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Neuromarketing and World Cup Advertising: Did Nike Hit the Jackpot?

When your favourite footballer or team scores a goal at the World Cup, do you jump up and pump your fist in the air? Do you roar at the TV?
Screaming football fan
If so, you’re probably a dedicated football fan, and you’re not alone!

In fact, of the many sports, teams, and national events out there, the World Cup is amongst the most watched, attended, and celebrated in the world. While FIFA has admitted to inflating viewership numbers in the past, it is still a clear winner above the Olympics, Super Bowl, Champions League and all other sporting events with upwards of three billion viewers worldwide.

The month-long event this June offers marketers a golden opportunity to get in on the action. But does spending six figures on advertisements during half-time, or leading up to the event, really pay off?

Only the largest companies are really able to play this high stakes game, so they must know what they’re doing, right…?

Considering that the competitive nature of ad space during sports events is a mark of prestige in itself, many businesses are blind to the incredible amounts of noise that they are creating. How can you really stand out if consumers are getting bombarded daily with contradictory and ever-increasing adverts?

Add to this the endless scrolling of social apps on phones, the buzz of sporting anticipation, and the queue to getting into fans’ hearts and minds gets longer each day.

Enter Neuromarketing 2.0

Neuromarketing was coined as a phrase in 2002 and became a buzzword amongst marketers around 2009, when the field came into the mainstream. The science behind it is what it sounds like - understanding what people think about marketing campaigns through monitoring their brain’s reactions, rather than the questionnaires they answer. Surveys, after all, have always been dubious when it comes to answering the WHY of what we buy.

Neuroscientists determine their results from using either electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines, which monitor electrical impulses and blood flow, respectively, to certain parts of the brain. They also use eye-tracking software to see where people look most when seeing an advertisement in print or on TV. These tests are then used to determine the relative success of a campaign, or predict how well it will do in achieving desired goals.

In Martin Lindstom’s bestseller Buyology, he explains the benefit of neuromarketing by dissolving a number of classic claims that marketers and admen have had for over a century. He debunks notions such as whether product placements in films really work, and how anti-smoking campaigns may have actually helped boost sales for the cigarette industry.

What he found was that for two specific types of marketing, product placements and brand associations, many of the largest companies make mistakes because they are unaware of how our brains react.

How Did Brands Use Neuromarketing at the 2010 World Cup?

Companies that were able to score an advertising spot for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa took advantage of neuromarketing techniques to develop their campaigns with vastly different effects. Two of the most notable ones are below:

Nike Write The Future World Cup 2010 Commercial

Pepsi FIFA World Cup 2010 Commercial

In both examples, Nike and Pepsi made lengthy ads showcasing their products in a context that was easily understood and that made sense to their brand and storyline. Each video reflected the emotional response and visual appeal that their brands wanted fans to take away, sticking to their unique marketing voices.

But because the Pepsi ad was shorter, and had a stronger storyline, it was the more successful of the two in instilling a lasting brand message.

The Nike ad was too visually noisy to really follow what was going on, and if you were hyped up by the games, your mind would not focus entirely on the multiple streams of stories within the advert. The all-star cast also backfired for Nike in South Africa since most of them didn’t score a goal or were sent home with injuries. Fans were left disappointed, and worse, started believing in a Nike curse.

This was the last thing that Nike could have anticipated, but bad press is press nonetheless. This also means that despite a company’s high level of understanding of neuromarketing, things can still be beyond their control when it comes to consumer reactions and lasting memories.

What Does Neuromarketing Look Like at the 2014 World Cup?

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil is already showcasing brands that use neuromarketing in some way, which has proven to drive anticipating fans wild.

Just check out Nike’s new “Winner Stays” advertisement, which has already garnered 36 million Youtube views from around the world:

Nike Winner Stays World Cup 2014 Commercial

You can count on the fact that Nike will lead advertising in this year’s World Cup, with neuromarketing at the heart of their material.

Some Things to Consider

While your business may not yet have the capital to compete for an advertising spot at the World Cup, you can still learn from what companies are doing to increase engagement, and how they use neuromarketing techniques to get there. It’s easier to let the big brands do all the legwork, to consider what they have done wrong, and how to avoid making the same mistakes.

Here are some things you should NOT do when building content, whatever the media:

1) Competing Storylines

One thing neuromarketing has completely changed about how marketers understand storylines, is competing stories do not work. They confuse us, and make stories less memorable, which is the exact opposite of what brands want from their ads.

"By looking at the EEG readout we can tell whether they’re disengaged or engaged. And we’ve found that storyline wins every time. If you want to lose someone’s attention, have several storylines in your commercial."

2) Product Placement without Context

One of the worst things about seeing a film based on contemporary culture is when product placements fill the screen with little or no context for why they are there. Most people, if they notice them at all, are put off by them unless they are integral to the story. Consumers hate being sold to, but they will enjoy an engaging scene or story that is dependent upon the use of a product. So if you do choose to include your product in the next James Bond film, make sure you’re Aston Martin, otherwise you’re not integral to the story.

3) Bad Timing

Nike has spent considerable time with neuromarketing and EEG testing to ensure that the timing of their branding is just perfect. As the video below shows, and this article explains further, the right build up matters only if it leaves an unmistakable relationship between the storyline and the brand message.

In Nike’s case, they waited until the final moments, which ended at a very memorable scene, to place the Nike symbol prominently in the middle of the screen. This made the difference between high engagement and memorability, and a lack thereof.

4) Looking for the ‘Buy Button’

Neuromarketing hit a brick wall shortly after it was introduced mainly because it promised too much. While the data and insight it can provide is increasingly valuable and sophisticated, there is still no holy grail of buying that is 100% accurate. This may seem upsetting to a lot of marketers, but I think it’s a bit naive to put all your trust into one way to understanding your customers.

Whether or not the ‘Buy Button’ of the brain exists, we do know that certain parts of the brain control pleasure, memory, alertness and engagement. This is much more important in influencing purchase decisions.

In the end, neuromarketing success depends on multiple aspects of the brain that must form a relationship to your brand, your message, and your product.


Click to Tweet: Nike will lead advertising in the World Cup, with #neuromarketing at the heart of their material. http://bit.ly/1mTSS5w @expertmarket

Click to Tweet: Learn what companies are doing to increase #engagement, and how they use #neuromarketing. http://bit.ly/1mTSS5w @expertmarket Pls RT