World Cup 2014: The Marketing War at Its Best

Hi everyone,Downtown Florianopolis
A global event such as the World Cup gives a pretty good overview of the leading football brands. The marketing war between Nike, adidas and Puma has reached a pinnacle. Let’s have a look.

Adidas is a FIFA partner for more than 60 years. The 3-stripes extended their sponsorship deal with FIFA until 2030. A strategic move that allows adidas to use the FIFA marks and events to showcase, sell and promote its products.

The Brazuca is the official FIFA World Cup matchball and will be seen over and over during the whole tournament. Adidas introduced the first World Cup matchball, the Telstar in 1970.
The brand expects to achieve record sales and to be the f irst to break through the €2 billion sales mark with football performance products. 

Adidas is also outfitting referees, ball boys and official flag carriers during the event. On the field of play, for the first time, adidas will sponsor less teams than Nike. 9 teams for adidas, 11 for Nike. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, adidas sponsored 12 teams when Nike had 9 Federations in its portfolio. Adidas signed a late partnership deal with Bosnia on March 2014.

I have not heard any comment on this point (thus far), but adidas shall claim to have Spain, the current Euro and World Cup Champions.

On the other hand, Nike will argue to have Brasil, the 5 times World Cup Champions and the host country.

Nike adidas Puma WC2014

I obviously do not need to point out that Nike is not a FIFA sponsor and therefore cannot use the events marks and emblems to showcase its products. The question is: “Does Nike really need to be affiliated to FIFA and the World Cup to engage with the consumer?”

Back to World Cup 2010. Two weeks before the event kicked off, a Nielsen Company survey pointed out that the football fan associated Nike with the World Cup. In other words, football fans created a natural link between the biggest sport event in the world and the Nike brand. 

Since Nike is not a FIFA sponsor nor partner, Nike must play it smart. Besides the innovative and performance products Nike equips its Federations and players, Nike is used to launching inspirational marketing campaigns.

In 2010, the Beaverton firm launched a kick ass marketing campaign “Write the future” that provided a fantastic marketing platform and Nike engaged directly with football fans and non football fans.

Any football marketer will remember the “Write the Headline” marketing stunt where Nike lit up the Life Center building in Johannesburg. Fans could submit a 57 character personal message through, Twitter, Facebook, Mxit (South Africa) and QQ (China) to over 50 of Nike’s athletes from around the world.


Up to 100 headlines are then selected each night and transformed into digital player animations that are projected across Johannesburg. When a fan’s message is used they receive a personalized notification showing them a picture of the headline and the animation created from it. Players image would show up on the Johannesburg tower and fans tweets would be displayed. 

Some called it ambush marketing, I call it being innovative and creative.

Nike and adidas also have the best players in the world in their portfolio. Football players… of the most subjective topic ever. Which is the best? Cristiano Ronaldo, a Nike athlete or a Leo Messi who endorses adidas? Neymar with his Hypervenom or Xavi in Predators? Are you rooting for Ribery and the talented Paul Pogba with the swoosh on their boots or for Arjen Robben or David Villa in their F-50?

You get the picture. Puma can also claim to have some fantastic players with Radamel Falcao or Cesc Fabregas.

Puma’s approach is more focused on the African continent. With 4 Federations on board (Algeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana), it’s the sponsor that counts the most African Federations. This said, Puma also counts the 2006 Champions Italy in its portfolio.

The cat, as Nike, doesn’t have the marketing rights to use the World Cup marks, and has to be creative. In 2010, Puma played it smart with a “love=football” campaign. The marketing campaign consisted of two viral videos capturing the World Cup from a spectators point of view, but bringing the famous love=football icon to life in an unusual way.


A very interesting point is to notice the amount of “smaller” brands part of the event. Burrda, Leggea, Lotto, Marathon, Joma, Uhlsport will showcase their products on the field as their Federations made it to Brasil. In 2010, there was a lesser amount of “smaller” brands.

Again, Nike adidas and Puma are the big 3 and it’s a proven fact on and off the field. Adidas and Spain lift the trophy 4 years ago. Puma had its moment of glory in 2006 with the Squadra Azzura, and the last time a Nike team won the World Cup was Brasil in 2002. Who will shine in Brasil?

Karl Lusbec