The 2014 football World Cup is fast approaching and, beyond all the action on the pitch, it's likely to be a very competitive time for brands to capture the attention of the event's vast global audience.

But what strategies and tactics are likely to be employed? We thought it would be useful to dig in to Warc's subscriber database of case studies, articles and research papers to showcase some successful sponsorship strategies from brands that made their mark during the last global sporting event of this scale – the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.

British Airways: Thank you for not flying
British Airways, the UK airline, responded to the predicted mass exodus from the host nation during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games by adopting a bold, counterintuitive (but ultimately successful) strategy. At first glance the "Don't Fly. Support Team GB" tactic could be seen as commercial suicide. But, shrewdly, but the campaign ran during a period of minimal risk to the business. A multimedia campaign, the highlights of which include the film of a Boeing 777 not flying, but taxiing through London to Stratford, set to The Clash's "London Calling" soundtrack, and innovative use of outdoor/ambient media such as this giant image of Jessica Ennis, one of the nation's best medal hopes, designed to be seen by those touching down at Heathrow airport.

Jessica Ennis – BA

As a result, BA gained recognition as the most 'patriotic' games sponsor, over 6m online film views, and an uplift in its target 'bonding' metric.

Procter & Gamble: London 2012 Olympic Games – Thank You Mom
This highly successful campaign for Procter & Gamble's (P&G) Olympic sponsorship was designed to provide a heart-warming umbrella that would connect P&G, its individual brands and the Olympics movement together in the minds of consumers. The campaign is an outstanding example of a brand connecting with consumers on a highly emotional level. This was achieved by bringing a universal insight to life that was linked to P&G and Olympic values: the 'Thank You Mom' campaign was created to honour the role mothers' play helping their kids to reach their full potential.

Ads featured the mothers of Olympic athletes, as well as the athletes themselves, with P&G employing real-time optimisation of the creative to maximise effectiveness. The campaign's broader activation included 32 brands in over 50 countries; it recorded a 40% stronger brand equity performance than the 2010 P&G Olympic ads.

McDonald's: Realtime Olympics
McDonald's, the quick service restaurant chain, created a smartphone app to engage Chinese consumers during the 2012 Olympic Games. The app adopted GPS and motion-sensor technology to allow people to virtually 'compete' with Olympians via a mobile game as they watched the Games live at any McDonald's outlet in China.

The app was successful with three million downloads, 7.5 million total play frequencies during the Games, and over 4.5 million in-app coupons delivered to generate an estimated $8.7m in sales.

Channel 4: Meet the superhumans
UK television network Channel 4's, wanted to promote the London 2012 Paralympic Games. But research suggested there was little public interest in the Paralympic Games, with athletes regarded with sympathy and prejudice. Channel 4's campaign challenged these ideas by repositioning disabled athletes as 'superhumans', in terms of their sporting abilities and what they had overcome. "Meet the Superhumans", a 90-second "introductory film", celebrated the efforts of Paralympians, showcasing the athletes' strength, power and determination. This was followed up by 28 short films offering an insight into the athletes' very personal stories, achievements and skills.

Ariel: Shirt Flag – How a detergent not only lifted stains, but the spirit of an entire nation
Ariel, the Procter & Gamble-owned laundry detergent brand, used a newly launched variant to strengthen the brand's value to consumers in the Philippines. Ariel's challenge was competitors who copied their claims but called out lower price points. The campaign encouraged Filipinos to donate a piece of appropriately coloured material to create the national flag, which was then carried by the national team at the London Olympics. The results included an improved social media presence and an increased share value.

Nike: China Greatness
While not an official sponsor of the games, Nike, the sportswear brand, leveraged the buzz and energy of the London 2012 Olympic Games to challenge China's 5000-year-old traditional conventions of greatness, by honouring the pursuit of success and not just the winning of gold. China's youth (16-24 years old), who under immense pressure and expectation to succeed, were the core audience. A 17-day multimedia counter-strike against "traditional greatness' included TV, tactical positioning in daily newspapers and Nike's own Sina Weibo community channels.

Engagement really took off as a result: the provocative message was spread through countless online user-generated memes, and through a host of celebrities and influencers.

Royal Mail: Gold Medal Stamps
Royal Mail was not an official sponsor of the 2012 London Olympic Games but it leveraged the Games to reinvigorate stamp collecting and improve brand equity. Royal Mail created a commemorative stamp for each Gold Medal win by the GB Olympic and Paralympic teams and made them available by lunchtime the following day: this is, needless to say, as close to immediacy or real-time marketing as stamp production gets, with what is usually an 18 month process condensed into 24 hours or less.

Each stamp design focused on the moment of triumph. The campaign exceeded its sales objectives and attracted new customers, namely women and a young people. It generated lots of PR coverage and aided goodwill towards the brand.

Mo Farah – Royal Mail

Beefeater Inside London
Packaging can play a pivotal role in sports event marketing. Although Beefeater London Dry Gin, the alcoholic drink owned by Pernod Ricard, was not an official sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games, this case study describes how the brand created a limited edition packaging design that led to volume sales 188% above target, volume sales 1,018% higher than the previous years' limited edition, including increased sales in Spain, the product's largest market.

Beefeater – London

Warc has also published some broader strategic papers on how brands can make the most of big sporting events, with insights that go beyond those of single case studies.

Sports sponsorship: Lessons from London 2012
This paper shows that London 2012 was the most watched Olympic Games ever. The opening ceremony drew an audience of 591 million globally with 28.7 million watching in the UK alone. Such high-profile global events provide unique sponsorship opportunities for brands. This article takes a look at what brands can learn from the London 2012 Olympic Games. The following six key learnings were identified:

  • Explore product placement opportunities in venue
  • Integrate mobile effectively into your activation strategy
  • Integrate social media campaigns effectively in whole partnership
  • Activate locally through experiential campaigns
  • Consider creating branded content to activate partnerships with extended reach: 'think global, act local'
  • Look for opportunities to continue your association with the Games after the event

How sports sponsorship has become strategic brand marketing
This article discusses the evolution of sports sponsorship in the UK, arguing that it has moved from a transactional relationship to one based on an authentic alignment of values. The Olympic Games sponsorship is given as a key example of the importance of values, where the rights offered are very limited but the Games' values are considered to be of high value.

The London Olympics in 2012 helped to mature the UK sports sponsorship market as marketing teams built business cases around this opportunity. Sports sponsorship can be particularly useful as part of corporate social responsibility programs, to showcase new technologies, and to access mass participation events.

Creative storytelling: For sponsors, an Olympic sport
This article describes the power of storytelling in sponsorship of the 2012 Olympic Games, explaining how BMW, BT and Procter & Gamble used storytelling to successfully resonate with the event. Lessons that can be taken from their example include make your brand a part of the story, be creative and go the distance to broaden reach.