billions of people watch FIFA World Cup every four years, a tantalizing opportunity for advertisers who want to capitalize on the feel-good fervor of the world’s biggest sporting event. But this year, it’s a reputation minefield for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Controversies over Qatar’s human rights record dominated early coverage of the event, forcing advertisers to avoid criticism over the treatment of migrant workers and the criminalization of homosexuality in the country.
“There is a real concern for brand safety,” said Liz Duff, head of sales and operations at London-based agency Total Media. “That’s why ads support teams rather than location.”
Even that may not be easy, however. FIFA’s decision to punish players wearing “OneLove” armbands aimed at promoting inclusion and combating discrimination has provoked negative reactions. On Tuesday, German supermarket chain Rewe ended its partnership with the German football association, calling the ban “outrageous” and “absolutely unacceptable”.
Fears of a global recession are also pushing companies to cut advertising budgets. And because the tournament is taking place near the winter break, rather than during the summer months, they are grappling with competing priorities.
Either way, the month-long extravaganza will be huge for sports fans and brands alike. The forecast points to companies including Ford
(KO) and Samsung might shell out $2 billion in promotions.
It’s easy to see why they’re interested. In 2018, the World Cup attracted a record 3.6 billion viewers. Over 1.1 billion people watched the final live.
Given these levels of engagement, companies are eager to capitalize on the hype and camaraderie attached to the World Cup.
Coca-Cola’s “Believing is Magic” campaign shows a woman drinking a Coke who is suddenly drawn into a huge street party. Nike
(NKE) imagined scientists coming together to create a multiverse, where the greatest soccer players of all time can compete. Lays owner Frito-Lay invited David Beckham, Peyton Manning and Mia Hamm to weigh in on a classic debate: Is this sport called football or soccer?
Yet the launch of the event was clouded by media coverage of the brutal working conditions of the migrant workers who built the tournament’s infrastructure, and the announcement that the captains of several European teams would not be wearing “OneLove” armbands. “because it would result in penalties.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has criticized FIFA’s stance on armbands, stressing that any restrictions on free speech are “worrying”.
Over the supposedly festive weekend, FIFA President Gianni Infantino instead uttered a tirade in defense of Qatarhighlighting the “hypocrisy” of Western critics.
“Advertisers know TV audiences will still be there, but will be sure to focus on the teams, players and fans at home rather than endorsing the event itself,” said Mohammed Hamza, media analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The timing of the event is also a complicating factor for brands, as advertisements compete with promotions focused on holiday shopping.
“A Euro or a World Cup for four weeks in the middle of summer is literally like an island in the middle of the ocean,” said ITV sales manager Mark Trindler. industry podcast this last spring. It’s different in the fall, he continued, because companies think differently about where and how to spend their money.
Early data shows that advertisers are always ready to pull out their wallets. Telemundo, which owns the Spanish-language rights to the competition in the United States, said on Monday it only had a few advertising slots left. He had already broken revenue records for the tournament and managed to attract more than 20 new advertisers.
French broadcaster TF1 said earlier this month it was moving forward on advertising orders, noting that “seasonality” could prove a boon.
“Demand is stronger in November and December than in July, June,” manager Philippe Denery told investors.
But the lackluster economic backdrop also raises questions about ad spend in the upcoming month of matches. British broadcaster ITV told investors that although the tournament is intended to boost advertising revenue, there “remains a high degree of economic uncertainty”.
Ultimately, the total revenue of those broadcasting the World Cup could depend on which teams advance. If teams in major markets go further than expected, brands are more likely to want to join in on the excitement.
“It will depend on the French football team and its ability to go as far as possible and, if possible, in [the] final,” Denery said. “That would be greatly appreciated by a lot of people, including us.”
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