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Every major sporting event has its share of upsets, controversies and break-out stars, and this year’s World Cup extravaganza in South Africa has proved no different.  What has set this tournament apart from its predecessors has been the widespread use of realtime tools by consumers and companies alike. This has been one of the most exciting things for us at The Realtime Project because it has allowed us as fans to track the progress of our favourite teams and players with greater precision.

As emerging tech trend watchers, meanwhile, it has enabled us to monitor the impact of brands directly or indirectly associated with the tournament. Without doubt, the World Cup has highlighted the disruptive potential of realtime technologies, and offered a glimpse of how they’ll affect our lives in the future.

Traditionally, the tournament’s official sponsors (which this year include Adidas, Budweiser, Visa and Sony) have shelled out megabucks to be associated with the World Cup because it’s an opportunity to raise their profiles and gain exposure to a massive global audience. This one-way model has been effectively torn to shreds with the advent of microblogging sites like Twitter, interactive multimedia and other digital platforms that enable consumers and brands to engage directly with each other.

Perhaps most significantly, these new tools have allowed non-sponsors to muscle their way in on the action and generate their own buzz surrounding the tournament. The breakaway star in this respect has been sportswear behemoth Nike. Arch-rival Adidas is a name that has long been synonymous with football and, as one of the game’s sponsors, it’s the Adidas banner that adorns the playing fields at matches.

But Nike stole a march on the German sporting goods company by rolling out its “Write the Future”  campaign several weeks before the start of the tournament, centred around a star-studded and widely praised ad featuring the likes of England’s Wayne Rooney, Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo and Homer Simpson that promptly went viral. On YouTube alone, the commercial has racked up in excess of 20 million hits.

Adidas managed to claw back some of that buzz several weeks later with the debut of its Star Wars-themed spot featuring England’s David Beckham and rap star Snoop Dogg.  The ad has garnered a respectable 5 million hits on YouTube, but compared to the views Nike’s commercial received, it has only underscored the brilliance of Nike’s guerrilla marketing tactics.

Non-sponsor Pepsi has had similar success with its “Oh Africa” effort featuring singer Akon and a line-up of football notables. Pepsi’s quite funny official spot may have generated fewer than 2 million views, but its dedicated Facebook fan page has more than 20,000 members. Akon’s separate video of the song has further fuelled Pepsi’s campaign, with more than 13 million hits.

Rival Coca-Cola, an official sponsor, has used realtime outlets including Twitter as part of its largest-ever World Cup advertising campaign, yet the average viewer would be hard pressed to identify which soft drinks maker was the tournament’s backer.

All of this begs the question: Why should a company pony up the cash for official sponsorship bragging rights when non-sponsors have shown they can generate as much–or more—attention by employing non-traditional (i.e. realtime) means?

FIFA, the sport’s governing body, earns about a third of its income from sponsorships, according to AdAge. While it can control promotional efforts in the stadiums, it can’t block non-sponsors from leveraging Twitter, Facebook and other realtime tools.

Ironically, the brand to have emerged most damaged from the tournament is FIFA itself for its steadfast opposition to cutting edge goal-line technology. This tournament has been marred by the sheer number of controversial referee calls, and it was only after a handball by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez prevented Ghana from progressing to the semi-finals that FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on July 9 that it would reconsider its policy at an October meeting with the rules-making panel.

Blatter himself remains adamantly against the creation of a rule to allow “penalty goals” when handballs clearly prevented a score as in the Uruguay-Ghana match. But is only by accepting that the sport must adapt and make use of realtime technologies that FIFA can rebuild its credibility.

It’s still early days yet when it comes to realtime technology and, as predicted this World Cup has been an ideal test bed of its potential. We can’t wait to see how it evolves in coming years, but as our archive article “How We’ll Be Watching the World Cup in 2022 and Beyond” shows, it will only enhance and enrich the user experience.

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