Puma cleats 780x440

Puma's evoPower 1 FG Tricks soccer cleats, worn by players at this year's World Cup.

Courtesy of Puma.com



Having an official sponsorship at the World Cup doesn’t guarantee you’ll be making the strongest impression. Guerrilla marketing is taking over the game.

Forget corporate sponsorships: In a widely watched event like the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the winners of the advertising game are not the companies that spend the most, but the ones that capture the most attention.

As the most-watched sporting event on television, the World Cup will boost global advertising by $1.5 billion this year, according to ZenithOptimedia, up 5.4% from last year.

But do exclusive sponsorships – which can cost up to $75 million – still provide the most bang for a company’s marketing buck? With social media allowing both brands and fans to broadcast their own messages from the event, television advertising is losing market share to Internet brand-building.

And companies of all sizes are using social media to ambush rivals who are paying to sponsor the event. The innovative Apple-owned Beats by Dr Dre, for example, took on World Cup sponsor Samsung with a 5-minute YouTube commercial featuring local Brazilian star Neymar Jr. listening to inspirational advice from his father on Beats headphones. “Run like you’re a crazy man chasing happiness,” his father tells him. The ad never mentions the World Cup, but it does feature other star players preparing for the big event, as well as a cameo from LeBron James.

While not every business has Apple’s funds to sponsor celebrities and star players, the emotional father-son YouTube ad is a great example of how companies don’t need to mention the World Cup to capture the attention of local World Cup fans.

Puma also has a few lessons to share with mid-size companies. The smaller brand took on both Nike and World Cup sponsor Adidas by getting players to wear its standout candy-colored cleats (one blue, one pink) — the one piece of equipment not dictated by sponsors.

Puma also focused on its strengths by drawing attention to its well-known cleats, once worn by soccer legend Pelé, reports Inc. Although the company completely bypassed TV commercials, its product will get plenty of air time – the brightly colored cleats are easy to spot on players’ feet.

Puma is also waiting until after the World Cup to launch its ad campaign so its message won’t get lost in the marketing blitzes of its bigger rivals, and can conveniently target back-to-school shoppers.

Smaller brands can also make a strong World Cup statement with socially conscious ad campaigns. With 6 in 10 people in Brazil saying their country should have invested in infrastructure and poverty reduction instead of the games, corporate sponsorships that shut out local businesses may not be the best way to capture viewers’ loyalty.

Many Brazilians are unhappy with FIFA’s official “We Are One (Ole Ola)” World Cup theme song, for example, which has been criticized for not representing Brazil’s culture, and primarily featuring American music stars Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez with only a 15-second spot by Brazilian pop singer Cláudia Leitte.

Dannon’s Activia yogurt, however, paired up with Shakira and the World Food Programme with a more culturally authentic video for her song “La La La (Brazil 2014),” featuring Brazilian music legend Carlinhos Brown. By tapping into local culture and celebrity power – and helping local children in need — the Dannon video already has nearly 130 million hits on YouTube. That’s about 20 million more views than “Ole Ola” in a shorter period of time.

It’s clear that while corporate sponsorships may help fund the World Cup games — they’re not the only game in town for creative companies looking to connect with international fans.

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