5 World Cup Sponsors Outplayed By Rivals

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- World Cup partners may already know this, but we feel it's worth reiterating: $100 million is a lot to spend for the privilege of being one-upped by your biggest competitors.

Official World Cup partners Adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony, Visa, Hyundai/Kia and Emirates paid roughly $100 million a pop to attach World Cup logos and licensing to their brand. Second-tier sponsors including McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson, Anheuser-Busch InBev's Budweiser and BP's Castrol shelled out $20 million apiece for the same privilege. Yet most of them are about to be upstaged by the very companies World Cup partnership was supposed to fend off.

Guerilla marketing happens. It's a common, if not annual, occurrence at the Super Bowl and March Madness and it certainly happens at the World Cup. Whether it's national team sponsors elbowing in or direct competitors exploiting vulnerable counterparts with help from their hired pitchmen, there are always routes around that pesky and expensive official sponsorship route.

We've already mentioned how Landon Donovan's absence affected companies who thought he would make the U.S. Men's National Team roster, but there are other companies who'd love nothing more than to pick their competitors' and FIFA's pocket. We found five examples of companies who dumped a whole lot of their annual marketing budget into poaching their rival's precious World Cup air time:

Official World Cup sponsor: Adidas

Poor Adidas. The Frankfurt-based footwear company still managed to edge Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike in soccer revenue last year -- $2.7 billion to $2 billion -- but Adidas lost its stranglehold on Western Europe and watched its shares slump as Nike's soared.

Now, when Adidas' commercial featuring music by Kanye West and appearances from Dani Alves, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Suarez, Xavi, Jordi Alba, Mesut Ozil, Robin van Persie, David Villa and Argentine superstar Lionel Messi should be grabbing eyeballs and leading the World Cup charge, Nike's "Winner Stays" ad is getting all the raves.

By turning a bunch of kids in a pickup game into Nike endorsers Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr., Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gerard Pique, Gonzalo Higuain, Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, Thiago Silva, Andrea Pirlo, David Luiz, Andres Iniesta, Thibaut Courtois and Tim Howard, Nike took the focus off the World Cup itself and gave its ad more of a universal message.

Ronaldo was more than happy to tweet that out to his millions of followers, while the somewhat more reclusive Messi has stayed away from Twitter altogether. This was a battle fought not on television screens, but on social media -- and the loudest voice and most powerful meme won the day. Thanks to yet another ad released just days before the World Cup -- an animated spot that has the world's soccer stars facing off against clones -- Nike's wins just keep coming.

Official World Cup sponsor: Coca-Cola

Well, Coca-Cola went sweeping, artistic and fairly anonymous with its World Cup commercial and, once again, tried to provide the event's soundtrack.

You can invite the world to Brazil and still show a few familiar faces along the way, though. Pepsi rounds up pitchmen Robin van Persie, David Luiz, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Aguero, Jack Wilshere and Lionel Messi for its #FutbolNow campaign and gets everybody together for one big pre-match dance party. As an encore, Pepsi trotted out its Gatorade brand and invited Messi, Luiz, Ramos and Landon Donovan to show everyone how arduous their road to the World Cup was -- set to a song from Disney's Cinderella.

It was a bit tougher for Donovan, who didn't make it, but Pepsi's ads are infused with fun that Coca-Cola's world-uniting spots just don't share. It's not a great time for soda sales overall, but Pepsi might just get a bit of an edge by providing the star power Coca-Cola sorely lacks.

Official World Cup sponsor: Sony

Sony just took a $1 billion loss on the last year. Its Vaio computer line and its Bravia televisions are selloff targets. Its Xperia smartphones are just about a nonentity.

In that context, it's surprising that Sony remains as a World Cup partner. It's equally baffling that it would make television and smartphones the crux of its World Cup campaign. Why just accept that vulnerability when you can show off your absolute failure to the entire world?

Not surprisingly, Samsung leapt at the opportunity to jab at its weakened opponent and recruited Ronaldo, Messi, Donovan, Iker Casillas, Wayne Rooney, Mario Gotze and others to show off its Galaxy 11 app for the Galaxy S5 smartphone. It lured them into a sci-fi movie about the world's best soccer players somehow saving the world through mundane use of mobile devices -- a bad sci-fi movie featuring the disembodied head of Franz Beckenbauer and effects that even SyFy channel employees would consider a bit over the top. It's not subtle, or even very good, but even as a bit of ironic humor, the Samsung ads succeeds in selling a product in a way that Sony's more earnest ads don't. The 5S still comes across as useful, even if those using it seem a bit lost.

Modelo Especial
Official World Cup sponsor: Budweiser

Wait, didn't Anheuser-Busch InBev just buy Modelo? Aren't Modelo and Budweiser under the same roof now?

Not in the U.S., where each company's ads are airing. To placate the U.S. government, Anheuser-Busch InBev ceded all U.S rights to Modelo products to Corona distributor Constellation Brands. The Modelo beers that come to the U.S. are brewed at a separate facility from Mexican Modelo, which can no longer be imported here.

That's an important distinction that basically puts A-B at war with its own brands during World Cup time. That's a shame, since Budweiser's Rise As One ad campaign is a cinematic marvel, but doesn't engage customers nearly as well as Modelo does. Modelo Especial not only has U.S. captain Clint Dempsey making its pitch, but offers fans its beer and a contest that sends winners to any three soccer cities of their choice. See Camp Nou in Barcelona, San Siro in Milan, Old Trafford in Manchester, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City or even the Sounders' CenturyField home in Seattle if you don't feel like filling out a passport application.

Banco de Chile
Official World Cup sponsor: Visa

The "bunch of kids on a mountain" approach to Visa's big World Cup ad is just another company's take on the "one world" theme.

This year, the Chilean soccer team was unfortunate enough to be placed in a World Cup group with Spain and The Netherlands -- the two teams who played in the World Cup final four years ago. The miners' response? Bring it.

With Banco de Chile and cameras in tow, the 32 Chilean miners (minus their Bolivian colleague) returned to the site where they were buried, gathered up the dirt that trapped them, canned it and vowed to bring it to Brazil and spread it on Chile's practice field. Miner Mario Sepulveda offered a bit of perspective: "Spain is tough? Netherlands is tough? We don't care about the 'death group.' We don't care about death! Because we defeated death before!"

That's what you have to go through to repeat as champions, Spain. That's what you have to beat for another shot at the title, Netherlands. That's what the world has to deal with: A team that knows huge stadiums and tough opponents are far less worthy of your fear than a world literally collapsing on top of you. Even if you don't actively root for Chile, it's tough to root against it -- especially after an ad with more genuine emotion than the dozen star-studded, buy-the-world-a-Coke spots of manufactured sentiment that aired before it.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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