Is stealth marketing reinventing the sponsorship model?

Well, the World Cup final has been and gone. It was an amazing end to an incredible tournament, which has seen engagement across the globe like never before. It’s hard to believe that just two tournaments ago, Facebook was still seen as a start-up and Twitter barely existed at all! Now, social networks are shaping the global conversation, not least when it comes to sponsorships. Official World Cup partners have been exposed to millions of people all over the world, getting valuable exposure. But I think that in this tournament, it has been the unofficial sponsors who have stolen their limelight with ingenious stealth marketing initiatives. Nowadays, is it even worth shelling out as a main sponsor when other businesses are grabbing so much attention through other means?

Sponsoring worldwide tournaments like the World Cup can be a tricky business. Loopholes in FIFA’s sponsorship guidelines mean that there a plentiful opportunities for firms to create adverts that give the idea of being part of the action, without paying the costs of headline partners. (It is thought that main sponsors, including Visa, Hyundai, Sony and Adidas, pay more than US$25m to be a part of the tournament.) Nike, for instance, have been getting press and fan recognition worldwide for the #RiskEverything campaign, featuring stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, which boasted a global total of 380 million views across different media. Of course, sometimes just a simple idea can grab attention in similar ways. Look at Puma, which has a fraction of Nike’s or Adidas’ marketing budgets. Its distinctive boot designs for the cup – with one shoe in pink and one in blue – became a defining image of the tournament.

Along the same lines, it feels like I always talk about Paddy Power when I’m writing about marketing, but again they have come up trumps. The fake rainforest adverts – where the firm pretended to have cut down part of the Amazon jungle to produce a message supporting England – created amazing amounts of controversy, but drew people’s attention to the brand in a unique way. I’m just glad it was a hoax in the end! Paddy Power also brought in Stephen Hawking to star in a series of adverts – an amazing coup. Huge events like the World Cup have an impact on all kinds of brands, something that is shown in UK-wide stats that predict a 6% increase in ad spend across 2014, up from the 5.5% growth that was predicted earlier in the year.

One of the interesting things that I noticed about World Cup marketing is the boost in profile it can give to brands that are not normally part of the global conversation. Irish poultry producer Moy Park, for instance, has capitalised on securing its place as one of the World Cup’s official sponsors. Last week it disclosed that a £170m investment programme will see more than 600 new jobs created – a positive piece of news that was cunningly timed to coincide with the final stages of the World Cup. Moy Park’s Brazilian parent firm Marfrig played an important role in securing the sponsorship agreement, which has boosted the company’s profile at home and abroad. Clearly, the benefits of official sponsorship are worth it for some brands – look at Man United’s recent record-breaking kit deal with Chevrolet, for example.

Firms like Adidas clearly see the value in signing up as official World Cup sponsors. Both World Cup finalists this time, for instance, were Adidas teams. It has certainly proved advantageous to companies like Moy Park, too. However, this tournament has shown that businesses don’t necessarily need to be officially tied to an event to make the most out of it. Are there any other firms that have been successful in doing this? Let me know at, and have a lovely weekend.