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Real-Time World Cup

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The World Cup has long been a social experience for fans around the world who cheer their teams on at games, bars and other public gatherings. This year, brands are betting on a different kind of social to connect with fans in ways unimaginable just four years ago, when the last Word Cup was held.

Coca-Cola, Nike and Anheuser-Busch are just some of the brands that have made YouTube an important component of their World Cup ad campaigns. Others, like Visa, have added Facebook to their efforts, while still others, including Microsoft, are tapping into the still-emerging field of location-based services.

No matter the platform, the goals are similar: to use new social technologies to connect soccer fans while building goodwill for the brands.

The Internet landscape has shifted dramatically since the 2006 World Cup, held in Germany. Back then, MySpace was ascendant, Facebook had less than 10 million users, YouTube was an independent (fast-growing) video site still four months from Google's $1.65 billion acquisition. Twitter didn't even exist.

YouTube has emerged as the main vehicle for many brands' World Cup digital efforts. Video, now a mainstream online activity, appeals to brands looking to capture the emotions around the game. Perhaps more importantly, it also attracts 500 million visitors globally every month.

The power of YouTube can be seen in the first runaway branding hit of the World Cup, Nike's "Write the Future" ad. Since it was uploaded on May 20, the video has been watched over 14 million times. The lightning-fast nature of the social Web has allowed Nike to steal a march on competitor Adidas, which is the World Cup's official sponsor.

Eileen Naughton, director of media operations at Google, said four years ago YouTube "couldn't support this kind of traffic."

Coke's global TV campaign, which features the Cameroonian soccer player Roger Milla in his over-the-top goal celebration, directs viewers to a YouTube page where it's collecting other goal-celebration videos. According to a Coke rep, the page has generated 5,000 submissions since its launch last month

The emphasis on fan participation is also evident in Visa's YouTube push. A first-time World Cup sponsor, Visa, which is skipping broadcast spots in the U.S., created a "Go fans" campaign that invites people to upload videos in support of their teams by doing their own renditions of announcer Andres Cantor's iconic "goal" call.

Rei Inamoto, CCO at Visa agency AKQA, said the inspiration for the campaign came from how, as a child in Japan, he'd felt connected to the world during the 1984 Olympics. "This World Cup is going to be the first global event that fully utilizes the power of the Web and social in a way that wasn't possible until now," he said.

For its part, Anheuser-Busch launched a full-fledged reality TV show, "Bud House," on YouTube. The "Bud united" campaign brings together 32 soccer fans, one from each country participating in the tournament, in a house in South Africa during the World Cup. When a team is eliminated, its representative will likewise be banished from the house.

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