of the Nike ad, the premise appears to be “Look what the modern media has done to us! Our idols can be built up, only to be knocked down and crushed in an instant by a moment of misfortune on the pitch! How fickle we all are!”. Even so, we all know that marketing like this is part that very-same building up and knocking down process.

  • Don’t forget the oldies: Some brands have actively chosen to stand aside from the thrusting, testosterone-fuelled frenzy of it all, and have taken a folksier, down-to-earth approach. Think former managers Terry Venables and Graham Taylor depicted in an old people’s home, or England’s legends of 1966 flogging suits.

At its heart, all of this jostling for position comes down to achieving awareness and interest in brands during a key time in the calendar for advertising. When all around you are shouting, shouting louder, longer and with bigger laughs is central to securing a share of voice.

Of course, investment of this sort in marketing cannot come without accountability. Marketers must use research to understand the impact that advertising has had – Not just in terms of whether more beer, trainers or televisions have been sold, but also whether people’s longer term disposition to brands have been enhanced or damaged.

Pre and post-campaign studies are one way of tracking brand health, but so too is tapping into what wags in the blogosphere, in forums and on Twitter have to say (not Wives and Girlfriends, by the way – the other meaning). Mining this publicly-available seam of insight is an emerging technique in consumer markets, and the world of business-to-business could well follow.

Like a World Cup advert, I think I’ve gone on long enough, but I’ll leave you with a prediction for the tournament. We can all then come back here in a month’s time and guffaw at how wrong I was. Argentina to win it – not least because they’re my selection in the office sweepstake.

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