It is officially on! The 2018 FIFA World CupTM in Russia kicks off today and the entire world is watching. Especially the marketing industry, with brands and companies looking to engage the 3.5 billion viewers following the spectacle in over 200 countries (Zenith). On the bottom line, the World CupTM is expected to boost global ad spend by a heavy-hitting $2.4 billion – a 10 percent increase – this year.

All big-ticket brands and official FIFA partners such as adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Visa have booked their advertising slots on television well in advance, knowing that 62 percent of viewers worldwide are tuning into the action on TV (Ipsos). adidas went all out for their “Creativity is the Answer” World CupTM commercial, featuring 56 high-profile brand ambassadors such as David Beckham, Pharrell Williams, and Lionel Messi.

But what about brands without super star-sized advertising budgets? And those who are late to the party, but looking to score big marketing wins as the World CupTM action heats up? For them it’s not too late to reach an audience, especially since 25 percent of global viewers follow the tournament primarily on digital channels, and 13 percent on mobile devices (Ipsos).

Almost all viewers engage with a ‘second screen’ to share their sentiments during live matches on Twitter or Facebook. Plus, 40 percent of viewers are in markets where live watching may be problematic due to the time difference with Russia (Zenith). They will get their fix on social media via highlight reels and excerpts from matches – perfect for marketers to strike with targeted messages.

To make sure their messages will score points instead of red cards, marketers looking to connect with the world’s premier football event should follow these 7 Football World CupTM social strategies:

1. Play by the rules.

It’s all fun and games until someone gets carded by the referee. Don’t be that brand. FIFA maintains strict rules around using protected trademarks and creating a connection between your brand and their event (for the lengthy legalese, click here). Here’s the TL/DR: While FIFA World CupTM 2018’s trademarked logos, symbols and event images are strictly off limits, you can align with the overall theme of football when creating real-time posts (see 3.), memes or images (see 6.).

2. Prepare for different scenarios.

While Group elimination matches move at their own pace, really anything can happen once the action moves into the knockout stage (just ask Brazil). That’s why savvy marketers pre-load assets and messages for different scenarios: The national team emerges at the top of its Group and advances to the Quarter Finals? Time to celebrate with special deals! The team is kicked out of the tournament?! How about some free goodies as a little pick-me-up? But proceed with caution: Football is serious business and emotions are running high (see 4.). 

3. Create magic World Cup moments in real time.

Live commentary is a high art (no wonder sports commentators get paid the big bucks). But if you nail the perfect comment on a high-profile World CupTM moment, your message might go viral – and so will your brand. When Luis Suárez’ “bite attack” lit up social media during the 2014 World CupTM, McDonald’s Uruguay fired a tweet suggesting a tasty Big Mac instead and garnered a cool 70,000 retweets. Other brands kicked their engagement into high gear with shareable memes (see 6.), including German car rental company Sixt who praised their “tasty” Italian sports cars for a major social hit.

4. Respect the rules of sportsmanship.

Getting booted out of the World CupTM is a big deal, which is easy to forget when you’re on the winning side. Dutch airline KLM learned this the hard way in 2014 after sending the notorious Adios Amigos tweet with a picture of a Departures sign following the Netherlands’ 2-1 win against Mexico. A clear foul to enraged Mexico fans, including actor Gael García Bernal who tweeted to his 1.93 million followers: “I’m never flying your shitty airline again. F*** you big time!” While KLM retracted the tweet and offered an apology, Mexican national carrier AeroMexico used the real-time momentum by keeping it classy: “Thank you for this great championship,” AeroMexico said in a tweet accompanied by an Arrivals sign.

5. Aim your shot with precise hashtags.

Social engagement has grown exponentially since the 2014 tournament, so it’s best to stay on top of the day’s trending World CupTM hashtags before tweeting or ‘gramming. Again, make sure to abide by FIFA’s rules (see 1.) because using event hashtags repeatedly and retweeting official event news from FIFA or national teams on your brand channel will land you in hot water. So will using official World CupTM emoji like this one: . Especially several times in one message, like this: . Using #football is safe, so is #soccer. But stay away from #fifaworldcup or #worldcup2018. Nobody follows #worldcupmatch, so zero in on specific games via hashtags constructed from the three-letter acronyms of both teams, for instance Germany VS. Mexico #GERMEX or England VS. Panama #ENGPAN. Snickers built social media heat without biting off more than they can chew via hashtag finesse in 2014:

World Cup<sup>TM</sup> ad

6. Boost your reach with memes.

Memes are built for virality, and World CupTM fever will spread them like wildfire. Don’t send your art department home before the match is over so they can crank out #winning memes in real-time. Kick ideas around on messenger apps, then fire off the best one. For inspiration, follow accounts such as defending World Champions Germany, whose meme game on Twitter has been strong ever since the training stages. Again, emulating the official colors, fonts, logos and icons of the 2018 FIFA World CupTM is a punishable offense. If your meme looks like an official World CupTM ad, it’s time to tone it down (see 1.).

World Cup<sup>TM</sup> 2018 ad

7. Keep your head in the game.

The World CupTM in Russia runs from June 14 to July 15, so it’s all about maintaining your momentum. Build excitement around your team’s upcoming match by adding countdown clocks to dynamic emails, accompanied by special sales events and discounts. Customize initiatives to your audience’s specific tastes via live personalization of emails and websites or send-time optimization powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). After your team wins or advances to the next round, consider sending text or push messages to highly engaged fans, but always keep it relevant (see 3.).

Who knows, if the football gods are in your favor, you might just get to use that most cherished of hashtags; #worldchampion. On that note, enjoy the World CupTM and may the best team win!

Looking for more strategies to wow your audience with engaging content? Also read our free eBook on Data-Driven Marketing.

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