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World Cup 2018: pay-per-click advertising predictions and tips

| By Joanne Christie | Reading Time: 6 minutes
With FIFA protecting the most obvious search terms as trademarks only official brand partners can use, gaming brands need to be creative, says Blueclaw’s Martin Calvert

With FIFA protecting the most obvious search terms as trademarks only official brand partners can use, gaming brands need to be more creative, says Blueclaw’s Martin Calvert.

According to Google, the term “World Cup 2014” was the most searched sport event in history, with more than 2.2bn searches. Now, with the 2018 tournament underway, marketers across all industries will have worked out how they can (sensibly) take advantage of the event.

Although it’s a global phenomenon, search engine interest in the World Cup generally spikes hugely but vanishes almost as quickly. Just look at the Google Trends line for the three previous tournaments below.

The major challenge for brands is how to capitalise on this large but short-lived opportunity. In AdWords, the major challenge faced is FIFA’s lockdown of copyrighted terms related to the tournament.

As big an opportunity as the World Cup is for betting brands, it’s an even bigger opportunity for FIFA itself. To this end, it will clamp down hard on unofficial mentions of the copyrighted terms that their partners pay big bucks to use. FIFA’s trademarked terms are many and varied, and misuse will be swiftly identified.

From obvious terms like “FIFA” and “World Cup” to less specific phrases like “Russia 2018” and “Moscow 2018”, there are limits to what can be used in marketing material.

In AdWords PPC in particular, bidding on these terms is easy to identify and will very likely require FIFA to approve use of the terms as an Authorised Third Party. The question is, then, who is permitted? Here’s what FIFA has to say:

“The six FIFA partners have the highest level of association with FIFA and all FIFA events as well as playing a wider role in supporting the development of football all around the world, from grassroots right up to the top level at the FIFA World Cup.

“The main rights for a sponsor in this tier are brand association, the use of selected marketing assets and media exposure, as well as ticketing and hospitality offers for the events.

“FIFA World Cup Sponsors have rights to the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup on a global basis.

“The National Supporter level is the final level of FIFA’s sponsorship structure, allowing companies with roots in the host country of each FIFA event to promote an association in the domestic market.”

So, what do you do if you aren’t one of these brand partners? Firstly, it’s important to note that there is some flexibility in bidding on trademark or brand terms where the term itself is not featured in the body of the advert.

Technically, this means you should be able to bid on terms like “Russia World Cup” with ad copy that simply offers, for example, football betting or tips with no specific reference to the tournament.

Even so, there’s evidence to suggest that Google is more stringent than usual about brand term bidding during major sporting events such as the World Cup.

It all comes down to who pays who. Official brand partners, which pay FIFA for the rights to use trademark terms, complain to football’s governing body, while FIFA itself complains to Google, which relies on being able to enforce trademark protections to continue as a leading platform.

In our opinion, restrictions on trademarks associated with the World Cup will lead to two things: first, a lot of headaches for companies that have not done their research, and second an AdWords landscape dominated by official partners which, like McDonald’s, really don’t have a strong and direct relationship to the sport.

For marketers in betting and gaming, it’s not enough to just rely on Google to fairly enforce its normal policies. During the World Cup, the official brands get the run of things and gaming brands need to be more creative.

For gambling, the terms with the highest propensity to convert are always ones using “bet” and “betting” prefixes. They will naturally be more competitive, so it then comes down to how strong an offer your brand has.

Brand loyalty is not as strong for events such as the World Cup, so a strong offer can make the difference — if the company can afford it.

For marketers in sports betting, we have several recommendations:

1. Avoid official trademarks – and think about terms that show ‘intent to bet’

A lot of official terms may be off limits, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with the name of participating countries and players.

More than this, while the search volume for the World Cup and related terms is huge, only a proportion of that traffic will ever choose to place a bet. So the more specific your ads are about the types of bets that people might want to try during the tournament, the more successful you will be. Clearly, this means thinking more about players and their interests and appetites than the tournament itself.

A great starting point if you are an operator is to look back at previous football tournaments and consider this: was there anything different about the types of bets made or the traffic that visited your site?

The more closely you can meet player requirements, the more scope there is to indirectly profit from the World Cup – without ever actually mentioning it.

Furthermore, the better your ability to identify profitable terms not specifically related to the World Cup as part of your keyword methodology, the more scope there is to avoid bidding wars where costs-per-click hit crazy levels driven by World Cup traffic.

The big brands will still get solid volume based on their branding. However, it is a chance for others to gain some market share if they can afford a strong offer. A solid World Cup in acquisitions can make all the difference for the next six to 12 months on a sportsbook client. And while the lifetime value of these new acquisitions is generally lower than other times of the year, the sheer volume more than offsets it.

2. Focus on players, nations and real-time performance

It’s widely known that “unofficial” sponsors will still be very visible thanks to them sponsoring various things such as national kits and, of course, players themselves.

Naturally, some brands do go overboard. At Euro 2012, for instance, Paddy Power cheekily sponsored Denmark’s Nicklas Bendtner to visibly wear his ‘lucky’ Paddy Power pants – and got him fined as result.

In today’s mobile-first world, we’re used to making single-word searches and hoping that Google is smart enough to figure out the rest. Bidding on particular player or country names could therefore be a fruitful strategy if we can anticipate customers might be looking for bets related to in-game activity.

Mobile is expected to be the highest driver of volume. It’s a time when brand CPC’s are likely to inflate given increased competition. Further to that, generic searches around teams, goal scorers and accas all see a rise in impressions.

It’s an approach that requires care to not waste ad spend, but given the size of the World Cup opportunity, it’s worthy of solid investigation.

3. Take advantage of competitor efforts

As a sports betting brand, you’re not the only company that is battling to take full advantage of the AdWords opportunity presented by the 2018 tournament.

For that reason, it’s worth taking an especially close look at competitor campaigns – paid and otherwise – to be inspired by approaches that you may not have considered.

Apply the learnings that make sense and get a better awareness of who you’re up against and your AdWords strategy will stay grounded and focused on practical opportunities.

Much like during Cheltenham and the Grand National, with a mega-event like the World Cup, there is always a heavy focus on offers used in ad creative and copy. So pay attention to what competitors are doing, and use whatever leverage you have in terms of creativity or offers to win profitable traffic.

4. Investigate paid social and target the player, not the keyword

Knowing your potential customer is important and opens new ways to get around trademark restrictions.

If your own data is telling you that certain demographics have a higher-than-usual propensity to bet during the World Cup, apply that insight to the most cost-effective channels to reach these audiences.

By targeting the player – and not a trademarked term – there is scope to increase deposits without getting into hot water.

Search volume is directly linked in different regions to the progress of local teams. So the further the Three Lions progress, the more we’ll see PPC opportunities in England.

It is therefore essential to adapt in an agile way as the tournament develops, focusing in on the audiences who will become more likely to bet, and avoiding the audiences who will become less likely to bet, to maximise your ROI.

These are just a few approaches to take in PPC. Moreover, a lot of what we at Blueclaw advise for global football tournaments also applies to other mega-events where huge audiences, impassioned fans and the richest rewards come together.

Martin Calvert is marketing director at Blueclaw, a betting and gaming-focused SEO, content marketing, PPC and social PR agency. Martin heads up Blueclaw’s internal marketing team and performs a strategic role on behalf of a number of key clients.

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