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Continental Tyres - Boosting the impact of Sponsorship

David Grainger
David Grainger (former) Head of Strategy

This article is from the November 2014 issue of Admap, which focuses on 'boosting the impact of sponsorship' marketing strategies.

Continental Tyres didn't have a huge TV budget to leverage its FIFA World Cup 2014 sponsorship, but a clever and well-executed social campaign proved to be more effective than a million-pound TV deal.

England were poor, #Messi was OK, #Rodriguez was the star. How would you capture the World Cup in a tweet? In fact, why would you want to?

The biggest brands in the world are wrestling with these questions. And for good reason: a well-executed social campaign can be more effective than a million-pound TV deal, as we found with our client Continental Tyres – an official sponsor with a strictly limited budget.

The 2014 World Cup shattered worldwide TV viewing records, helped by a vast tranche of new viewers from the US and Australia. More importantly, the tournament completely smashed all known records for social media, with 3 billion global Facebook interactions and 672 million tweets over the 32-day tournament.

Prior to the tournament, our industry was stoked with the idea of using realtime marketing to engage fans while the tournament was taking place. To this end, social media felt like a great opportunity for sponsors to make the World Cup more than just a badging exercise, and for non-sponsors to crash the party.

In reality, the majority of brands who wanted to get closer to Rio continued along a very traditional route, with social media channels often doing little more than launching the obligatory three-minute version of their TV ad.

While the social media opportunity was bigger than ever, this year's World Cup coincided with a new pragmatism on the part of most marketers. Having realised that, despite their best efforts, their content isn't going to be liked, shared, or commented upon, many are now loathe to commission more unless it's truly spectacular.

There are World Cup sponsors, such as Adidas, who never fail to make outstanding content – from Messi and Ozil dreaming of World Cup glory, to the beautiful animated shorts capturing key moments as the tournament progressed. Indeed, both Adidas and arch rival Nike racked up millions of video views and subsequent brand mentions across June and July.

There's no doubting that social media added real clout to Adidas' World Cup ambitions. It was able to release a new video across social media that could find a global audience in a matter of minutes. Crucially, it could do it exactly when it needed to, in exactly the form it wanted, free from the constraints of an expensive negotiation with a TV broadcaster.

That's great for Adidas, who makes stuff people want to watch, and serves as a loose example of the real-time marketing that us agency folk were getting so excited about. However, it does cast social media as simply a mass-distribution channel for 'TV ads'. But what if you haven't got access to a cast of global football megastars and a million-pound production budget?

The challenge

For Continental Tyres, this was the problem we faced. Continental was an official partner of the FIFA World Cup 2014 but, in the UK, we didn't have the budget to leverage our association in broadcast media. Our brief was to grab a share of mind among football fans to rival that of other event sponsors – and non-sponsors that had a more natural claim to football than we did. Somehow, we would have to do this for £132,000, which, in the universe of World Cup sponsorship, would buy us around two inches square of hoarding in the corner of a training ground. Without the money to play with the big boys, we had to prove that social media really was capable of working miracles.

Deep pockets we did not have, but what we did have was truly priceless: five pairs of tickets on offer to the World Cup Final. With this as ammunition, we were charged with getting football fans to identify Continental Tyres as a World Cup sponsor.

The idea

We knew that 35% of UK football supporters followed their team on Twitter, and that 58% of UK football fans intended to follow the World Cup on their smartphone (Source: IAB, April 2014). Examining data from previous tournaments, we were able to qualify what we instinctively knew, namely that football isn't constantly popular on social media: the previews and the post mortems can never begin to compete with the 90 minutes of the match itself.

Furthermore, we really admired the way that betting companies keep fans on the boil with in-game play. We recognised that to achieve our objective, we had to use social media to become part of the experience of watching the game. We began to wonder if we could get as many football fans to play along with Continental Tyres as do Ladbrokes or William Hill.

Continental: knew that 58% of UK football fans intended to follow the World Cup on smartphone

The campaign

With this ambition in mind we engaged Squawka, one of the UK's largest providers of football statistics. Squawka is an online platform that takes stats from OPTA (the world's leading sports data company) and turns them into simple graphics, designed to be easily shareable across social media. Together, we created a competition called #ContiPredicts that offered five winners the trip of a lifetime – an all-expenses paid trip to the World Cup Final in Brazil.

#ContiPredicts took Squawka's simple graphics and used them to pose a question to fans, asking them to predict the performance of a player or team currently in action. For example, 'How many passes will Iniesta make in the match?'; 'How many shots on goal will Argentina make?'

By only posing questions on the day of the biggest games and about the biggest players, we would ensure that our competition had maximum impact among football fans. Even if their football knowledge wasn't encyclopaedic, people could still take part. Helpfully, the graphics featured data on the player's past performance to give you an expert steer (e.g. Xavi averages 70 successful passes per game, how many will he make tonight?).

Before kick-off, we ran our Squawka graphics across football websites and social media. Then, during the first half of each game, Squawka dynamically updated the player or team's progress, encouraging more people to enter a prediction on Twitter, using the hashtag #ContiPredicts.

Online football fans couldn't miss our engaging questions, and with nothing more than a click required, fans responded in their droves, immediately grabbed by the chance to win tickets – and the opportunity for bragging rights over their mates.


#ContiPredicts was wildly successful. From our tiny media budget, relative to the major sponsors, we'd created a huge noise.

The campaign reached 40 million fans on Twitter – or, in other words, the whole Twitter UK universe saw #ContiPredicts activity 2.7 times. During the opening game of Brazil vs. Croatia, Continental Tyres was the only World Cup sponsor to trend globally – a remarkable achievement.

Our budget bought us 8 million impressions on Twitter, but the energy around ContiPredicts earned us 80 million impressions and 11,000 competition entrants.

The engagement seen beyond entries was also impressive, with retweets, favourites and replies from numerous Twitter accounts achieving Klout Scores of 70+.

Beyond impressive scale, the campaign delivered its core objective: a 54% increase in sponsorship association among those exposed to the campaign (Source: Research Now, 2014). The most important thing we did, of course, was send five lucky winners (plus an even luckier friend) to the World Cup Final to watch Argentina clash with Germany.


  • Be part of the game. Everyone knew this was how to win the World Cup, but making it happen was a different matter. For brands with serious World Cup ambitions, those 90 minutes across a handful of key games are the new battlefield. Incidentally, this poses a real problem for media owners with great World Cup content but who can't get brands close to the real action, and increasingly calls into question the value of being an official partner. These are questions that both FIFA and its media partners need to consider before 2016.
  • Believe the hype. The anticipation of a World Cup summer has an energy all of its own. But as we've already discussed, football isn't a constant – the 'social audience' only reaches critical mass the moment the first ball is kicked. When Brazil met Croatia, the world went a little bit mad because the World Cup was finally here, and one World Cup sponsor could take you to the final in four weeks' time. It's this critical mass that saw Continental Tyres as the only World Cup sponsor to trend globally in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup.
  • Don't ask anything of fans that they're not already doing. If there is one reason why #ContiPredicts trended, it's because with or without our help, armchair fans would be ready and willing to comment on the performance of an individual player or team. Don't take people away from the action, don't ask for their contact details, and certainly don't ask them to upload a video to a separate microsite. With Squawka on board, we posed a simple question. In no more than 17 key strokes, everyone from the most ardent football fan to his or her long-suffering mum could have a guess at how many passes Xavi would successfully complete. It was 70, actually.