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Unaffiliated Brands capitalise on World Cup through Social Media

Posted In News, Projects - By and On Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 With 0 Comments

This was originally written as a pre-tournament column for The Conversation. Sections of the below will appear in later articles, however we are posting it here in its entirety.

by Darryl Woodford & Katie Prowd

This column will cover everything from the pre-tournament build up and tournament hashtags, the matches themselves, and other trends as they emerge (such as #imnotgoingtobrazilbecause). We will bring you the stats from Australia, where Katie Prowd is operating the Twitter Machines, supplemented by the colour from Brazil (with our colleague Ana Vimiero), and Europe, where Darryl Woodford and other colleagues are attending a range of conferences across Europe.

Anticipation Building

Generally, a look at the official keywords shows building anticipation, and burgeoning national pride. Particularly over the past two days, we have seen a significant, albeit predictable, uptick in conversation around the (English language) keywords we have been monitoring, primarily (for pre-tournament purposes) #joinin, #worldcup, @Brazil2014 and #worldcup2014:


Running total of tweets using generic World Cup hashtags

As the tournament begins, we are also be tracking the official generic hashtags announced by Twitter for different languages – #Brasil2014 (Spanish), #Brésil2014 (French), #wm2014 (German), #Copa2014 (Portugese) and #mm2014 (Finnish) – to identify any key trends.

A co-hashtag analysis, showing the hashtags which have emerged alongside those we have been tracking, suggests some of the prominent themes in the lead up to the World Cup. Brazil, Football and FIFA have been particularly evident, with football notably ahead of ‘soccer’. Also prominent amongst the top 25 are ‘futbol’, the local ‘brasil2014’ hashtag, as well as FIFA2014, England, Brasil (and ‘Bra’), Germany, and the Arabic for World Cup, كاس_العالم, , offering some insight into the loyalties and nationalities of those fans engaging in the discussion:


Brands dominate pre-tournament Twitter

Building on the social media marketing seen in the 2010 World Cup, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup is set to change the face of real-time marketing and be the most social live event in history. While some traditional advertising will still be in play, spend and focus on digital engagement will take the lead for the first time, with some of the bigger brands announcing fully-staffed 24-hour newsrooms, aka war rooms, dedicated to the social conversation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (expected to be the most used platform for experiential engagement).

While sure it’s news to nobody that the World Cup is a brand marketing exercise, the lead up to the tournament has shown both how pervasive the World Cup brand is, and how it is being appropriated for marketing purposes on social media, and not just by official sponsors such as Emirates.


Emirates planes decked out for the World Cup; here at Hamburg Airport, Germany (photo: Darryl Woodford)

While appropriating the World Cup brand in traditional media would likely see offending companies on the receiving end of a lawsuit, social media, and ‘ambush marketing’ appears to be a risk worth taking. We have seen trademark disputes again and again in traditional advertising, including a recent case when the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) took legal action against the North Face for producing a clothing line using the “RU 14” logo although they were completely unaffiliated with the Canadian Olympic Team.

FIFA has not taken trademark infringement lightly either, officially releasing a warning in March stating that “The contribution of FIFA’s commercial affiliates is vital to the success of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and we therefore ask companies to refrain from attempts to free-ride on the huge public interest generated by the event.”

Yet according to Alex Benady from PR Week, “FIFA, players, the media, the FA and other national associations, and of course brands with no contractual relationship with the World Cup, will all be working their social media networks for all they are worth.” Supporting this, the 20th most popular retweet over the previous week in the lead up to the World Cup – at least using English keywords – is the following from (unaffiliated) British company Fragrance Direct:

Screenshot 2014-06-11 09.45.32.png

Screenshot: Twitter

Other brands, sponsors and otherwise are also heavily represented in the most frequent retweets:


Top total retweets containing generic World Cup hashtags (brands in green); June 5 – June 12

As you can see from the graphic above, the top 25 tweets contain both many brands (including FIFA sponsors such as Adidas, Budweiser and EA Sports, as well as non-sponsors such as Goldman Sachs and Fragrance Direct); able to associate with the World Cup brand on social media on an equal basis. As discussed previously, while some may see this as merely interacting with a current event, for those at FIFA and paying sponsors, this may well appear as ambush marketing.

While it’s hard to tell at this stage who will prevail in the somewhat uncharted waters of a global digital and social media campaign, it will be interesting to see whether this guides the way for more regulation or more freedom on hashtag use for advertising. Either way, the coming weeks on the Twitter Machines and on the ground in Europe are definitely going to tell a significant story in the history of social media; for marketing and for interaction with live events.

On with the matches

And with that all said, let the matches begin; Aussie Aussie Aussie; Eng-er-land; Auf geht’s Deutschland, schiess ein Tor! .. or good luck to whoever you follow!


From selling grooming products (Nivea, left) to tickets to watch matches in the local stadium, the World Cup and German colours are everywhere (photos: Darryl Woodford)

About the Author

- Darryl is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries & Innovation, based at Queensland University of Technology. His research includes works on the video game and gambling industries.

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