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    How audio ads can keep World Cup fans cheering for brands

    With the 2022 Fifa World Cup rapidly approaching, audio channels offer brands an opportunity to seamlessly join the conversation and highlight unifying brand values.

    Football fans and brands will be eagerly awaiting this year’s Fifa World Cup, which is expected to attract 5 billion viewers and drive up to roughly $141m in additional advertising revenue this winter, per Wavemaker forecasts. 

    Sporting events and advertising have long gone hand-in-hand, with brands keen to be seen by the massive audiences that big tournaments attract, and sporting organizations and media companies poised to benefit from these lucrative partnerships. However, advertisers at this year’s World Cup will be facing a number of challenges, from ethical concerns around Qatar hosting the tournament to strategic clashes due to the timing of the event, which falls during ‘golden quarter.’

    This isn’t the first time the World Cup has proved challenging for brands; controversy around Russia’s hosting of the tournament in 2018 is well-documented, for example. But as fans demand more from both sporting bodies and brands in terms of engendering positive social change, it is vital that advertisers communicate in a relevant, responsible and safe way. Their task? To reflect consumer opinion and to maintain brand reputation when building campaigns that are guaranteed to have both high visibility and scrutiny.

    Brands will have to be both socially conscious and creative to win at this year’s World Cup, and audio is one way to cut through the noise of a busy advertising season in a brand-safe way.

    Keeping it relevant

    Being relevant means tuning into trends and channels with which consumers are already engaging. When it comes to sports, there are strong links to audio, because it is a carrier of identification and affiliation. If you think about any major football match, whether it is the singing of the national anthems, the blowing of the referee’s whistle or the encouragement of supporters, sound plays a key role in creating emotion and atmosphere. Try watching a televised match on mute and see the difference it makes. 

    Audio’s influence is evident throughout the football fan’s experience: in the excitement of radio commentary, the heated debate of fan phone-ins, or the creation of memorable moments through football anthems. It makes sense, therefore, that it also plays into brand campaigns.

    Back in 2014, for example, Adidas’s World Cup campaign spanned different platforms – with YouTube clips garnering 38m views and 2.1m #allin hashtag mentions on Twitter – combining music and sound to captivate viewers. Splicing Kanye West’s God Level with the shouts of crowds, the sounds of journalists and photographers and the movements of footballers running, tackling and scoring culminated in an exhilarating, sensory experience that echoed the feeling of watching the game itself.

    Another major brand that capitalized on the emotive power and global language of audio is Coca-Cola, which in 2010 leveraged African singer K’naan’s song Wavin’ Flag to resonate with both local and international markets – with the song topping the charts in 17 countries. This year, we see Hyundai collaborating with celebrated Korean pop group BTS to spread the news about its sustainability project and ‘Goal of the Century’ campaign.

    Beyond the clear strength of combining music with campaigns, there are myriad ways that brands can engage with the other sound-focused side of football during the 2022 World Cup: think podcasts, radio commentary and debate from local stations around the world, player interviews and features. Pundits, podcasters, journalists and fans will all be intersecting, discussing and analyzing every aspect of the game, with countless opportunities for brands to slot themselves into the conversation.

    Be a responsible advertiser

    Consumers are becoming more invested in how brands can contribute positively both to our society and our culture, holding companies to account for the ways they decide to use their influence. 

    If a brand decides to enter the conversation around the World Cup, it may decide this is a time to talk about its values over its products or services. We can consider advertisers’ response to the pandemic as a learning experience in this respect; the focus turned toward safety, wellness and (relative) togetherness over sales – one study by video advertising company Unruly even found that the less a brand focused on itself, the better it performed.

    This way of thinking could also be applied to the World Cup. As with previous football collaborations such as the ‘Rainbow Laces’ project – where the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) teamed up with Stonewall – pairing media campaigns with meaningful messaging and action is highly effective. Indeed, action is especially important, as audiences today are savvy enough to see through ‘woke-washing.’

    There are a number of ways that brands can engage in these conversations, such as working with individual community groups, teams, players and charities, raising awareness, dedicating funding and ensuring in-house values and practices measure up to scrutiny. Audio is a powerful way of getting this messaging across, as ads or branding can be placed within the forums where these conversations naturally sit, such as sports podcasts and radio coverage.

    Playing it safe

    Context in advertising has never been more important, which is why audio is one of the best ways brands can be sure that their World Cup messaging will not be associated with divisive or unsuitable content. Listeners tune into music to find relief from the world around them and into podcasts to find inspiration or to learn more about who and what they love. Advertising in this curated environment is generally a safer bet for brands, and if they can sponsor positive content at the same time, it will stand in their favor.

    Furthermore, transcription technology has evolved in leaps and bounds since its inception, providing a clear, detailed idea of podcast episode content. Advertisers can use this information to seek out or steer clear of particular topics, ensuring their ads complement the content contextually while avoiding unsafe content with confidence.

    What’s the game plan?

    The World Cup is a truly engaging global event that few, if any, others can match. Bringing together 32 nations competing in 64 matches, the tournament is widely celebrated, even attracting non-fans by its sheer size, atmosphere and communal feel. It’s this sense of togetherness that brands should lean into.

    This requires a clear strategy – aligning key messaging with real values and practices – ahead of November’s kick-off. The growing popularity of audio provides an opportunity for brands to do so in a way that speaks directly to their audiences – a win-win for both.

    Michal Marcinik is founder and chief executive officer at AdTonos.

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