Hugh Treacy of Isobel: why the World Cup in Russia is a stay at home marketing opportunity

I’ve been very fortunate to have worked on the last five football World Cups – for sponsoring and (mainly) non-sponsoring brands. I managed to get to a few too.

France, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Brazil. Awesome tournaments. Amazing destinations. Brilliant campaigns. Questionable outcomes (for England fans anyway).

Yet the next one will be very different.

For a start, it’s eerily under the radar. OK, some momentum may be gained when the draw is made, (or when the Panini albums surface?), but it still doesn’t feel like a pre-World Cup year.

Increased fan prioritisation of club over country through the last decade has undoubtedly contributed to such apathy, but 2018 won’t be different just because momentum will be ever slower.

It’s more significant than that.

This will be the first World Cup in which the appeal to enjoy it with friends and family at home or in the pub will be stronger than the aspiration to watch it live (in Russia).

This is a major shift because World Cup sponsoring brands have traditionally developed integrated campaigns focussing not just on the teams and players, but on the appeal of the destination and the opportunity to experience a first-hand taste of it. Of course, most people don’t get to go. Not all campaigns are centred on winning tickets. And the vast majority “lose” in promotions to win them. But they engage and enter because of the aspiration. They could be there dreaming of seeing England beat Germany, live with their mates.

Not this time though and it’s something of a dilemma.

Because barring the ever-present die-hards, the vast majority of individuals, families, groups of mates, even the corporates, just won’t buy the aspiration or the dream (or the hassle) of physically going to Russia. And if recent instability in the region puts some off, the disturbing scenes at the European Championships in France last year put paid to the rest.

The dilemma for sponsoring brands will be getting the balance right between celebrating the tournament, embracing its host and providing its consumers with unique added value (and I’m intrigued to see how tickets are used should the pivotal promotional part they’ve played in previous years prevail).

But it’s still a huge opportunity on many levels

Whatever the destination, millions of people will watch the World Cup. England will be there. Everyone will be as passionately engaged. Premiership players will have ever higher profiles. Russian time-zones will work perfectly for UK (and European) audiences. And the host nation, albeit from afar, will provide its own unique, intriguing backdrop, not least with the Kremlin hosting December’s draw.

Ultimately, greater appeal to watch at home, in pubs, at organised events trumping physically going there presents huge potential. Potential for more interactions for brands, retailers, pubs. More audiences to engage. More brand partnerships to forge. More opportunities to trial brands.

All rich territory for non-sponsoring brands looking not necessarily to “ambush” the tournament, but to target audiences in interesting, innovative ways. Particularly for any brand keen to infiltrate at-home get-togethers including on and off-trade and leisure destinations; non-sponsoring sports brands and a wide range of of retailers, communications and entertainment brands.

Maybe the currency for the 2018 World Cup will still be tickets. But not, perhaps, in the traditional sense. Maybe it should be more about what tickets represent. What if they became less about trips to Russia, and more about the provision of seats. Exclusive (“match-day”) seats to access tailored offers: added value, unique experiences for supporters to enjoy the World Cup in the comfort of their own home, their own armchair, their own spot in the pub. All on their own terms.

And maybe such a platform might be best served and presented by not one, but by a collaboration of complementary brand partners across sectors. It’s still early Q4 2017 after all. It’s not too late, nor beyond the realms of possibility, to create the world’s first multi-brand promotional platform that collectively champions and adds tangible value to the experience of armchair and bar-stool supporters.

And we shouldn’t forget that 2018 is not just a World Cup Year. It’s a Commonwealth Games Year. A home Ryder Cup Year. The Ashes. The Winter Olympics. World Student Games. Youth Olympics. A UK-hosted Hockey World Cup and many more. More variety spread consistently across a calendar year, targeting a more diverse audience base, than arguably ever before.

Hugh Treacy is a managing partner at creative activation agency Isobel Street.

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