FIFA World Cup 2018: Marketers, don’t get caught on the break

Jonathan Barrett, MD, EMEA, Dataminr, explains how social media can keep your brand in safe hands during the World Cup.

An event of such scale as the World Cup is a magnet for international audiences – watching on TV, streaming online and discussing the action live on social media.

This means sponsorship and advertising opportunities for brands are of high value and in high demand. Months in advance, brands are vying for the best slots that will provide the most eyeballs during the World Cup, across all devices and platforms. If done right, a brand can be the talk of the tournament. But done wrong, the fall out from having millions of eyes on a brand’s failed marketing can be business destroying.

Social media has become one of the strongest platforms for this kind of mass brand awareness and Twitter acts as a mirror of world events, reflected live as they happen. It’s the platform people use most when sharing thoughts, analysis, updates and news relating to incidents as they occur. With this high level of influence comes a world of opportunity, however there is always a large degree of risk involved when real-time reactions can make or break your brand perception.

Year-on-year we experience a huge amount of ‘brand fails’ whereby companies get their multi-million pound marketing tactics wrong. If we simply look back to H&M’s “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle” disaster, or Pepsi’s problematic Kendall Jenner campaign – we have learnt time and again that the best laid plans can often go wrong. Learning from these mistakes is critical, especially as we have seen there is clearly so much at stake for a business’ bottom line if they don’t hit the nail on the head. For organisations who need to stay at the cutting edge of positive consumer perception and affiliation, as they invest marketing spend around events such as the World Cup, monitoring social media has become a core necessity and one that can provide fruitful insights if used to its full potential.

Foreseeing an own goal before it’s scored

In today’s connected and vocal consumer landscape, a brand crisis of any degree has become an eventuality instead of a possibility. However, not all crises are created equal. There are various ways in which these events manifest themselves, and they must be handled on a bespoke, case by case basis. Both the ‘sudden flash’ and the ‘slow burn’ style of crisis can have a devastating impact if handled incorrectly.

The Sudden Flash crisis

A sudden flash crisis is defined by its speed. Mere minutes can mean the difference between irreparable brand damage and averting the disaster altogether, so real time social media alerting is a vital first line of defence in these situations. With the world’s media firmly focused on this tournament, the risk of this type of incident is at an all time high. An example of this occurring can be seen in player endorsement.

With shirt sponsors forbidden in international football, brands often look towards individual player sponsorships in order to harness the influence held by the stars of the show. Whether this manifests itself in guerilla style social media endorsement, starring in TV advertising or simple clothing sponsorships, these tactics can be highly effective at generating brand awareness.

Brands who invest in players this way, take a degree of risk entering into these agreements, as players can become almost synonymous with the brands they represent. Just as positive affiliation with a key sportsman seen wearing a brand can help to boost its sales figures, the opposite effect can be had if a player gets caught doing something negative. Brands were quick to drop Tiger Woods when he became the focus of a media storm because of his extra marital affairs and many athletes like Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps and Maria Sharapova, have been dropped by brands when it was revealed they failed routine drugs tests. But these indiscretions still leave a stain on the brand, bringing its name into the media for the wrong reasons; even if that’s just to say they are distancing themselves from said disgraced celebrity. Brands need to be on the ball and able to react to the fallout of a ‘sudden flash’ style crisis like this.

Having full, to the second, visibility of social conversations is key to managing a crisis of this nature, and enabling the most informed and timely response. Swift, decisive action in the face of gross controversy can be highly effective, if fully informed. This is where the importance of social media data comes into play. Sudden surges in activity may indicate a significant event is occurring, and social media channels provide us with a wealth of data to work with. This is where having the right solution in place to sift through the data comes into play. Through the fast and informed handling of these ‘sudden flashes’, organisations have the ability to mitigate potential devastation to a brand’s perception before it occurs.

The Slow Burn crisis

In certain situations, the aforementioned solution of ‘acting first and acting fast’ simply doesn’t apply. Some types of crisis can take time to develop and may start small but escalate. Take for instance, Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now Moments Anthem’, a short film featuring model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner, that was launched on YouTube last year. Little did Pepsi know the ad would become one of the top brand fails of 2017. This is a classic example of a Slow Burn: it sustained public interest for months on end as consumers, analysts, and critics stoked the fire under Pepsi, Jenner, and the concept of capitalising on public interest in a social justice movement to promote a brand. What started as a few people venting their disapproval of the ad on social media, soon escalated into a media frenzy. It’s a fact that each time a company takes a public misstep, social media users are ready and waiting to make their voices heard in response. However, the way in which a brand picks up on an issue like this and respond, can make or break.

Executives who have experienced these types of situations will be all too familiar with ‘the war room’ setup that tends to be a classic response. Senior officials from all areas of the business are locked in for hours at a time to manage an ongoing, ‘slow burn’ crisis. As they try and work out the best response, tensions rise and there tends to be an inevitable siege mentality that takes hold. The individuals involved will feel like they are being attacked from all sides – via both the press and the public on social media. This is why it is vital to have the correct tools and processes in place to manage events as they unfold. In many cases, brands can quickly evaluate consumer feedback on major social platforms and respond accordingly. Through the combination of contextual clarity, speed and situational awareness – brands can utilise data to put out fires before they grow.

The ability to gain an aerial view of a crisis is invaluable when a brand is placed under the cosh, and enables internal communications teams and company spokespeople to work to the best of their abilities. Through the perfect combination of well trained staff, a broad, credible dataset and well drilled processes, businesses give themselves the best chance of coming out the other end of a crisis with limited reputational damage. After all, no-one wants to score an own goal.

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