Aydin at the World Cup: Brand activations, community, and more

By Aydin Abdollahi, Sr. Account Manager, Spotlight and Invention Studio, Mindshare North America

For a kid who grew up in a country that celebrated soccer like no other sport, the FIFA World Cup excites me more than any other live event. The month-long tournament has such a rich history branching into politics, international relations, advertising, and, of course, the talent and the game itself. It has always been a dream of mine to attend, and that dream came true this year! Two of my cousins, my uncle, and I traveled to Russia to experience the worldly beast first-hand. In addition to the culture, historic sites, and authentic cuisine, the on-site brand activations had a big impact on my experience as well.

The World Cup sponsors activated on-site at the stadiums and the 11 designated Fan Fests — fenced off areas with giant TV screens, food, and drinks that housed thousands of fans who wanted to gather to watch the games. During my stay in Russia I went to the Fan Fest in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, and was able to attend the Iran vs. Morocco match that took place at the new billion-dollar stadium in Saint Petersburg. Some of the sponsors’ activations actually varied from city to city, giving fans who were traveling to multiple cities a different experience with the same brand.

One of the biggest on-site activations, which was part of a much larger campaign, belonged to Budweiser. Their “Light Up the FIFA World Cup” campaign was multi-faceted, running media through digital, social, TV, and OOH, along with on-site activations. As a part of the on-site activation, they offered beer in noise-activated cups that lit up in response to fans cheering. They created variations of the cup to represent each World Cup match. The presence of the cups went far beyond Russia, as they were made available in 50+ countries. Plus, on top of this campaign, Budweiser branding was ubiquitous in these Fan Fests as they were all over the food and beverage areas.

My favorite activation came from Coca Cola at the Saint Petersburg Fan Fest. They hosted 3v3 and 4v4 soccer tournaments that attracted many participants and hundreds of on-site viewers. Of course, my family and I had to participate and ended up winning a 4-team tournament (watch out for us in the 2022 World Cup!). The brand also had plenty of other activities throughout the various Fan Fests, such as face painting which had a huge draw. Similar to Budweiser, you could not escape Coca-Cola branding in the Fan Fests and stadiums.

Hyundai executed one of my two favorite photo activations. They created a photography set where the goal was on its side and you stood next to it with a soccer ball in your hand, creating the illusion that you were diving for a save (as a goalie). As part of their activation, they also had a “goalie reaction test” and a touchscreen “guess the score” kiosk where fans participated to win prizes including a chance to win a car. My other favorite photo activation was a World Cup-owned activation called #RivalHug, which encouraged fans from rival countries to hug it out and take pictures together. Fans could share these photos on social media for a chance to win a trip to the World Cup Final.

A few other notable mentions include:

  • Qatar Airways implementing a VR soccer experience.
  • Hisense showcasing their TVs in addition to a small soccer goal challenge.
  • Vivo bringing their “My Time, My FIFA World Cup” campaign on-site with a gallery.

The World Cup provides a great platform for global brands to play in. From all of my observations at the events, and my work in sponsorships to date, the success of these programs depends on brands connecting with fans by adding value to their experience. And once a brand is able to emotionally connect with consumers at a peak moment of excitement or anticipation, then we’re talking about something grander than just an advertisement.

Aside from the matches and brand activations, I walked away with an insight that I hadn’t fully grasped before as an integral part of the World Cup experience. To me, it was bigger than the sport of soccer. It was bigger than witnessing Iran’s lucky victory over Morocco in person. It was bigger than fun activations and entertainment at the Fan Fests. It was even bigger than the power of sports bringing people together. At the World Cup, I truly understood what is meant by “we have way more in common than in differences.” The most memorable takeaways from my experience were the sight of people from all over the world being content in each other’s presence and the thirst for each other’s cultures. It felt as though I had stepped into some form of a utopia where people were not only accepting of each other but embraced each other.

Signing off in the spirit of love & unity,
Aydin