Update your World Cup playbook: 5 tips for marketers

07/26 By John Bonanno

On Sunday, the World Cup came to its thrilling conclusion as France defeated Croatia, 4-2, to capture its second ever World Cup. The high-scoring final did not disappoint and featured a few moments of real drama including a controversial video of an assistant referee awarding France a penalty kick and the 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé becoming the first teenager to score in a World Cup Final since Brazil’s Pelé in 1958.

At IAS, in addition to following all the action on the pitch, we’ve been following the media performance of advertising campaigns tied to the World Cup tournament. Our unique vantage point, observing more impressions per day than any other verification provider, allows us to discern changes in traffic patterns around major television events, and to observe changes in overall media quality leading up to, and during world events and broadcasts. Now that the gameplay is over, we want to share some lessons that marketers can learn from media quality patterns surrounding around the World Cup and and how these lessons can be applied to future digital advertising efforts.

  1. Know when to find your audience online

During the World Cup, internet traffic levels primarily spiked during halftime and after the game’s conclusion

For most World Cup games, including the final, IAS saw spikes in internet traffic during the pregame, at halftime, and at the end of the game.  A savvy digital advertiser would have had a much better chance capturing viewers’ attention while they were online during half-time and post-game relative to when they were watching the game. This is a pattern that holds across other major televised events, if you’re hoping to score advertising goals, expect higher engagement when the action on the TV screen slows down or stops.

  1. Unanticipated events can lead to to new advertising opportunities

Unlike the championship match, the Croatia vs. England semifinal went into overtime which resulted in additional spikes during the conclusion of both periods of extra time

As an advertiser, to what extent are you prepared to capitalize on unexpected events like a game going into overtime? Back in 2013, Oreo famously capitalized on a power outage during the Football championship 2013, by tweeting that  “you can still dunk in the dark.” If something unexpected happens in an event you are advertising in, are you prepared to capitalize. ?

  1. Understand when your audience is most engaged


World Cup advertisers invested the greatest amount of impression volume during the group stage of the World Cup (which was 95.1% and 8.9% greater than pre-group or knockout stages respectively)

We observed the largest  amount of impressions during the Group Stage of the World Cup. It’s worth noting that the earliest part of the tournament is likely to draw the largest audience. this is when the largest number of teams are in play and fans are optimistic that anything could happen. Unexpected twists, like  South Korea’s upset of the favored Germany,  give fans the sense that and this “could be the year” prompting them to tune in and log on in larger numbers.   However, as the tournament progresses, teams get eliminated and the casual viewers gradually drop off leaving only  focused fans.

Advertisers need to adjust their campaign strategy to balance between wide interest levels during an event’s start and a narrower focus as the event advances.  For example, there is a lot of excitement during the start of the Olympics during the opening ceremonies, but interest can wane after the completion of favorite events.

4. Monitor inventory quality to clamp down on fraud

Video fraud started off relatively high, but decreased as the World Cup progressed

You can always count on fraudsters to follow the  money, and specific events like the World Cup offer unique opportunities that can lead to bigger paydays than ongoing campaigns.  While fraudsters initially had the upper hand in high CPM video inventory, World Cup advertisers were able to successfully crack down on fraud once the tournament started, although there were still some relative spikes in advance of the semi finals.  

While advertisers should always actively avoid fraud, they need to be especially diligent around live events, given opportunistic fraudsters and the inability to make adjustments post campaign.   

  1.  Live events come with big rewards, and more risk

While the percentage of brand safety violations declined for display as the World Cup progressed, they increased for video by 17.4%

Advertisers would do well to stay diligent in terms of brand safety, especially during live events like the World Cup.  The consequences of being associated with unsavory content can hurt viewers’ perception of a brand. Advertisers need to make sure they are not running ads in environments that aren’t aligned with their values, and that  they have blocking technology enabled for extra protection. When fans are as passionate as they are during the World Cup , it is imperative to avoid risky content.

Just like managers make adjustments after games based on their teams performance, so must advertisers.  The next World Cup tournament is four years away, but the lessons we learn from a major world sporting event can be applied to any live event that draws a mass audience. Make sure that your brand is protected, your digital investment is secure, and that you’re in position to make the most of major cultural events and the marketing opportunities they present.