SANTA MONICA: The US may not be sending a team to this summer’s World Cup in Russia, but brands will still be able to tap into plenty of interest among the Latino community, according to a Panini executive.

The Italy-based Panini Group, which produces a range of books, comics, magazines, and collectible sporting stickers and trading cards, has become a World Cup fixture and has a long association with Latin America having first produced a range of player stickers for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

Nowadays, fans are as likely to be using an app to trade digital stickers, and brands like Coca-Cola have tapped into the craze by distributing promotional codes via social media and soft drinks bottles.

The number of fans sticking, swapping and sharing in the Panini Digital Sticker Album presented by Coca-Cola has hit the four million mark in seven weeks, according to FIFA, with 115 million swaps taking place so far.

“No country understands and appreciates the value of our sticker books better than Brazil,” Jason Howarth, VP/marketing at Panini America, told a panel at a recent Portada event.

“And the gateway for our business in the United States wasn’t really going to be through the US national team,” he added. “It was going to be through those Central and South American countries that have strong fan bases here in the US.”

It was a point reinforced by the VP of Marketing, Communications and Digital at MLS franchise LA Galaxy, which fields two Mexican players.

“Our community events and staff have a great understanding of what works and resonates in not just the Mexican but the Latino community as well,” said Brendan Hannan. “Above all, we fully embrace and enjoy the fact that the gateway to the Latino fan starts with the grassroots and will be wide open during the World Cup.”

Howarth anticipated that interest would snowball when the tournament starts. “The stories of Peru, Mexico, Argentina and the like will grow as the games progress,” he said.

“And with those stories will come even more affinity not just from the millions of followers those nations already have but from casual fans who will start watching World Cup and enjoying this massive stage when they might be doing something else.”

Sourced from Portada, FIFA; additional content by WARC staff