Flashback to 12th of June, when members of Team Adidas were watching the Brazil vs Croatia kickoff on flat screens in the brand's real-time marketing "war room" located at its China headquarters.
From day one, Adidas and its digital agency VML IM2.0, knew that winning the World Cup marketing battle would not be easy, with so many players and so much money being invested.
VML IM2.0 took up social-media duties for the brand in December last year. When developing the World Cup strategy for Adidas, the agency suggested not adhering to a social-calendar strategy, but having more in-the-moment conversations between brand and fans.
"Versus the 'you don't have anything to say but let's say something anyway' content strategy, which is what many Chinese brands are doing, we wanted to be extremely targeted," said Yi-Chung Tay (郑于聪), president & COO of VML IM2.0 China.
To tap into fans’ passion points in an "on-time and on-site" manner, Tay's team proposed focusing on two things: real-time content and mobile interaction.
Tay unabashedly called it the "most advanced social command centre in China, leveraging real-time hot-topic analysis, which is a little more guided by data than in the past". Setting it up and making it work took a lot of internal alignment, integration and coordination, he told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
"There is too much e-PR in the China market, like buying of fans and low-value creation of brand influence that is still high-cost," Tay said. "The war room is advanced because it's not just merely about reacting, responding and posting on Weibo and WeChat from instinct, but from a more scientific method that is combined with creativity."
On the creativity side, Adidas China knew it was not going to get a lot of marketing assets from its German headquarters, which had already spent a huge sum on sponsorship fees. Nike, on the other hand, would be able to spend its media budget (already many times greater than that of Adidas) on its animated short film 'The Last Game'—considered ambush marketing at its finest.
In the moment
A balance between global synchronisation and local adaptation of creative resources was needed as well. Take for example, this Messi post that went live on 26th June at 00:56 Shanghai time.
The Adidas team produced a localised response and posted it at 02:08. It used a screen-capture of Messi's goal moments, along with copy that plays around the Chinese wording of Messi’s name and the four goals he scored in the first stage of the World Cup.
When the tournament's biggest social-media moment arrived in the form of Luis Suarez biting yet another opposing player, Adidas generated a controversial Suarez post. The most senior leaders at VML IM2.0, as well as Adidas, made the decision, Tay revealed. Adidas has always been a conservative brand, and this was a deliberate decision to allow some controversy, although the post could also be interpreted as neutral, he said.
Perhaps the pressure from fans was too much to bear, because the brand deleted the post as a screen in the war room tracked the spread of the post (at the epicentre, below) through vertical pink lines representing more powerful key influencers.
During the whole tournament, the war room conducted full conversations with fans for each game. These included between-match activation (“Guess how many goals will Germany achieve?”), pre-game warmup posts (“Germany is all in and Mertesacker is ready to fight with his frenemy Koscielny”) and after-game recaps (“Go, Neuer! All for one”).
Average daily interactions on the Adidas Football Weibo account amounted to 2,617 forwards or comments, compared with a normal count of around 350.
The best-performing post generated 6,248 forwards or comments, and based on such proven social-media performance, the team bought banner ads on external websites and verticals—the opposite strategy from buying ad space on paid media and then duplicating the same content on owned media. All the content creation took response lead-times of as short as 15 minutes, Tay said.
Overall social-media performance was three times that of main competitor Nike, a first for Adidas, according to Tay. "We are setting industry benchmarks on all key metrics: social, engagement, recruitment," he said.
According to VML IM2.0 data:
- The hashtag #allinornothing# was mentioned more than 700,000 times on Weibo over the eight-week World Cup period, which equals 210 million impressions.
- All social-media performance was 'real', without 'astroturfing' (use of zombie accounts).
- Even Durex, one of the most popular social brands in China, gained less engagement than Adidas football.