Toward the end of March, I discussed the 2014 World Cup and opportunistic marketing and ambush strategies. Now that we are weeks into the tournament and into the knockout stages, it’s interesting to sit back, take a breather, and let what we’ve seen thus far marinate. From an athletic and marketing standpoint, plenty has happened. Highly ranked teams toppled, underdogs appeared out of nowhere, and corporate brands battled it out for marketing supremacy.

While we’re well aware of the winners and losers on the pitch, determining the victors and failures off the pitch is a bit more difficult. Much like the tournament itself, brands made surprise appearances, some disappointed, and many flirted with opportunistic marketing and ambush strategies and found success.

Ambush Marketing and FIFA Regulations


Ambush marketing “aligns a brand with an event or property without having paid for the rights to be a sponsor.” That’s the simple gist of the matter, and if you think hard enough, you should recall brands that consistently do this. A perfect example from a few months ago was at the Sochi Olympics – both Subway and Red Bull had fantastic ambush marketing campaigns.

Many events post references to forbidden marketing practices, advertising violations, etc., but it’s not very often that a major event explicitly spells out the words ‘ambush marketing’ in their prohibited marketing activities webpage. But, that’s exactly what FIFA did back in August 2012.

FIFA defined ambush marketing as trying to “take advantage of the huge interest and high profile of an event by creating a commercial association and/or seeking promotional exposure without the authorisation of the event or organiser.”

Part of FIFA’s direct statement regarding ambush marketing in relation to this year’s event states, “Companies engaging in prohibited marketing fail to appreciate that the FIFA World Cup is the result of FIFA’s significant efforts to develop and promote the tournament, something which would not be possible without the financial support of FIFA’s Commercial Affiliates.”

The Marketing Winners Thus Far

Whether you prefer to call it opportunistic marketing or ambush marketing, some of the unofficial sponsors have found great success over the past month. They’ve been able to link up with the World Cup and use the soccer fever to promote, sell, and raise awareness about products and services. Here are a few of the biggest brand winners thus far:

· Nike. Despite not being an official sponsor, this global athletic apparel brand has found considerable success. The #RiskEverything campaign has been wildly popular – the advertisement featuring footballers Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, and Tim Howard has been viewed more than 82 million times and the animated “The Last Game” commercial more than 55 million times.

· Pepsi. While Coca-Cola is an official World Cup sponsor, competitor Pepsi is not. But with its #FutbolNow campaign, Pepsi united 19 star players, including Clint Dempsey, Leo Messi, David Luiz, and Sergio Ramos. So, while Pepsi is not an official sponsor, it’s using the players in the event to advertise. While Coca-Cola is probably getting more exposure, Pepsi didn’t spend an estimated $100 million to align with the global event. Is what they’re doing right, though? You be the judge.

· Beats by Dre. While FIFA’s struggled to find tangible ways to confront alleged ambush marketing brands, they made a move a few weeks into the tournament. According to a Reuters report, FIFA banned players from wearing the popular Beats by Dre headphones in stadiums and at official tournament events. The reasoning: Sony provided tournament players with Sony headphones. Despite being banned, it appears Beats is coming out a winner. In addition to its highly successful “Game Before the Game” ad campaign, this slap on the wrist is simply additional exposure.

The Marketing Losers Thus Far

Simply put, the official sponsors of the 2014 World Cup are the losers.

While FIFA may not like the sounds of that, it’s hard to argue against. It’s not that the official sponsors have done a poor job creating compelling content, pushing it out to targeted segments, and relating to fans. It’s not that World Cup sponsors’ products aren’t getting exposure. It’s not that they won’t see returns.

The crux of the matter here is that they are spending millions of dollars to sponsor an event, only to see their nonpaying competitors reap very similar benefits.

Take the following two ads for example. Is there a significant difference in their quality? Does one seem to align more with the World Cup than the other?

If you’re like me, you think both ads are pretty compelling and both appear to be directly connected to the World Cup. But again, you be the judge.

What We’ve Learned

Off the pitch, we’ve learned a couple things from the 2014 FIFA World Cup:

  • Ambush marketing is difficult to control. No matter how far in advance FIFA announced its intentions to crack down on ambush marketing, it’s hard to stop. Outside of the stadiums and official events, there isn’t much they can do. While they have shown they will take action, the slaps on the wrist are good exposure for unofficial sponsors.
  • Engagement is not dependent on sponsorship status. In an interesting survey conducted from June 19th to 23rd, 1,212 US World Cup viewers were asked to indicate which brands they had been most engaged with during the World Cup. The top 10 went like this:
  1. Gatorade (Unofficial)
  2. Hyundai (Official)
  3. Nike (Unofficial)
  4. Adidas (Official)
  5. Kia (Official)
  6. Visa (Official)
  7. Coke(Official)
  8. Beats by Dre (Unofficial)
  9. McDonald’s (Official)
  10. Budweiser (Official)

It’s interesting to note that two of the top three most-engaged brands are unofficial sponsors. Also, Beats by Dre slides in ahead of huge names like McDonald’s and Budweiser.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup promises to bring more excitement both on and off the pitch. The marketing winners and losers may be debatable, but one thing is for sure: the brands aligned with the World Cup – whether officially or unofficially – have received great exposure.

But in the words of Ray Bednar, president at Hyperion Marketing Returns in New York City, “It is nearly always smarter to conduct an ambush or guerrilla campaign via media and other activation vehicles on site at these big events with the fraction of the budget it would cost for the rights themselves.”

Who do you consider the winners and losers?