Language & Culture / Translation

Marketing the World Cup – The Double-Edged Sword

 World Cup

The 2014 World Cup kicks off today with the first game being between Brazil and Croatia. Today also sets off what may be the largest marketing blitz in history. With an estimated 3.2 billion viewers in 2010 and an even greater audience expected this year, there really is no bigger game in town. For already global companies like Adidas, Sony, Visa, and McDonald’s, the hundreds of millions of dollars that go into becoming a World Cup sponsor pay dividends many times over but, when it comes to really capitalizing on this global event, one corporation stands above the rest: Coca-Cola. They’ve always been an icon in the field of marketing—their red and white logo is instantly recognizable to all generations around the world by both those who love it and those who don’t—but thanks to their partnership with FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) they’ve started generating fans who don’t even know they’re fans.

Leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, a catchy tune called Wavin’ Flag—originally about the singer, K’Naan’s childhood experiences of war and poverty in Somalia—was co-opted by Coca-Cola, translated and fully localized into 2 dozen languages, and used as a cornerstone in their $300 million ad campaign; the song went on to become an iTunes #1 hit in 17 different countries. For the 2014 Cup, they’re hoping to recapture some of that magic with The World is Ours, a sports anthem inspired by traditional Brazilian percussion. This time the song will be heard around the world in 32 languages and will be integrated with Coca-Cola’s web campaign – One World, One Game – on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and a host of other sites. It’s this use of the internet and social media that really differentiates the marketing efforts at this year’s games. With the now-widespread use of mobile internet-connected devices, sponsors have exponentially increased their visibility and potential impact. This increased exposure presents plenty of opportunities but also raises some significant risks.

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Brazil’s World Cup push has been embroiled in controversy. Brazil—which boasts the world’s 2nd largest market for Facebook and YouTube—is a developing country where the healthcare, education, and transportation systems are in dire need of comprehensive reforms and many Brazilians are understandably upset about the purported 11 billion dollar cost of hosting the Cup. Across social media networks they’ve expressed their dissatisfaction and have pushed the view that the 2014 World Cup is somehow representative of the government’s waste and ineffectiveness. What’s more, protesters have labeled the game’s financial backers tacit supporters of what they say is a corrupt government. The savvier sponsors, acutely aware of public perception of their participation, are taking steps to show ordinary people that they understand the sociopolitical aspects of their sponsorship. Coca-Cola’s Chief Marketing Officer, Joe Tripodi, has stated that the company will soften its tone—and presumably pull back support—if unrest continues to grow. “You always have to be smart and to have all kinds of Plan Bs, Plan Cs and Ds to be ready for any contingency,” he said.

It’s this approach of going all in – while still planning for potential perils – that has turned Coca-Cola into one of the world’s most recognizable brands. While we at CSOFT love football, soccer, futbol (whatever you call it) and hope the World Cup goes off without a hitch, we can’t help but be impressed by not only the athletic ability but also the marketing prowess on display in Brazil. So here are two lessons we’ve learned from both the sport and Coca Cola’s efforts:

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First, reach out to the world. The crucial reason that soccer (I’m an American, I’m just going to call it soccer; my apologies to the rest of the football playing world) is so popular is that anybody can play. Whether you are tall or short, old or young, rich or poor, all you need is a little bit of flat ground and a ball to make magic happen. In the same fashion, Coca-Cola has reached around the globe with their marketing efforts, taking upbeat tunes and localizing them in order to appeal to a wide range of linguistically and culturally disparate peoples.

Second, there are times in soccer when a team will abandon their defenses. The majority of the team will rush down the field, aggressively pushing toward the goal with the added advantage of several more players. But this strategy carries great risk; if an opposing defender manages to pass the ball up-field to a teammate, he will have a much easier time scoring, facing a largely unprotected goal. Likewise, Coca-Cola is aggressively pushing their brand through their marketing, despite the risk that this year’s World Cup may become a public relations boondoggle. Luckily, they’ve had the foresight to plan for trouble. Every opportunity is a gamble and often the greater the potential payoff, the greater the potential pitfall. Know when to focus your efforts but keep your marketing strategy flexible and be prepared to counter risks.

We can’t wait to tune in and watch the drama unfold, even if it involves being awake at 4 A.M. This year’s Cup is anyone’s game so may the best team win.

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CSOFT International is a translation, localization, and globalization services provider that helps international businesses reach out to customers around the world.