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World Cup Highlights to Watch Off the Pitch

World Cup sponsors including BP, Sony and Coca-Cola could face the stiffest competition from other brands.

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The World Cup begins with South Africa and Mexico opening soccer's premier event today, but the competition among companies will make the play on the pitch look downright friendly.

As nations vie for global bragging rights, brands look to the event as a means of slide tackling the momentum from under their rivals. Of all the ad spending, soccer-star cameos and red-card-worthly commercial corniness, these are the three brand-based highlights to look for during breaks in the on-field action:

1. Poaching:

Ambush advertisement is the World Cup's best bit of gamesmanship that doesn't involve Wayne Rooney spiking Ricardo Carvalho in a sensitive area. Already, and during last night's ESPN-branded NBA Finals broadcast, World Cup-unaffiliated

Samsung

tweaked event sponsor

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

by running a soccer-based ad. Meanwhile, World Cup non-sponsor MediaFLO's FLO TV service struck with an ad featuring U.S. soccer star Landon Donovan and a promo for ESPN's World Cup coverage that never mentions the World Cup:

Expect a lot more of this from

Nike

(NKE) - Get Report

,

Pepsi

(PEP) - Get Report

and others as they attempt to steal share from sponsors like Adidas and

Coca-Cola

(KO) - Get Report

.

2. Pleading:

BP

(BP) - Get Report

invested a considerable stake in the World Cup through sponsorships for its Castrol and BP Africa brands. At this point, it's difficult to tell if BP plans to go through with Castrol ads or if it will subject the soccer-watching public to public-relations pleas like this:

TheStreet Recommends

Meanwhile, World Cup sponsor

McDonald's

(MCD) - Get Report

is trying to make like U.S. goaltender Tim Howard and deflect criticism from the recall of 12 million cadmium-laced

"Shrek" glasses

with its own poetic promos:

3. Repetition:

After a month of matches, even the cleverest commercials can grow stale. It happened in 2006 when

Adidas

used Jim Noir's song "Eanie Meany" to great effect in its "Impossible Is Nothing" World Cup campaign. By the time Zinedine Zidane headbutted Marco Materazzi and Italy went home with the championship, Adidas' musical earworm had drilled its way into the world's collective skull. It worked, however, as Adidas' World Cup sales spiked 24%.

Which company will produce this year's pervasive pop jingle? The easy money's on Coca-Cola, whose use of K'naan's "Wavin' Flag" bludgeoned its beat into the consumer consciousness long before the first ball was dropped. Considering that Coke's revenue jumped 14% during its 2006 World Cup sponsorship, the company knows what it's doing. However, if you're wondering in September why you're still humming the following song, you know who to blame:

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.