If there's one event guaranteed to get advertisers drooling, it's the soccer World Cup.
Whether it is beer or underarm spray, the chance to pedal products to the "hard-to-reach lads" market does not get much better as an overall global audience of 50 billion -- mostly male -- fans passionately cheer on their teams.
But this year's World Cup will be different.
It is the first time the tournament has been held in two countries and the first time in Asia. That means games will be played in the morning for European viewers and the middle of the night in the Americas -- not great for the traditional beer, car, credit and men's product advertisers.
Indeed, those who hoped the World Cup would revive the stagnant advertising industry could be disappointed. The US and Europe are the world's biggest advertising markets and some advertisers have decided their money is better spent elsewhere.
"A lot of advertisers are keeping money back and I would expect overall spending to be lower at this World Cup than in the past. But advertisers could yet surprise and come in at the last minute to take advantage of good deals," said Jon Forsyth, business director at Mindshare, whose accounts include Nike.
Television is likely to lose out most once the World Cup kicks off on May 31, with fans in Europe and the Americas either tucked up in bed, stuck at work or watching the games from South Korea and Japan bleary-eyed. Less traditional advertising such as radio and the Internet may do better.
But despite the added weight of the worst slump in the industry for as long as many can remember, truly global brands know they cannot miss out on the world's most popular sporting event altogether, even if their local counterparts stay away.
"Soccer delivers an audience like nothing else and that's the key," said Brian Greenwood, CEO of PRISM Europe, the sports marketing arm of advertising giant WPP Group Plc.
"The audience is not only large, it's passionate and committed, which is great for advertisers."
Nike splashes out
Indeed, global heavyweights such as Coca-Cola, Nike and Gillette have not been put off.
Nike, for one, has made what some estimate to be the world's most expensive television advert to run alongside the World Cup.
Featuring 24 top soccer names, its "Scorpion" campaign stars former Manchester United player Eric Cantona as ring-master of a secret tournament on a battleship off the coast of Japan.
Portrayed as an undercover rival to the World Cup, the fast-moving, three-a-side game is also being promoted as a sport in itself and Nike is taking its "Scorpion cages" to public parks around the world.
While some ad executives estimate Nike paid some ?10 million (US$14.60 million) for the TV advertising alone, official sponsors have been forking out closer to ?20 million to have their names emblazoned on every aspect of the World Cup finals.
A record 15 global names including Coca-Cola, Adidas and McDonald's have signed major sponsorship deals -- a far cry from the first stadium ads in 1970.
But is it worth the money?
"Personally I would question the effectiveness of sponsoring the World Cup. It's very crowded with other sponsors, let alone unofficial advertisers, and it's very difficult to carve out a differentiated position," said PRISM's Greenwood.
Big splash = sales?
As Nike pours millions of dollars into its new-found favored sport, industry experts note the expenditure may not necessarily translate into sales. Soccer boots are not as appealing as other sports footwear such as basketball which spawned the sneaker craze.
Some industry experts go so far as to say that soccer is incompatible with advertising. With only one 15-minute break packed with commentary, advertisers get little airplay.
But at least advertisers get viewers' undivided attention during that break. The problem this time is that many broadcasters in Europe and the Americas will rely on highlights to draw viewers given the time difference -- and viewers do not pay as much attention to highlights as live games.
As a result, many advertisers are pulling their campaigns forward to May to avoid the June rush.
"A prominent strategy has been to get in early to build momentum, especially sports-related advertisers who can use the end of other soccer events such as the European Champions League to springboard their World Cup campaign," said Forsyth.
Advertisers wanting to avoid the World Cup altogether are also pulling their spending forward -- a strategy already reflected in initial May spending figures. Others will be targeting soccer widows seeking to escape the tournament.
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