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  • Andrew Collins

Brands Use World Cup To Net Fans In China

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

As the first match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil approaches, many brands are launching campaigns – both digital and not – to leverage the popularity of the world’s largest sporting event. Some of the brands, such as Nike (#riskeverything) and Adidas (#allin or nothing), possess an inherent connection to the event. They have run imposing campaigns and adverts by employing their connection to the sport and its stars. Adidas, the official sponsor of FIFA, has every reason to target the World Cup;  Nike, which is hoping to make Brazil its third largest market behind the US and China, has millions of reasons of its own.

But while the big football brands are almost obligated to launch big campaigns in the host country, some brands less directly affiliated with the sport are instead using the event as an opportunity to establish brand recognition in China, which boasted the single largest viewing audience for the last World Cup. So what exactly are some brands, in the less obviously World Cup related industries, doing to carve out a foothold in China by leveraging the event?

The automotive industry has very little to do with the World Cup, save for one brand – Continental Tires – a sponsor of the FIFA World Cup. Continental Tires has leveraged the buzz around the event to further its brand’s association with football, as well as its overall presence in China. On April 10, Continental Tires released a marketing campaign in China to “promote the premium brand and engage with target audience throughout the football communication,” according to their website. The campaign, which features the release of a limited edition FIFA tire, is a great example of how brands are using the surge in publicity surrounding the World Cup to further their brand. However, not all brands occupy the unique sponsorship position that Continental has.

Alcohol is an industry that retains a strong connection to the sport. Bitburger, a German brewery founded in 1817, may not have their logo on the German national team’s jersey like Adidas does, but they are in fact the official beer of the German team, and recently decided to launch on Chinese social media. Having had relatively quiet brand recognition in China, the German brewery decided to more heavily leverage their history and connection with the German national team to promote themselves in China through social media campaigns.

The Bitburger WeChat/Weibo social media campaign ‘Fan Force One’  pictured above.

Creating a multi-platform presence across some of China’s most frequented social media platforms, Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku, Bitburger launched campaigns that offered tickets to Brazil as well as some German national football team paraphernalia, developing a massive social following in a minimal amount of time. Positioning their image to be more football related than originally marketed, the beer maker was able to become an authority on the goings-on of the German national team.

With the World Cup itself having no official Chinese social media presence, and only two national teams on the frequented microblogging site Sina Weibo, there is a lack of verified World Cup information on social media, leaving Bitburger to carve out a presence on Chinese social media, establishing their account as a place for fans of the event, the German national team, and of course, the product itself.

Social media presence, while essential in developing a good brand image in the eyes of the Chinese consumer, plays out differently for different brands. Football is one thing, liquor quite another – although there is a place where they both converge.

As liquor brands fight for increased brand recognition in China, it has not gone unnoticed that 24 of the 64 World Cup matches will be played at midnight China Standard Time (CST). Social media penetration is essential, but on-the-ground development is just as important, with sports bars and other liquor-serving establishments likely to become the most frequented venues for Chinese viewers of the tournament.


Premium Primet Liqueur, whose product launched in China, HK, and Taiwan in 2013, is implementing a marketing strategy to position them as a World Cup related drink. The idea is to not only be frequently ordered by groups of people watching the events, but also to be a product that is easy for establishments to feature. Teaming up with over 100 bars across China, Primet is to provide menus, shot trays and shot glasses (with the purchase of the liquor itself, of course), giving venues the structural resources to pour a tray of Primet liqueur shots in the form of a country’s flag. Serving as a way for fans to indulge in their alcoholic beverages and support their team at the same time, Primet has developed a fun, innovative way for viewers of the World Cup to fuel their engagement with the event.

With a presence in 100 bars, and possibly more, Primet has ensured their brand will have a presence in the eyes of a large portion of World Cup viewers. With this strategy, they hope to successfully leverage the popularity of the event in their favour, with minimal expenditure on large campaigns and adverts, instead essentially outsourcing their brand awareness development to bars in China. By additionally supplying a training in their recipes, as well as retaining the vast profit margins of the liquor industry (approximately 80% profit per-tray for the venue), they have managed to create a system that is very easy for other venues to sign onto.

All the aforementioned brands have different approaches to marketing in China ahead of the World Cup, but all have the same goal: to use the World Cup and the publicity and buzz around the event to promote brand recognition in China. While the short-term benefit is a jack-up in sales, and might only extend that far, all three approaches have massive long-term potential in China. Whether the different brands provide the Chinese consumer with engaging content on social media, their new favorite World Cup conceptualized drink, or the tires that let them drive to where they’re watching the game, the aim is the same for everyone, just as it is for the teams competing in the World Cup. The aim is to score early and score often. The aim, in marketing as in football, is to win.

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