Nike wanted to leverage the World Cup to achieve its goal of becoming the No. 1 soccer brand in the world because the World Cup is a key cultural event watched by the entire world. To connect with soccer-obsessed teens on channels they were already using to engage with the games, the brand leveraged active listening technology to create personalized second-screen ads for users.
Objective and Context:
Nike wanted to leverage the World Cup to achieve its goal of becoming the No. 1 soccer brand in the world because the World Cup is a key cultural event watched by the entire world. There was a challenge, however. adidas had been the official sponsor of the World Cup since 1970 (and will be until 2030). The adidas sponsorship locked Nike out of in-game advertising on TV and digital video streams.
Nike’s World Cup campaign would focus on the audience that had the most influence over the future of soccer, especially in the U.S. The brand labeled them “soccer-obsessed teens,” and they were ages 13 to 17. There were almost 20 million of these soccer-obsessed teens globally, and 40 percent of them live in the U.S. Their key interests were soccer and mobile.
The overall campaign was rooted in three insights:
Nike leveraged these insights by creating mobile-only activations aimed at Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. The brand also worked closely with YouTube to balance exposure across multiple platforms. It bought high-impact ad units on days when the U.S. Men’s National Team was playing, focusing not just on desktop but also smartphone and tablet. It relied heavily on cross-platform and responsive ad units that were rooted in the latest HTML 5 technologies.
To connect with soccer-obsessed teens on channels they were already using to engage with the games, the brand leveraged active listening technology from Alphonso. This technology found the target audience while they were watching the games and delivered Nike ads as second-screen content on their mobile devices. It was embedded into a variety of apps, which would ask users for permission to access the device’s microphone. Then, each app would explain how it would benefit the user. If the user opted in, the device would listen for audio signals from the TV. When it recognized either a TV spot or a specific piece of content, it queued the appropriate ad to appear during the next ad call.
For Nike’s World Cup campaign, the creative was a five-minute animated film that featured all of the Nike soccer athletes. That film was then cut into different segments that focused on each athlete. The app matched the segment clips to the players as they participated in the game that the user was watching live. This created a unique level of relevance for the user. Not only was Nike delivering its soccer ads while users were watching live games, it was delivering clips that featured Nike athletes who were on the field during that game.
Overall Campaign Execution:
Every four years, the World Cup becomes a huge focus for Nike, but each campaign is different. Mobile was a much bigger focus in 2014 than it had been in 2010 as a result of the rise of second-screen viewing on mobile or tablet.
Mobile in general played a significant role in the overall campaign, but the campaign also extended to other emerging platforms, including Xbox, that were popular with teens. Well over half of the budget went to mobile and other teen-focused platforms.
However, the active listening technology was the most critical element of the campaign’s success. It was the first time Nike was able to find people who were watching the games live and deliver synchronized and highly-relevant ads on their smartphones and tablets.
Nike earned praise from consumers and trade press as a result of the campaign. However, the most telling result was that Nike was poised to overtake adidas in soccer revenue. According to a Forbes, “the gap [in soccer sales] between Nike and adidas is getting smaller.” Ad Age also weighed in: “Nike reigned as the most-viewed brand of the tournament in terms of online video.”