World Cup Inspires Customized Ads for Fans

Maybe it’s that three-quarters of your Facebook friends have gone from making updates about where they are to where they were when they watched the ref miss England’s goal. Or maybe it’s that everyone you know now knows what a Vuvuzela is and – thank goodness – how to shut it up.

These signs and countless others are proof positive that World Cup fervor has reached its apex. The 2010 FIFA World Cup marks the first time that social media is playing a prominent role in the event. Social media penetration and usage was nowhere near today’s levels during the last World Cup, four years ago, and many are finding it fascinating to watch the degree to which fans are engaging with social sites.

At the start of the Cup, Twitter launched a dedicated World Cup page offering football-related tweets, widgets, real-time search, and relevant accounts to follow. There’s a 2010 World Cup Facebook page, of course, but even more interesting is the plethora of branded applications and marketing efforts that have launched to coincide with the tournament.

As with the Super Bowl and the Olympic Games, the strategy many marketers take when advertising adjacent to major sporting events is to emphasize the excitement of the sport, the importance of its athletes, and the loyalty of their fans, and find a way to integrate the brand into this mix. When social media is involved, however, customization becomes paramount, and brands have been working hard to afford Internet users a way to integrate themselves into the action and feel as though they are part of the event.

Cisco Systems took this approach with its viral effort titled “Live the Beautiful Game,” powered by Oddcast, the same company that helped consumers “Shrekify” themselves and personalize a message from an E-Trade baby. A microsite allows users to create what in essence becomes an interactive online commercial for the Cisco brand. World Cup fans can superimpose their face onto that of a player who appears numerous times within the ad, thus delivering a combined message: “Put yourself in the action” with the brand that can give consumers “more power to view football in more ways.” Once a personalized ad has been created, it can be shared with friends through e-mail or social sites like Facebook and Twitter.

As ClickZ recently reported, Budweiser launched an elaborate social media-meets-reality TV campaign that follows 32 football fans living together in the “Bud House” in South Africa during the tournament; as each nation is eliminated, so too is one of the fans. By featuring one contestant from each participating country, the effort invites viewers to root not just for a team, but for the corresponding Bud United participant as well. To further emphasize the campaign message of uniting beer drinkers around the world, Budweiser is offering a “virtual face painter” Facebook app called “Show Your True Colors” that allows users to edit their profile picture so that their faces are painted to mimic their favorite team’s flag. According to Toronto’s Grip Limited, the ad agency that created the app, about 15,000 people an hour are engaging with the app.

ESPN offers a face-painting app of its own, along with a Team Selector tool that lets Facebook users choose the teams they’re most interested in following to receive relevant updates through ESPN (strangely, the benefits of installation include country-specific recipes from celebrity chef Mario Batali).

In Canada, brands like Hyundai are just as eager to help Internet users show their allegiance to their team and do their part to support the tournament. On Facebook, Hyundai Canada is offering an application that lets users create their own personalized jersey to post on their page or as their profile pictures.

As a sponsor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Visa has launched an app of its own: the Visa Match Planner, with which users can create customized viewing schedules to share with friends. The app is available branded in every one of the 32 participating countries, as well as in numerous languages. “…Social media provides a unique platform to help (football fans) express their views and connect with friends from around the world,” Visa says, and the app provides a way for them to demonstrate their enthusiasm and where their loyalties lie, all while planning social events around the tournament’s games.

It’s encouraging to see so many brands embrace this global event and curious to note that their efforts are all so similar, with all of them focusing squarely on customization. But since social media and personalization go hand in hand, this World Cup will surely be remembered online as the first to be played out on social sites between fans who are ready and willing to express themselves through branded applications made to celebrate their love of the game.

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