2019 FIFA World Cup in France: Marketing Trends

With the FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks in the rearview mirror and as Mod Op’s self-proclaimed resident soccer/football/fútbol expert—just try and knock me off my throne, Kevin — I was scouring the web for all of the World Cup content that I could consume. My browsing history was a mishmash of Fox Sports’s Countdown, Nike’s twitter feed, Reddit’s r/worldcup sub-channel and US Soccer’s player profiles.

So, why should you care about America’s fourth most popular sport? Well, the Nielsen group recently found that soccer was the most popular sport for female audiences, with the 18-24 age group the most likely to watch the World Cup. Also, after breaking records with 750 million people watching the 2015 World Cup in Canada, FIFA’s target for the 2019 World Cup was one billion viewers. In the U.S., Fox Sports aired all 52 matches live, including 22 on broadcast television, which is more than any FIFA Women’s World Cup ever.

So, given that data, what’s a marketer to look for? What are the overarching trends? Also, whose ads and slogans have stood out and whose have fallen flat? (Spoiler alert: FIFA’s fallen flat. They will always fall flat.)

Overarching Trends:

  • US-Centric Marketing. With the U.S. Men’s National Team failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia after losing to Trinidad & Tobago, Fox Sports had to pivot and tell a global story to entice U.S. viewers (and did a pretty great job with their The World Becomes the World Cup campaign in 2018). The U.S. Women, however, are dominant. They’re the current champions as well as the most successful team in the history of the tournament. There’s no way Fox Sports and U.S. marketers weren’t going to make the U.S. team their number one focus for France 2019. Even FIFA gave the U.S. Women the most screen time and best spots in their promos
  • Strong Digital Media Presence. Not only did we see see the traditional TV spots and magazine covers but we saw World Cup ads on our newsfeeds and timelines, thanks to soccer having such a strong millennial and Gen Z following. Fox Sports collaborated with Twitter to provide coverage, and Nike launched a Snapchat lens for all to try on the new U.S. kits. Depending on how you curate your social media presence, your feed (and most definitely mine) was inundated with one FIFA World Cup ad followed by another. Also, I lost sleep trying to figure out how to listen to every one of these soccer podcasts.
  • Focus on Gender Equality and the Wage Gap. This tournament was shadowed by the U.S. Women filing a gender discrimination lawsuit over pay equity and working conditions in March 2019. Some brands, including Adidas, Visa and LUNA bar, rose to the challenge and responded by promising equal bonuses, equal marketing investment and by supplying $31,250 per player to match the men’s roster bonus. Gender Equality, and especially the wage gap, was center stage in much of the conversation surrounding the World Cup.

Winners and Losers:

  • Whiffed into the stands. As per usual, FIFA’s marketing efforts have missed the mark. As far as I can tell, their “Dare to Shine” slogan didn’t catch on with anyone other than those in the tournament itself, thus bound to use it, and their official poster while aesthetically interesting did not match the spirit of the tournament. It prominently featured a woman’s face with red lips and long flowing hair that was in direct contrast to the female players themselves. While the “windswept” hair was said to symbolize “female empowerment sweeping across the globe,” most actual female players had their hair cut short or tied back. Also, given that the prize money at the 2018 Men’s World Cup totaled $400 million versus $30 million for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, FIFA’s message of empowerment seemed rather empty.*
  • Off the crossbar. All moved forward as expected with Fox’s All Eyes on Us campaign. It’s U.S.-Centric, culturally-relevant and had me PUMPED. However, their Goliath spot took itself a little too seriously and needed more research.
  • Goal!! Watch. This. Ad.  Made by the sponsor Commerzbank in partnership with the German National Team, it featured floating graphics and has received praise online for its overt and playful message of female empowerment. It was my number one spot.

*I am well aware that revenue for the FIFA Women’s World Cup is about 2% of the Men’s World Cup. It still doesn’t make the pay gap any better.

Molly works as a digital campaign manager on the digital campaigns team at MCC, where she helps implement, analyze and optimize digital media programs for clients. Prior to MCC, Molly traveled the world for two years and worked as a gender inclusion contractor, an au pair and an office clerk. She graduated from Oklahoma Christian University with a bachelor of arts in English and minors in mathematics, finance, and social sciences. In her free time, Molly enjoys reading, spending time with her family, listening/playing music and planning her next big trip.

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