How the World Cup Became a Mobile-First Marketing Event

In previous columns I have looked at the wider role of mobile for marketing in China. However, more specific activities can have a greater impact when tailored around events such as the World Cup.

During the tournament, American player Tim Howard became a new hero in the U.S., while the likes of Neymar and Messi used social media to communicate with fans. These players were the focus of intense interest from the world’s media and were also the faces of global marketing campaigns. In China, these players were the subject of debate and discussion throughout the tournament.

Here, Yongzhi Wang, deputy editor-in-chief at Tencent, shares his insight into some of the strategies used by brands during the World Cup tournament and discusses what lessons can be learnt going forward.

1. Tournament Marketing Starts Even Earlier Than You Think

Many brands began planning for the World Cup incredibly early, says Wang. In some cases, as far ahead as a year before the event commenced. Even though China’s national team did not make the finals, this did not dampen the enthusiasm for the tournament in China. It did mean, however, that many campaigns were dependent on endorsements from international stars rather than from players on the national Chinese team.

“From an editorial perspective, this meant that we had to put in place ways to increase the profile of all the teams that were involved,” says Wang.

While Messi and Neymar were recognizable names before the World Cup, there were a number of other potential stars the Chinese audience wanted to know better.

“We sent editorial and video teams across Europe and South America to interview those players and create more interest within the wider audience,” says Wang.

“For the marketing teams, this meant more opportunities to collaborate around activities through sponsorship. We saw a big upsurge of interest in Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich’s goalkeeper, and Wayne Rooney from Manchester United – stars in their own rights that people wanted to learn more about. Neuer in particular was one of the rising stars for the global audience, as he went all the way to the final.”

2. Segmenting Your Audience Can Be More Inclusive

Marketing professionals often segment their audiences in order to target them more effectively. After all, while the product you offer might be suitable for a range of audiences, not everyone responds in the same way, says Wang.

“Our editorial strategy took the same approach in order to maximize the potential audience beyond those who were ‘soccer super-fans.'”

Wang identifies four target markets for content around the World Cup:

Dedicated Soccer Fans: This group would watch most or all of the games played, as well as discussing them within their peer groups on social networks. They would take a strong interest in the decisions made during the tournament, as well as getting into debates on what they watched both during and after matches.

Interested Fans: The members of this group would not watch everything, but got involved as much as they could. Roundups of action and highlights were very important to this group.

Passersby: This group includes those who wanted to get involved in discussions around the event, but didn’t watch the games themselves. Gossip and drama were the most important things for this audience, while humor was also important in retaining viewers.

Glamorous Backgrounders: This was a large audience that wanted to get the human interest and people side of the game. Members of this group included more women than men, and they wanted more storytelling around the personalities involved.

“Looking at these audiences, we could see there were very different editorial needs that had to be met,” says Wang.

“For the brand marketers that we work with, this helped them in their own audience profiling and targeting as they could work with us on the channels involved. This included looking at the wives and girlfriends of the footballers in order to build out their stories and create a series that would appeal to a non-soccer audience, too.”

This provided a strong opportunity for brands that wanted to differentiate themselves and their activities, while still making the most of the World Cup investment.

3. Mobile Content and Marketing Are Crucial

Mobile content and marketing were crucial to people enjoying the tournament.

“Due to when the games were taking place, mobile access was important to how people in China could experience a lot of the games that were taking place during the tournament,” says Wang.

Research by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) ahead of the event showed a large percentage of the potential audience for the World Cup would experience the tournament either partly or wholly through their mobile devices – 49 percent of those surveyed would use their phones to stream games in China, compared to Mexico and the U.K. – 35 percent and 31 percent respectively.

“As mobile was due to be such a critical route for people to experience World Cup games, this meant that both editorial and marketing activities had to be designed for these audiences as well. This included making it easier to share content via social networks. At the same time, marketing across these social channels brought more awareness and opportunities for interaction for the brands involved,” says Wang.

These social networks were also important for people who wanted to share their own thoughts around the games. One of the popular services used by both Chinese superstars and regular soccer fans alike during the tournament were micro-videoing apps, used to share short videos of different experiences. 

“People could film up to six seconds of video and then share the video with their friends. Because they could post videos easily, lots were shared around events during each game. The celebrities also provided huge numbers of playbacks across the service for their reactions to events as well.”

Alongside what Wang describes, I have seen the impact that mobile marketing can have on brand awareness and success. For events like the World Cup, sponsorship and celebrity endorsements can be very effective tools for brands to take advantage of. However, without the ability to reach people where they are experiencing the event, the impact of that sponsorship investment can be diluted. By thinking about how mobile is changing, brands can make their investment go further.

Image via Shutterstock.

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