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World Cup Ads Runneth Over — Six Months Early

Ad Age, December 10, 2013

By Claudia Penteado

For many marketers, the World Cup has already kicked off in Brazil, six months ahead of the first soccer match — whether they're sanctioned sponsors or not.

During the run-up to the final draw Dec. 6 to determine which of eight groups each of the 32 national teams will fall into, official World Cup bank Itau has played on Brazilian national pride. In a commercial by local ad agency Africa that cleverly mimics the official draw, anxious fans from different countries gather around their TV sets, hoping their national teams won't have the misfortune to land in the same group as Brazil and be forced to face one of the most-formidable contenders early in the month-long soccer tournament.

Neighboring Uruguay is returning the favor with a promotional stunt that harks back to 1950, when Brazil last hosted the World Cup and was tipped to win before a humiliating loss to Uruguay in the final match. The Uruguayan team's sponsor, Puma, along with Montevideo agency Notable, are reopening old wounds with "The Ghost of 1950," a figure in a tattered blanket stamped with the number 50 who runs around Rio de Janeiro scaring Brazilians. A popular online video of the ghost proclaims "The Ghost of 1950 is in Brazil."

Ticket giveaways are all the rage even though only official partners and sponsors are allowed to mention the World Cup in their marketing and create promotions with hard-to-get game tickets as prizes.

Anyone in Brazil who buys a pricey Sony 4K TV by Dec. 25, for instance, will score two tickets to a soccer match. Johnson & Johnson just started a sweepstakes for tickets called "Sun Cup" for its Sundown sunscreen brand. On a more lavish scale, Coca-Cola's "Take Everyone to the World Cup" promotion invites people to enter a drawing to invite 100 friends.

As the marketing revs up, one of the biggest headaches for FIFA, the international governing body for soccer, is protecting its six global partners, eight global sponsors and eight local supporters from competitors who break the rules.

Sponsorship consultant IEG estimates marketers will pay World Cup fees totaling $1.4 billion for the four-year period through 2014. In the priciest of the three tiers, the six global partners are paying an average of $30.8 million each per year, ranging from Adidas at $44 million down to Visa at $22 million. The eight sponsors pay an average of $14.6 million. And six national supporters are chipping in about $8 million each.

Adidas' archrival, Nike, isn't a World Cup partner, but does sponsor Brazil's World Cup team. Nike recently unveiled the team's uniforms with great fanfare at an event in Rio de Janeiro, and has just launched a splashy campaign by Wieden & Kennedy starring the Brazilian team with the theme "Dare to be Brazilian." A TV spot showcases the Brazilian team and individual players' signature moves. Out-of-home and digital ads feature silhouettes of the Brazilian players' heads, and fans can create their own silhouettes on social media.

FIFA has dispatched Vicente Rosenfeld, its consultant responsible for brand protection, to do more than 30 seminars at events all over Brazil to explain the marketing rules. "FIFA is asking for fair play: a clean game inside and outside the fields," Mr. Rosenfeld said at a recent intellectual-property congress in Rio de Janeiro.

Agencies like AlmapBBDO have lawyers who help clients that aren't World Cup sponsors — such as Volkswagen, Havaianas and Pepsi — launch marketing efforts without breaking the rules. They can't, for instance, use the World Cup logo, mascot, official ball or trophy.

"There are many communication opportunities for non-sponsors as long as they don't associate their brands to the World Cup or any of its symbols," said Augusto Cesar Fortuna, AlmapBBDO's legal coordinator. "The generic use of soccer and cheering images are, of course, allowed." Mr. Fortuna scrutinizes all the agency's ads to make sure they don't cross the line.

Brazil's irrespressible ad community is likely to keep FIFA busy. Marketers in the country are fond, for instance, of putting up huge TV screens outside live events such as soccer matches and showing the whole event free. (Brazil's leading TV network, Globo, will televise every World Cup game.) FIFA bans such giant screens near soccer stadiums for non-sponsors.