Social Media

What the World Cup Water Cooler Means for U.S. Brands

June 12, 2014

The World Cup has become big business for brands – even in America, where soccer (“football” to the rest of the world) has historically not enjoyed the same fanfare as it has internationally.

Still, consumer interest here in the States is on the rise and marketers have been quick to follow. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, one in three Americans intends to follow the 2014 World Cup tournament. That’s roughly 105 million people – an audience similar in size to that of the Super Bowl.

Beginning June 12 through mid-July, American soccer fans will be closely following the action, presenting brands with cultural common ground on which to connect with them in digital. 360i’s Insights & Planning group looked into what U.S. fans are talking about ahead of the action to reveal opportunities for brands when it comes to their World Cup content marketing efforts.

Key findings include:

  • Most Americans (61%) talking about the tournament online are focused on the U.S. team, players or coach. Two thirds of Americans are focused on the unequivocal “underdogs” in the “Group of Death” (Group G, consisting of Germany, Portugal, Ghana and USA), named due to the relative strength of each team in the group as compared to other groupings.
  • A surprisingly high volume of chatter (5%) is about the Belgian national team, despite only 0.1% of Americans being of Belgian descent, per U.S. Census Data. This finding corroborates the insight that U.S. fans are looking to the dark horse candidate to add drama in this year’s tournament.
  • Most of American’s pre-World Cup chatter is about players (versus coaches or teams), but this has largely been caused by off-the-pitch controversy created by Landon Donovan’s unexpected absence from the United States’ final roster.

Real-time digital marketing activations will be especially important given that World Cup matches do not include formal breaks for TV ads, as is the case during most live events. Below we dive into what U.S. fans are buzzing about ahead of the tournament and highlight what marketers can learn from each of the findings.

Supporting the Underdog

An analysis of social conversation in America around the World Cup reveals that 61% of Americans talking about the tournament are actually talking about the U.S. team, players or coach (see Graph 1 below). That’s a lot of national interest, even in the face of the U.S. being in the “Group of Death” – which consists of favored contenders such as Germany, Portugal and Ghana, in addition to the United States. That’s nearly two-thirds of American fans specifically talking about the “underdogs” of Group G.

Marketer takeaway: As vocal fans watch the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) in the Group Stage, brands should prepare to be present and active during any possible eruption of celebration and pride as the underdog team chips away at the odds before them. An early lead or unsuspecting win could provide ripe opportunities to cater to fans’ desire to celebrate in social media.

‘Adoption Teams’ & the Dark Horse Candidate

Opportunities to connect with American fans are not necessarily linked to the success of the USMNT.  With the prevalence of “adoption teams” (teams fans choose to root for, other than their national team)  among soccer fans, a look into the other teams Americans are already discussing may shed some light on some of the things  viewers are eagerly anticipating within the tournament. Graph 2 compares a 360i analysis of the teams Americans are currently talking about to the ancestry of Americans according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

What becomes immediately apparent from Graph 2 is that we have abandoned loyalties to the nations of our ancestors, and have instead opted for a tournament of intrigue, breaking records and upsets. The chart above reveals that Americans are already discussing favored teams like Brazil, Argentina and to some extent Germany – but what of Belgium and its healthy 5 percent share of pre-World Cup conversations?

Absent from the tournament for 12 years – but with a stacked team in 2014 – Belgium is the unequivocal dark horse candidate that has captured Americans’ attention in the months leading up to the competition. This niche area of chatter places an interesting lens on what American soccer fans are looking forward to seeing unfold, and uncovers a potential topic for brands to tap into during the games.

Marketer Takeaway: As conversations grow around the USMNT as the underdog in the “Group of Death,” and Belgium as the dark horse of the overall tournament, brands can infer that World Cup audiences are looking for teams and players to shock the world. Planning for the unplanned – that is, establishing scenarios and processes to allow client and agency teams to create engaging and relevant content as events unfold, will be imperative to a brand’s success during the games.

Players On (and Off) the Pitch

Ahead of the opening match, it comes as no surprise that fans are mostly talking about the players, and less about the coaches or teams (see Graph 3 below). Once the games begin, specific gameplay moments will, undoubtedly, enter into the social conversation.

However, a social listening analysis conducted by 360i reveals that focusing on the players on the pitch may, in fact, be considerably short-sighted. Graph 4 illustrates that players off the pitch (e.g. U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan, cut from the team in late May) may continue to drive conversation as the tournament progresses – despite having little real-time relevance to the matches as they unfold.

Marketer Takeaway: Brands that make an effort to find clues within the social chatter, and successfully leverage activity or players (on and off the pitch) that are sparking conversation surrounding the tournament will be far more relevant to the engaged soccer fan.


As the matches begin, gameplay is going to be a large part of what matters most.  But there’s a catch – if past years are any indication, what happens on the pitch during this year’s World Cup will be beautifully unpredictable. If brands listen close, and tap into what fans are saying, they actually can plan for the unpredictable. From June 12 through July 13, fans will watch and commentate in social media. Brands should listen and react appropriately – in ways that align with their objectives and tone of voice – during the 32 days of games.

Allison Brennan, Senior Analyst; Susie Kim, Associate Analyst; and Jasmine Jacobs, Intern at 360i contributed to this post. 

Cover photo via International Business Times.