2014 FIFA World Cup: The Newest Digital Cross-Cultural Brand

July 8, 2014

Posted by Jose Villa

In the last year I have introduced a new approach to marketing which I have coined cross-cultural marketing. Cross-cultural marketing can best be defined as one marketing program that leverages ethnic markets to reach across both ethnic and general markets (i.e. the total market). Cross-cultural efforts start with ethnic segments and result in marketing programs that cross over into the general market. Ethnic consumers, like Hispanics, are front and center in a cross-cultural model.

The last three weeks have seen a tipping point in the United States in the popularity of soccer generally and the FIFA World Cup specifically. Soccer has seen a slow and steady increase in popularity in the U.S. since 1994, yet it still lags far behind American football, baseball, basketball and hockey – the Big 4 – in terms of viewership, attendance, and overall passion. A recent Freakonomics podcast entitled “Why America Doesn’t Love Soccer (Yet)” provides a nice overview of the trends in U.S. soccer popularity.

Latin American and European immigrants have driven much of the growth in popularity in soccer over the last two decades, and the spike in popularity during this year’s FIFA World Cup. The largest group of these immigrants are Mexican-Americans who are incredibly passionate about soccer and the Mexican national team, aka “El Tri.

The tipping point I’ve noticed during this year’s FIFA World Cup has been a “crossing over” of soccer interest into “futbol” passion by both Hispanics, Europeans living in the United States and most importantly non-Hispanic native-born whites. This crossover has led to major ratings jumps for World Cup matches particularly those involving team U.S.A. and Mexico. USA-Portugal had 24.7 million viewers while Mexico-Netherlands had 10.4 million viewers on Univision alone. The passion has been fueled by social media and digital technology, enabling the heavily Hispanic brand advocates of World Cup soccer to promote the sport via social media by engaging in social activities like changing their Facebook profile pictures to face-painted country faces, posting various World Cup related memes, and encouraging viewership “anywhere” with online streaming of the games on ESPN and Univision. The success of many Latin American teams in the tournament, such as Colombia, Costa Rica, Argentina and Chile, has provided a further catalyst driving this crossover.

2014 FIFA World Cup soccer has become the most recent and high profile example of the power of cross-cultural marketing. This enthusiasm for the Latin American teams, led by Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica and Chile has crossed over to the general market not by trying to be more like mainstream sports, but by letting their passion cross over – turning World Cup soccer into a truly cross-cultural brand. Some brands saw this coming and were prepared, such as Hyundai with their “#BecauseFutbol” campaign (a great example in and of itself of a cross-cultural approach).

How can other brands learn from the 2014 World Cup and tap into the potential of cross-cultural marketing? Here are three key takeaways:

  • The power of cultural authenticity – understand how your brand “lives” among ethnic consumers and then embrace and support it.
  • Identify and empower your passionate ethnic brand advocates – they will drive crossover much like Hispanic futbol fans.
  • Take advantage of digital – particularly social media – to grease the wheels of the cross-cultural crossover.

An edited version of this post originally ran on MediaPost Engage:Hispanic on July 2, 2014

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