How to leverage sports sponsorship with social media: The example of adidas’ all in or nothing campaign and Twitter during the FIFA World Cup 2014 (Part 1)

Written by Reiner Joachim Schleich

Most companies are no longer concerning whether to add social media to the marketing mix or not. By applying traditional and Social Media Marketing (SMM), the even more relevant question nowadays is how to effectively combine those two elements. In the context of major sport events, such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup, this question is of utmost interest, as companies invest a lot of money to get access to the commercial potential of these events. The purpose of this paper is to analyse adidas’ communication campaign around the World Cup 2014 and thereby derive practical recommendations, which help sponsors to activate and exploit their sponsoring investments.

Part 1: adidas wins on(line) and off(line) the pitch of FIFA World Cup 2014!

In the past few years an increased importance for companies of social media presence around major sports events can be registered. Consequently, FIFA President Sepp Blatter comments on the FIFA World Cup 2014: ‘This has been the first truly mobile and social World Cup’ (Buchner, 2014), generating more than three billion interactions on Facebook and more than 672 million posts on Twitter. Thereby, it gained more attention than the Super Bowl or the Olympics (Buchner, 2014). Brands show increasing effort to ‘create significant consumer engagement through targeted campaigns’ (VisibleMeasures, 2014). 

Whitla (2009) confirms that the internet can support brand building, word-of-mouth communication or crowdsourcing and it allows innovative forms of communication and co-creation, where companies position themselves more as interaction facilitators (Tiago & Veríssimo,  2014). Consequently, the concept of SMM emerged, which Stelzner (2013) describes as:

"a tool for increasing brand awareness, traffic, leads, market research, building fan loyalty and  improving search ranking, while it’s also useful for growing business partnerships’. Weber (2009) adds ‘…Marketing to the social web is not about you getting your story out; it’s about your customers. It’s about being more transparent, earning trust, and building credibility. It’s about nurturing relationships and dialogue among customers, prospects, your company, and whoever else is active in the community."


In the following, adidas’ all in or nothing communication campaign will be used as best practice case to illustrate how a targeted SMM campaign can look like. 

Overall consistent strategy

The campaign started with a TV advertisement on May 24th during an UEFA match. Drawing on this initial video, the campaign expanded through all main social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram attracting step by step the attention of global football communities towards the World Cup starting on June 12th 2014 in Brazil.

Brand engagement

Initiator of the campaign is adidas’ football division in collaboration with its ad agency TBWA. The campaign aimed to strengthen adidas’ position as world leading football brand and to improve its overall social media performance. It included videos and images from professional football players such as Messi, Bale or Schweinsteiger, which are all sponsored by the German brand. The videos generated an understanding of the new campaign and led to an increased brand engagement, which can be defined as:

‘subtle, subconscious process in which consumers begin to combine the ad’s messages with their own associations, symbols, and metaphors to make the brand more personally relevant’(Nail, 2006).
  Figure 1 Make  -  a  -  choice – all in (YouTube, 2014)

Figure 1 Make-a-choice – all in (YouTube, 2014)

Every viewer had to make a choice after watching the video. Either selecting all in and get directed to adidas’ broad SMM campaign where they were encouraged to sign up for news; or selecting the nothing button and miss out the opportunity to stay informed. 

adidas is all in

While adidas’ Global Brand and Marketing Manager Ramsden, sees the all in option as ‘dedication and commitment required to winning this great tournament’ (Brownsell, 2014), others describe it as a ‘high risk sponsorship strategy with an unwanted hurdle in order to engage’, which could also be interpreted as brand arrogance (Bayliss, 2014). Despite the criticism, the social media analytics prove high interaction and brand engagement (Ricki, 2014): 

‘1.59 million conversations - brand mentions in combination with World Cup specific phrases, hashtags […] considering Twitter, News Sites, Blogs, Forums, Tumblr posts and publicly available status updates on Facebook’
‘5.8 million – […] new followers added during the World Cup period on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, Facebook and YouTube considering global and World Cup relevant brand accounts …’
‘More than 38 million - Total number of views of World Cup relevant content [… ] on the global adidas football YouTube Channel’


Emotional connection

adidas’ Twitter activities started in September 2012 with the release of the official match ball. A crowdsourcing event, where more than one million of Brazilians participated in the name finding process of the ball, was organized and offered the first touch point and interaction opportunity for local fans and communities with the brand. Crowdsourcing can be defined as:

‘an online, distributed problem-solving and production model’ (Brabham, 2008).

The host nation voted for ‘brazuca’ which is a colloquial expression in Brazilian language, representing a sense of nationality and pride. This early opportunity for user engagement is justified by adidas’ America Soccer Director Ernesto Bruce: ‘People are much more social today than they were in 2010 […].  What you’ll see from us and how we have shifted, is that this will be our largest marketing campaign in the history […]. Our goal for this World Cup is to be the most positively talked about brand’ (Jessop, 2014).

Precise timing

The ball was presented during an event in Rio on December 2013, which was the start of a worldwide journey where it would meet famous football players and celebrities. A unique characteristic about the official match ball is that it is adidas’ first product that has been given a Twitter account called @brazuca. Within the first week after the initial presentation, @brazuca gained more than 100.000 followers and 1.7 million tweets (adidas Global, 2014). This was due to the (planned) coincidence that the final drawing of the 2014 FIFA World Cup was held within that week.

adidas conducted another risky step to facilitate the interaction with its fans and online communities, because the brand could not predict whether or not this action would be accepted. Again, analytics demonstrate that the strategy worked well (Ricki, 2014):

‘2.98 million (603%) – […] follower growth of @brazuca during the World Cup period’
‘917 thousand - #allin mentions during the World Cup period’

In continuation, it will be discussed why the campaign generated so many interactions.




1: Researchers see no necessity in redefining theory for the concept of brands in an online environment (Ind & Riondino, 2001; Vernuccio, Barbarossa, Giraldi, & Ceccotti, 2012; Vernuccio, 2014). DeChernatony (2001) argues: ‘A Brand is a brand regardless of its environment. What is different is the way the brand’s essence is executed….To thrive with brands on the internet a looser form of brand control is needed, welcoming the active participation of consumers.’