LONDON: Western brands need to update stereotyped views of Russia and some core assumptions about football, its viewers, and what the sport means ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

When a country straddles the Eurasian continent, there will inevitably be tensions. Russia is both: east and west. This is an old and ongoing problem, according to Steve Lacey of SLS Insights. “Does Russia look inwards towards itself or does it look outwards?” (For more read WARC’s exclusive report: World Cup 2018: Russia and the opportunity to tell the truth)

For brands, navigating that tension will be incredibly important to marketing around this summer’s World Cup, not only within Russia but also to the outside world. Lacey noted how the denim brand Levi’s has shifted how it leveraged its history in what was then the USSR to inform its marketing now.

Meanwhile, scepticism about Russia’s path to hosting the World Cup has clouded many observers to the country’s love of the sport. During the Euros, held in France in 2016, multiple incidents of Russian violence set the tone for many fans’ attitudes toward the Russia World Cup. Many were frightened, or at least reluctant to travel to Russia as shirt-wearing fans, fearing reprisals.

There are “stereotypes on both sides”, said James Kirkham, head of Copa90, the online football channel. Despite the ongoing coverage of Russia’s government’s activities, there is a lot more country and many more people besides.

Changes taking place in football, and more importantly in its broadcasting, will have even larger effects. Though it hasn’t yet had its “Napster moment”, Kirkham said, the grip of traditional broadcasting is slipping. More and more, we watch football through online platforms: as highlights on YouTube, or as GIFs of goals, rather than the full 90-minute broadcast.

For brands, the shift from full game and full team engagement holds certain important elements. The stories that surround Russia 2018 will be less about the teams and more about individual players and individual struggles. Not only have social platforms brought fans closer to players, FIFA and other football video games have exposed individual players to fans in tailor-made contexts. Brands need to understand this.

The real opportunity, however, is for brands to aid the competition’s purpose of breaking down barriers between nations. Considering the many stereotypes that surround this year’s host, there is “virgin territory for brands”, Kirkham believes.

Sourced from WARC