As the World Cup starts, all eyes are on the players and nations who make this year’s 32 team roster. It’s been a long and grueling four-year trial by fire for those stepping onto the pitches in Russia. The World Cup is seen by many as the pinnacle of the sports, and potentially of all existence. No other tournament can boast the level of global participation nor the level of advertising.

While the players were sweating it out on football fields and training centers around the world to achieve their dreams, so the ad men and women of the world were working hard to prepare for their big moment in the sun-drenched and vodka-laden land of Russia. As the tournament has grown in popularity, so has the competition among brands fighting for their place amongst the demi-gods running around the field.

However, more fans doesn’t always mean your ad dollars will be well spent. Much of the FIFA World Cup is driven by the brands who support it. Sports, cars, and beverage brands, whose names don’t even need to be mentioned here are taking the top spots at this year’s event. With their budgets ranging in the tens of millions, their ads will be seen by billions. So what about the rest of us? How can we ensure the World Cup light graces us as well?

The answer to that question is a bit more challenging than just putting an ad on Facebook or running a search campaign in Google. Very few small companies will actually benefit from the increased mobile and web traffic generated by the World Cup, and the main issue beyond the obvious competition is that a company needs to find a voice in order to stand out and become relevant so as to engage its audience.    

Relevancy comes in many forms, but I will be talking about two – proactive and reactive. Both have their pitfalls, but for the small player, reactive is generally cheaper and often will yield better results. First, what do I mean by proactive and reactive?

Proactive relevancy is creating ad campaigns prior to the event which feature logos, faces, and objects directly related to the event itself. Think of any campaign featuring Ronaldo or Messi holding a beer or sports shoe. The main issue with proactive campaigns is that they tend to be more expensive as they are using objects directly related to the event as a way to pivot the attention of the audience towards their marketing message. Proactive marketing in a sporting event can also backfire if your star player’s team gets knocked out in the first round or they get injured.  If either of those happens you’re effectively screwed. Just ask any advertiser who is using Leroy Sané of Germany, who was dropped at the 11th hour by the national team. On a recent trip to Germany, I observed that there were many… However, if you do it right, you can ride the hype train of the event/player, generating a ton of view/clicks along the way. Proactive campaigns tend to help build a message prior to an event. Though different tactics are needed during the event itself and skipping the proactive part entirely might be worth it for a lot of small companies.

I’m not a massive risk taker, and therefore, I will leave the proactive campaigns to the rich and foolish brands willing to splash millions on a picture of Messi holding a GOAT. I have and will always choose reactive over proactive during an event such as the world cup. Reactive relevancy is creating marketing campaigns based on events that have just happened. The more divisive the moment, and the faster you can get your creative into the wild, the more successful you will be in riding its wave. The trick is to find those moments which have or will become talking points after the match.

The reason this type of marketing works better than proactive is that the message can be a lot more specific and thus engage an audience much more effectively.

Recently, we ran a marketing campaign after the Champions League final for our game, Underworld Football Manager. After watching the final, we realized that millions were talking about the moment when Mo Salah of Liverpool was injured by Sergio Ramos of Madrid. Luckily, we have a fantastic artist who created a simple marketing banner using a stylized version of the event, it was a massive success. We had more than 300 shares of the marketing banner on Facebook alone and even saw a massive spike in Egyptian traffic, a country we were not targeting at the time. It remained a great source of traffic for nearly two weeks after the finals. This long-term success can be put down to the incredible emotional response to the initial real-life moment.

Ours worked better….

Finally, I know that some of you reading this might think that a major sporting event isn’t a good time to push your brand or product, but that would be a mistake. In the 90 minutes of a game of football, all life and death take place. So if you truly understand your audience then finding your moment should be a simple task.


Adam Jaffe

CEO of Stanga Games

Adam is not one to shy away from a challenge. A pioneer in the mobile gaming space, he has been working in the digital marketing space since 2008. Over that time he has helped establish and grow the marketing departments of many companies. Since 2011, he has been at the forefront of the social/mobile gaming space, helping to build the marketing departments of Playtika, SGN, and Socialpoint, just to name a few. Today he is the CEO of Stanga Games, the makers of Underworld Football Manager. So if you have any questions about marketing, mobile or just want to say hi, please feel free to reach out.

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