Adventures on the Second Screen

Tencent Wang Yongzhi cropYongzhi Wang, deputy editor in chief at Tencent, explains how mobile has increased fan engagement with the 2014 World Cup.

As it is every four years, the World Cup in Brazil is a celebration of sporting endeavour Like all major sporting events before it, the World Cup has created heroes – Costa Rica, Algeria, James Rodrigues – and villains (sorry Luis but you are the obvious choice).

The timing of the games, however, can be problematic for a global audience. Games that kick off at 7pm local time to avoid some of the heat and humidity are broadcast at 6am in China, when the morning rush hour is beginning. This makes the traditional TV experience more difficult to justify.

Enter mobile. According to research by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), China is the country where the highest proportion of users intended to stream matches live to their phones – 49 per cent of respondents – ahead of Mexico in second place (35 per cent) and the UK in third (31 per cent). In total, almost half of all those surveyed intend to follow the games via their smartphones.

As China has invested heavily in 4G networks and Chinese consumers have flocked to smartphones and tablets, so experiencing the games via mobile becomes much more likely. For marketers in China, this mobile audience is already active around social channels and online news, so their demand for content around the games must also be met.

The IAB research noted that Chinese mobile users would overwhelmingly be looking for content around the games via their mobile devices, with over 60 per cent of those surveyed stating this would be their primary use for devices during games. A staggering 97 per cent of Chinese mobile users said that they would share their World Cup experiences using their smartphones and social accounts before the event, and this appears to accurate based on the sheer volume of microblogs being created and videos watched online.

Multichannel approach
From a marketing perspective, this shift to mobile alongside the World Cup required a multichannel approach from brands. The mobile experience differs greatly depending on the channel that people are looking for, the amount of time they have available, and how they are feeling around brands trying to reach them at that point in time.

For this event, Tencent has developed its video and content strategies with content that fits into these different audience types, as well as providing viewers with more insight into the personalities that are behind the footballers. This has included everything from behind-the-scenes videos with football stars and their wives through to Conca, a Brazilian football star in Chinese football, commentating on the game he was watching via Google Glass at home in Rio.

In turn, this variety of content is helping brands engage with these audiences too. Brands like Nike, Toyota and Head & Shoulders have been planning campaigns for months that make use of various mobile and social channels in integrated ways.
There have been many discussions around how to deliver these experiences with native applications and HTML5. At present, advocates of native apps are generally of the view that HTML5 is developing too slowly and that its performance is inferior to that of a dedicated app. However, apps rely too much on app store channels, resulting in the serious problem of version fragmentation. Many users are not enthusiastic about updating their apps.

That’s why, when the major web portals’ news platforms launched special versions for the World Cup with brand new content, users who did not update their apps in time became typical “sunk” users, entering into the marketing blind spot.

This is why it is important to cover both approaches and maximize the potential audience. Apps and online services are particularly important during this year’s World Cup as more people turn to social channels for reaction to events. These discussions tend to take place over more personal social channels like WeChat and QQ (the Chinese equivalent of Instant Messenger) in China. However, these channels support brand advertising and the creation of portals where content can be accessed. Rather than traditional advertising, there is much more emphasis on sponsorship and co-creation with brands.

At Tencent, we are seeing brands using content as the first way to engage with their audiences. On the first day of the World Cup, Tencent had 55 brands running specific campaigns themed around the event on its portals. These included video, social and online services that were designed to increase conversations around the event. From a creative perspective, this encourages people to be more receptive to messaging points than straightforward advertising can achieve. It also makes it more likely that people will interact with the brands involved.

Tencent’s own apps include a Game Watching service that includes opportunities to display the viewer’s knowledge of football and betting prowess during the game. By linking the games together with interaction and social sharing, this provides more opportunities for brands to get involved as well.

For the Chinese audience without their own national team to support, a lot of the allure of the World Cup is to follow favourite international footballers. The likes of Neymar and Messi are hugely popular locally – both run their own Tencent Weibo accounts to interact with fans in China, for example – and these superstars play an important role in bridging content, marketing campaigns and social media.

International brands
International brands have invested heavily in working with these stars in order to secure mindshare through traditional advertising and online video campaigns. At the same time, social followings have built up across various international and national social networks. By bringing these together in integrated ways, brands and celebrities have created more opportunities for marketing to football audiences.

As this year’s World Cup has progressed, mobile has shown itself to be a critical way for audiences to consume content – whether this is by watching the games themselves, or by accessing additional content around the games and the personalities involved. For the brands supporting the World Cup, aligning campaigns with the developments that take place has been important too. For brands that can respond to the changing dynamics of the games, there are opportunities to extend marketing campaigns beyond the match, or indeed the whole tournament.

Tencent has worked with IBM around big data analysis of the information that people are providing over social channels and other web properties. By getting this insight in real time, the channels can be updated to provide more relevant content. By customizing and personalizing content, we can provide better support for our advertisers.

Alongside this, here are normally viral events and campaigns during every major sporting event, and by being nimble and responsive to the demands of the audience, brands can improve their chances of success. For example, we created an exclusive video of Paraguayan model Larissa Riquelme at the opening game of the World Cup on Weishi – the Chinese equivalent of Vine – that received 100,000 plays in the first five hours.

For brands that are working in the Chinese market, the World Cup has proved a huge opportunity. Almost a billion people will have interacted with the games by the time the tournament ends on Sunday, and mobile access has been critical to many of these people for their experience. By working in concert with brands and online, marketers are seeing greater creative and business results for their investment.

Yongzhi Wang is deputy editor in chief at Tencent