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Kicking the World Cup Blog Ball?

  |  June 13, 2006   |  Comments

A new attempt to connect and bond with consumers and to reinvent how sponsored content amplifies the experience.

Increasingly, brands are stepping up to participate in so-called conversations with consumers. Often, they use major events as the catalyst and context for this new form of bonding, expression, and dialogue. Blogs are often the centerpiece of such experimentation, and for good reason.

The FIFA World Cup, which just kicked off, is one such event at which, as with the recent Winter Olympics, we're seeing new attempts to connect and bond with consumers and reinvent how sponsored content wraps around or amplifies experience.

Coca-Cola, in particular, is embarking on a bold new, albeit nascent and too early to tell, World Cup blog initiative. The initiative not only pushes the envelope on consumer-generated media (CGM) and user participation in advertising but also refreshes (I couldn't resist) the deck on event marketing. (Full disclosure: Coke is one of my clients in my day job, although this initiative isn't directly part of our core work.)

Coke BlaK or Coke Flat?

In addition to its usual duties as a major event sponsor, Coke is empowering an ambitious blogging platform fortified by a network of experienced volunteer bloggers called "weallspeakfootball.com." More than 30 bloggers representing over 15 countries are now enrolled, and some of the best names in European multimedia blogging will participate. Many others are still signing up.

The heart and soul of the effort is a large "flat" in the heart of Berlin, where the bloggers can connect, engage, sleep, eat, drink (Coke products, I presume; definitely not Pepsi), practice foreign languages, scream out the window, and, of course, blog in a Wi-Fi-on-steroids environment. The image that comes to mind is one of those vibrant "everyone wants to party with everybody" youth hostels on the college Euro-trip circuit -- places that created serious competition to the Louvre in the diary book in terms of overall experience.

Olympian Foundations

Unlike most brands, Coke has the benefit of prior learning and experience leading into the World Cup event. During the Winter Olympics in February, the brand initiated a student-led blog network entitled, "Torino Conversations." It was intended to create a broader scope of global story telling around the Olympics.

"We were reaching out to journalists and communicators and communications students from future and current [Olympic] host companies about their experiences at the Olympic games," Philipp Bodzenta, director of global marketing communications, explained to me in an interview.

Results were sufficiently encouraging, Bodzenta explained, to push the blog thinking even further. With built-in partnerships with several European agencies, the site netted over 100 in-bound links, received nearly 100,000 page views a day, and snagged impressive shelf results on search engines. The student bloggers were even allowed to interview and podcast the chairman of Coca-Cola.

Early Seeds of World Cup Blog Effort

One of Coke's first key decisions for the World Cup initiative was to start with more experienced bloggers. "The Torino initiative received very positive feedback, but some of the students we enrolled had limited experience in blogging," explained Bodzenta.

The brand also built the program and platform around the concept of unity, a point clearly reflected in the name itself: weallspeakfootball.

"Our intent is to bring people of different nations together around this common experience," Bodzenta adds. "The blogging platform has the potential to break down the barriers that sometimes arise from football and soccer: fan debates, conflict, favoritism, or even hooliganism."

Berlin, he added, nicely extends this metaphor, as the "city was once divided and now has come together."

Pretty idealistic stuff here, but, then again, the blogosphere rewrites rules with such a fury you never know what's possible. And brands are always aspirational goals, right?

World Cup Reality TV?

The biggest swing variable for Coke, I think, will rest with the vloggers (define). The program has recruited some of Europe's leading vloggers, among them Gabriel McIntyre and Gabe Bauer of xolo.tv, Anil de Mello of Mobuzz.tv, and Katharina "Lyssa" Borchert of Lyssas Lounge. It's also encouraging anyone interested in participating to fill out an application form.

The deliberate focus on vlogging is a very important direction, as the blog has the potential to serve as a de facto TV station for both news and reality TV junkies looking for deeper perspective on unrivaled global event. Though I suppose there's always some danger of what I call the Tahoe Regression (i.e., CGM content sliding outside the brand's intended acceptability parameters), the entire context for weallspeakfootball feels like a reasonably safe bet.

Accepting comments around the blog posts seems to be a strong focus. And though accepting comments is rarely a friction- (or spam-) free exercise, you can't really embark on a credible event-based blogging initiative without them.

Although Bodenza insists, "This is a platform, not an advertising exercise," the truth is it's a little of both. That's just fine. I'd characterize this as blended, or nudged, CGM. What's key for marketers is keeping everything fully transparent.

Importantly, this is a promising example of a brand opportunistically exploiting what I call the ex-spot -- that moment of experience in which consumers (in this case, soccer fans) are best positioned to speak about something. Half the game in marketing is about piggybacking momentum, and Coke's blog experiment appears to be capitalizing on the "it's happening now, here in Berlin" ex-spot.

What will be interesting is how well the brand leverages the content on an ongoing basis. Will the content, for example, become the basis for future ad copy, or will it prime the pump for the next big event Coke sponsors?

"We're only scratching the surface here," Bodenza's insists.

And so progresses the never-dull -- not even for a moment -- global blogosphere. Stay tuned!

Meet Pete at Online Video Advertising Forum in New York City, June 16, 2006.


Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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