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 2: Good content is not for free)

Written by Reiner Joachim Schleich

Part 2: Good content is not for free

When adding social media to the marketing mix, Aminelli and Villanueva (2011) state that SMM and traditional marketing are competing against each other by fighting for budget, attention, time and engagement. Therefore, SMM is not for free because it requires skilled staff and creativity. After examining the overall context and statistics of the campaign, it will be analysed how adidas’ Twitter activities contributed to overall success of the sponsorship.

Online and offline investments

Analysing the investments made in SMM and traditional marketing helps to understand the relation between these two elements in adidas’ campaign. While the online investment is estimated to account for 68mUSD, the traditional marketing activities consists mainly of sponsorship which can be defined as, 

‘an investment in cash of kind in an event, team or person, in order to secure sponsors’ access to the commercial potential associated with that event, team or person’ (Fahey, Farelly & Quester, 2004),

and add up to more or less 130.5mUSD (Buchner, 2014). However, it must be considered that the traditional marketing investment is distributed over a period of four years. As a consequence, sponsorship has become a highly strategic tool and long-term investment within a company’s communication mix (Kapferer, 2012).

Social media activities, however, are concentrated in a short distance to the actual tournament itself, which might justify the significantly lower amount of money invested in SMM in relation to sponsorship. Nevertheless, researchers expect that companies will allocate significant resources (Weinberg & Pehlivan, 2011) to SMM in order to facilitate interactions.

Experience and brand promise

adidas has a long track record in sponsorship. However, due to rising sponsoring costs and external competition, the pressure to capitalize on SMM (Tiago & Veríssimo, 2014) and to deliver authentic and relevant content increases. As official sponsor of the FIFA World Cup 2014, adidas has access to exclusive locations and behind-the-scenes material, such as FIFA events, stadiums and fan zones. When investing in sponsorship, a company needs to leverage and activate its investment in order to exploit the commercial potential around the event. This might require further investments, adding up almost to the same amount of money that has been necessary to pay the sponsorship (Houston-Waesch, 2014). Ramsden explains, that to

‘unlock your potential and get the most out of the biggest event in sport is to be ‘all in’ […] we present a unique, fresh and authentic view of the World Cup that only adidas can deliver’ (adidas, 2014a).



When analysing the campaign, you can notice that adidas leverages very well its exclusive access to the event and it seem to have met the taste of the global football community. As mentioned before, adidas launched its first world cup related video in May 2014. Only a few days later, adidas France captured the all in or nothing mind-set in a very symbolic manner. It destroyed France’s team bus from the previous World Cup, which had become a symbol of disastrous failure. This action illustrated a new start, representing zero compromise towards the 2014 World Cup. adidas France clearly lived the philosophy and demonstrated its support to one of its long-term sponsored teams. This event appealed to the emotions of French football fans and spread even more the word-of-mouth of the campaign. A clear connection to adidas’ brand philosophy is made and it was promoted by the media and opinion leaders that attended the event (adidas, 2014b).


An example of innovative communication, first hand content and the creativity demonstrates the official match ball. adidas’ Brazuca ball for the FIFA World Cup 2014 was developed over several years including extensive test phases with professional players, trying to develop a high performing product with the best available technology (adidas Group, 2014). By crowdsourcing the name of the ball, adidas succeeded to connect to Brazilian football fans, although their national team is equipped by its competitor Nike.

It is not new that individual player have their own Twitter account, which provides fans with news and insights (Borden, 2014). But by creating a Twitter account for the Brazuca ball, a completely new perspective was added to the World Cup experience. Not only the videos and images, but also the entertaining and informing tweets set a completely new way of communication and interaction. This creative and strategic move by adidas has been rewarded during the World Cup. @Brazuca generated millions of interactions on social media. It allowed adidas to create personalized real-time content, capturing the most emotional moments of the tournament. Tweets of @brazuca included pictures of players with funny facial expressions, comments on goals and match results among others. Ramsden argues: 

‘[…] real-time communications would be the best way for adidas to win the World Cup. We are so engrained and connected to the sport through our products, players and federations, there is never a moment in football where we are absent and, […], our knowledge and understanding of the game means we are the most engaging brand with football fans’ (FIFA, 2014). 

A few examples of @brazuca indicate its creativity:

‘My first 0-0. It feels weird, like I've been turned away from a club.’
‘This is a high pressure situation. I'd be flat without pressure though so I thrive on it.’
 ‘Here I am wearing a disguise so I don't get recognised in Rio. I need to focus now.’


Figure 2 - Brazuca ball wearing sunglasses as disguise on the beach in Brazil

Figure 2 - Brazuca ball wearing sunglasses as disguise on the beach in Brazil

‘I dreamt of playing with Messi in the @FIFAWorldCup but the reality was better. He does the impossible. #GoldenBall


             Figure 3 @brazuca – adidas golden ball nominee messi (Twitter, 2014b)    Leo Messi nominated for adidas golden ball award with funny facial expression staring at brazuca ball. 

             Figure 3 @brazuca – adidas golden ball nominee messi (Twitter, 2014b)

Leo Messi nominated for adidas golden ball award with funny facial expression staring at brazuca ball. 

Appropriate channel

Twitter has been the right choice for adidas’ @brazuca. It allowed real-time interaction with fans, providing short messages or images that catch up the atmosphere of every single match. The mix of planned, anticipated and reactive content generated almost 920.000 mentions of the #allin hashtag on Twitter (adidas, 2014c). Ramsden summarises @brazuca as follows: 

‘Brazuca is the only character at the FIFA World Cup part of every game and who will meet every player. There isn't a more comprehensive perspective on the tournament than that of the ball and with @brazuca and other initiatives we can not only give people a unique point of view of the tournament but also a chance to interact with arguably the tournament’s most visible and embedded icon’ (adidas Global, 2014).

Fans were able to participate and engage with the brand by creating their own content. This could be defined as user-generated content, which means

‘content that comes from regular people who voluntarily contribute, data, information, or media that then appears before others in a useful or entertaining way, usually on the web’ (Krumm, Davies & Narayanaswami, 2008).

Another colleague explains: ‘We're going to bring fans along with us on the World Cup journey and give them access to content and experiences that they've never had before…That's something only we can bring because as a sponsor we have access to teams, players and assets that no one else has’ (adidas, 2013). 

Key success factors

Barwise and Meehan’s (2010) research about how to build top brands summarizes what adidas has done throughout its communication campaign. The authors argue that great brands share four qualities. Adapted to adidas’ all in-or-nothing campaign those qualities can be summarised as follows:


1. offers and communicates a clear, relevant customer promise

adidas football’s brand promise is clear. Be #allin and give the best you can or you will lose everything. The message is relevant to all participating teams and it also matches the spirit of football fans, officials and sponsors.

2. builds trust by delivering on that promise

adidas uses its experience, relationships and connects emotionally to individual players or teams. It supports them and on their World Cup journey and addresses them in a personalized way (e.g. starting a new era of French football). The brand engages strongly with its stakeholders and inspires them to participate.

3. drives the market by continually improving that promise

As major equipment supplier adidas develops technological advanced products. The company’s deep insights help to improve the quality and their commitment for every tournament.

4. seeks further advantage by innovating beyond the familiar

The biggest innovation in the FIFA 2014 World Cup is the @brazuca account, which added unexperienced dimension the whole tournament, by significantly increasing the value for all its participants and stakeholders.



The analysis shows that in order to exploit sponsoring investments, it is necessary to invest money in SMM. The combination of both investments is necessary to offer fans and users relevant and authentic content, which can increase brand engagement. Furthermore, the content should be precisely timed and contain certain degree of emotions. A brand needs to act as a communication facilitator and inspire users to interact via social media. Additionally, the nature of every social media channel with its specific characteristics (e.g. Twitter for real-time content), needs to be considered when planning to interact with consumers. This might require easing some control and taking risks. High brand engagement offers a source for valuable consumer insights.


There are some limitations to this analysis. First, the competitive environment around the all in or nothing campaign was not covered. adidas’ main competitor Nike is known for ambush marketing activities around the FIFA World Cup. In fact, Nike used a very similar campaign called #Riskeverything, which also gained significant attention. It needs to be analysed, which campaign has a longer lasting impact on each of the company’s brand performance.  Second, the analysis is based only on social media analytics. An analysis of other KPI’s such as return on investments, brand awareness or customer satisfaction would provide further insights.


adidas all in or nothing campaign is a good example of leveraging traditional marketing with SMM. However, it must be pointed out that investment in social media activities are not without any risks. Dissatisfaction and riots in Brazil before the World Cup have been taken up by the media. Companies have to act carefully when communicating or connecting with local communities in such a tense situation. Nevertheless, the world biggest football brand seems to understand very well how the global football community looks like and how to inspire them to action.

A quote by Herbert Hainer, CEO of the adidas Group, underlines the necessity of combining both, traditional marketing and SMM:

‘This World Cup has been an outstanding success for adidas and clearly underlines our position as the world’s leading football brand. From having both finalists, the winning team and all three adidas golden award winners to achieving record football sales and being the most talked-about brand in social media, we were able to dominate the tournament on and off the pitch’ (adidas, 2014c).



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