How The World Cup Changed Mobile Marketing

By: Kahuna | July 14, 2014 | Customer Spotlight, Growth Marketing

The BBC estimates that over one billion people from across the globe tuned in to watch yesterday’s World Cup finale. This global tournament has been taking place for over 80 years, but something was very different this time around – the pervasive effect of mobile technology. From streaming the game directly on mobile phones to using mobile devices as supplementary screens, fans were using their mobile devices as an integral part of the game-watching experience.

This kind of dual interaction is a veritable honey pot for today’s mobile marketers. Here are some of the ways that the world’s most innovative mobile marketers took advantage of the World Cup:


Be In the Moment – Push

Getting the timing right can make or break your mobile marketing campaign, and push notifications are the best way to communicate directly with a mobile user. For example, referencing game plays that have just happened and making breaking-news announcements are easy ways to feed off the frenzy and increase short-term engagement with your app. Some of the most advanced sports apps sent real-time game updates via push notifications in order to bring users to their app during the games, and saw heightened engagement as a result. In fact, recency has been shown to increase response rates by 150%.

The apps that will continue to reap the benefits of their World Cup marketing strategy are those that took a more discerning approach. The most sophisticated marketers realized that the user behavior data generated in their app during the World Cup would continue to be relevant long after the final match ended. Through analyzing a person’s in-app behavior (viewing specific teams, watching videos, etc.), these marketers gathered important data on the implicit interests of their fans to make sure every viewer only received messages that were relevant to them.

Interestingly, not all kinds of advertisements saw an uptick in response during the World Cup – in fact, many that could be deemed as “distracting” would be ignored and receive lower engagement. Push notifications must offer real-time value to the user in order to be effective.  


Establish Collective Identity – Social Media

The use of mobile phones serves as a proxy for real physical interaction with an audience. Fans across the world used their smartphones to connect to social media in the moment and share their thoughts about the games with others, creating a virtual community for fans across the globe. This kind of group mentality and feeling of national pride can make people behave differently than if they were acting in complete isolation. For example, some of the top sports apps streamlined the ability to share interesting facts and statistics with a user’s social network, giving those apps free brand promotion. When you combine this extreme level of patriotism incited by the World Cup with highly targeted advertising, you see extremely high engagement rates with World Cup-related advertisements.

It will be interesting to see if marketers can continue to capitalize on the huge number of newly minted soccer fans.  The apps that forge these emotional ties are at an advantage moving forward.


Supplement the Experience – Interactive Ads

This World Cup also saw some incredible innovation around mobile-optimized advertisements that truly drew in mobile users and utilized the unique capabilities of mobile.

Nike and Google partnered to offer real-time display ads on mobile devices that only went live during specific World Cup games, and went offline when the game was over. These ads showed 3D renditions of each games’ biggest stars, and took advantage of the gyroscope present in most mobile devices by allowing the viewer to move their mobile phone to see the player from different angles. As of Friday, these eight different real-time campaigns generated two million fan interactions across 200 different countries.

McDonalds took advantage of cutting-edge augmented reality technology in their GOL! app, letting users turn real-world items such as fry boxes into virtual objects within a goal-scoring game. This is one of the first times we’ve seen this technology used for promotional purposes, and the novelty factor drove extreme levels of engagement. In addition, because the app requires you to have a fry box to activate the goal, it drove in-store purchases of McDonalds, bridging the gap between the physical and virtual worlds.


The most remarkable thing about the World Cup is the level of pure engagement seen across the globe; no other sporting event has the ability to enchant, impassion and enrage people quite like it. This kind of attention is an invaluable resource to marketers, and was used in novel ways during this World Cup. However, an event of this scale doesn’t come by too often; how can we apply the lessons learned to everyday mobile marketing campaigns?

  • Keep your messaging in the moment. When a person thinks that they might miss out, they will act.
  • Make it social. If you can incite a feeling of collective identity within your users, widespread action will follow naturally.
  • Try something new to keep people engaged. Novel ideas perform better and capture more attention.

The innovation seen during the World Cup reminds us that mobile marketing is in its infancy, and strategies are becoming more sophisticated by the day. In order to rise to the top, mobile marketers must take advantage of the most cutting-edge technologies to connect with their users in meaningful ways.