Jenny Chan
May 24, 2018

World Cup ROI not a major concern for Chinese smartphone maker Vivo

The Chinese smartphone maker, which kicked off its 2018 Russia World Cup branding blitz last night in Beijing, says it is in the game for the long haul

World Cup ROI not a major concern for Chinese smartphone maker Vivo

Vivo, the official smartphone sponsor of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, yesterday launched a new global campaign titled 'My Time, My FIFA World Cup', at Beijing’s Olympic Forest Park. The campaign comprises an advertising spot, music- and photography-led marketing activations, and special World Cup-branded smartphones.

Vivo is embedding its core product into the big quadrennial match in as many ways as possible:

  • Two limited-edition phones—the V9 Blue for overseas markets and X21 Red for mainland China—were slated to be produced since Vivo announced its FIFA sponsorship one year ago.
  • One lucky smartphone will be "immortalised", in FIFA head of sales Franck Guignery's words, at the FIFA headquarters museum in Zurich as the first-ever smartphone to join the collection of football memorabilia.
  • FIFA staff will (have to) use Vivo smartphones when working on-site in Russia.
  • The brand has made protective cases were made based on popular jersey colours (Germany's black-white, Argentina’s blue-white, Brazil’s yellow-green, and Portugal's red-green). 
  • The smartphone's special lock screen is designed with two colour blocks merging into a letter 'V' meaning both 'Vivo' and 'victory'.
  • Football intelligence will be provided to Chinese fans in the form of Jovi, a pre-installed app with a match-tracking function, game alarm clock, and live updates of scores.
  • The official World Cup 2018 font, called Dusha, developed by design agency Brandia Central for FIFA, is the default typeface for these Vivo phones. 

The tactics are part of Vivo's US$449.6 million (€400 million as reported by FT), six-year FIFA deal, which includes the 2018 and 2022 World Cup and the FIFA Confederations Cup. Come next month, FIFA World Cup attendees will see double-storey Vivo 'brand experience pavilions' outside the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and the Saint Petersburg stadium.

Vivo began to tap into sports marketing as a tool for internationalisation in 2014, as it expanded into markets in South and Southeast Asia. In 2015, Vivo became the title sponsor of the wildly popular Indian Premier League (IPL) that the company also deems as highly influential in British Commonwealth countries. In 2016, Vivo started a strategic partnership with National Basketball Association (NBA) China as its official mobile handset sponsor, with NBA star Stephen Curry as ambassador for its Xplay6 model.

Now, as one of five Chinese sponsors of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Vivo seeks to earn itself even more attention on the global stage. Raising brand awareness that will eventually aid the company's progressive expansion seems to be the only KPI for Denny Deng (邓力), Vivo's brand vice president, who is not worried about the low ROI a past Chinese World Cup sponsor, Yingli Solar, experienced. Yingli debuted as FIFA's first-ever Chinese sponsor but later dropped out due to its poor financials. Typically, consultancies like McKinsey recommends five metrics to measure sponsorship ROI: cost per reach, unaided awareness per reach, sales/margin per dollar spent, long-term brand attributes besides indirect benefits.

Deng told Campaign China that he looks up to another consumer-facing brand, Coca Cola, the longest-standing corporate sponsor of FIFA. Continuance is the key to ensure lasting sponsorship success, he said.

"We are confident about the future and believe that we are on the right trajectory in sustaining our position as one of the top smartphone players internationally," added Michael Chang (张琳), Vivo's brand director of international business, in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the launch. With the rights for two World Cup cycles, Vivo’s partnership with FIFA is "a commitment to the next generation", he stressed.

The young Chinese brand's going-long investment strategy is also hinted at in its campaign TVC (see below), created by two BBDO offices (Hong Kong and Guangzhou).

In one scene, a bunch of Chinese kids yell in unison: "Who says we can't win the World Cup?" China's beleaguered national team failed to qualify for this year's World Cup, so the inclusion of the line underscores Vivo's long-haul view. BBDO explained what the client wanted to express: "Under the appeal of momentous events like the World Cup, everyone will do everything to release their 'inner extraordinaire'. China has always had a World Cup dream; the children here are just using their voices to shout out our common aspiration".

The FIFA sponsorship agreement also includes the right to select 128 influencers to be 'Vivo Super Fan Photographers' who will have unprecedented access during pre-match player warm-ups. One of the 128 photographer-influencers is Ruud Gullit, a former Dutch National football player and a 1987 Ballon d'Or winner. “There were no smartphones then. Vivo, you came too late. Otherwise, I could have photographed more memories—even some in the locker room,” Gullit joked at the event.

Another key activation is the 'Vivo Super Time project' of a series of music-themed brand placements throughout the tournament. The project also marks the first time that FIFA has invited a sponsor to participate in the World Cup final match's song performance.

By doing all these, Vivo is "transforming" the content marketing realm, stated Chang, who oversees the brand's overseas marketing. "Sports marketing allows brands to reach customers through their passion points. Therefore, its strength is dependent on a brand’s ability to activate it and communicate its narrative in a way that engages fans". 

(This article first appeared on

Campaign India

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