Lets forget about Fifa’s scandals for a moment and reflect on what happened during the World Cup. Whilst we all enjoyed the battles on the field; another battle was being fiercely contested on and off the field. That battle was for higher stakes – marketing supremacy between the two biggest brands in football; Nike and Adidas. The battle between the two is significant because the 2014 World Cup was the most lucrative event ever for sportswear retailers. The event represented a big opportunity for brands to increase sales of football shirts. This battle has important lessons for local companies involved in sponsorship. The battle also demonstrates the importance of social media in driving sales and engagement with consumers.
Let’s start with some background. The two companies have a combined market share of 70% of the world football merchandise market. Adidas has a bigger share of the market with US$2.4 billion in sales per year compared to Nike’s US$1.9 billion. Adidas’ World Cup sponsorship started in 1970. They are the official designers and suppliers of all World Cup match balls. Nike’s involvement with the World Cup is more recent. They started football sponsorship in 1994 when the US hosted the World Cup.
Evidence of Adidas’ victory includes the fact that their hashtag for the World Cup #allin was mentioned 917,000 times on Twitter, and the brand commanded 55% of social media brand mentions during the World Cup, according to data from Sysomos, a social media analytics company. Adidas achieved 20% more visibility in social media as compared to Nike. As a result, Adidas sold about $2.72 billion in soccer merchandise sales, the most ever. It was estimated to sell more than 8 million jerseys, compared to 6.5 million for the last World Cup. More than 2 million Germany jerseys were sold, over 30 percent more than in the previous record year of 2006. Argentina, Mexico and Colombia jerseys also are sold well, recording more than a million sales apiece.
Adidas’s task was made easy by some lucky breaks they got on the field. The two teams that competed in the final; Germany and Argentina’ wore Adidas uniforms (during the tournament, Adidas sponsored 9 teams that wore Adidas jerseys against Nike’s 10). Players sponsored by Adidas also delivered for the brand. Leo Messi of Argentina, the focal point of Adidas global marketing efforts, was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player. On the other hand, Nike’s brand ambassador Christiano Ronaldo did not do very well and his country Portugal did not advance far into the competition.James Rodriguez of Adidas-sponsored Colombia won the Golden Boot, as the tournament’s top goal scorer. Another Adidas player, Germany’s Manuel Neuer won the Golden Gloves as the top goalkeeper. The Adidas adizero f50 was the highest scoring boot of the tournament, with 44 goals. Whilst it’s clear that Adidas got lucky on the pitch, they would not have capitalised on that luck if they hadn’t prepared well before-hand.
Let’s take a closer look at what and what we can learn from it.
Early & Meaningful Consumer involvement. The first thing Adidas did right was to involve consumers from early on. A social media campaign was run (starting in September 2012) in which consumers voted to name the World Cup soccer ball. The name “Brazuca” was chosen, and it’s important to note that over 1 million Brazilians voted in the campaign. This created early connection between the brand and consumers and cleverly leveraged Adidas’ status as the official ball suppliers. Adidas also created a Twitter account for the ball. That account has almost 3.5 million followers!
It’s About the Fans! Sponsorship only gives brands space within an area its customers are passionate about. Being a sponsor does not give a brand permission to take over the event and interrupt fans’ enjoyment. Adidas shared content that reflected fans’ passions for their teams and players and they bet right that consumers would share that content. For example, they shared live and packaged content at key moments within games.
For instance, they had relevant content that was shared immediately after a goal was scored or when a penalty was awarded. Fans following the match on social media were therefore kept informed of events on the pitch through branded content.
All fans, whether they were watching the match or not could also share Adidas content and celebrate key match moments with their friends.
It Takes Effort & Planning Adidas spent over a year planning their World Cup Social media campaign. They brainstormed all possible scenarios that were likely to happen in each match and had content ready to publish for each key moment. By December last year, they had an hour-by-hour calendar of the full 32-day tournament, anticipating what might happen and developing content around it. This is in contrast to what we often see on the local market. Local brands tend not to plan leveraging strategies beforehand and often resort to ad hoc strategies. This limits the results they can achieve from sponsorship.
Take a Long Term View Whilst Adidas’ short term sales goals were achieved, they are also focused on long term benefits of the campaign. They have been able to expand their social media influence. As a result, they have a platform to continue conversations with their customers beyond the life of the World Cup. This will reduce the cost of communicating with their customers.
This campaign is another example (if one was needed) that social media is not just a fad, it’s a great way to cost effectively connect with customers. Sponsorship provides a good platform to achieve this. One big advantage of social media is that brands can experiment at a lower cost than other media channels. We hope this example will inspire Malawian brands to start looking at social media seriously and incorporating it in their marketing plans.
- How Adidas Prepared its World Cup Tweets, Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/how-adidas-prepares-its-world-cup-tweets-2014-7
- How Adidas Owned Moments At The World Cup, Twitter, https://blog.twitter.com/2014/how-adidas-owned-the-moment-at-the-fifa-world-cup-2014
- Adidas Secures Clean Sweep at World Cup, Adidas Group, http://www.adidas-group.com/en/media/news-archive/press-releases/2014/adidas-secures-clean-sweep-2014-fifa-world-cup/