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FIFA World Cup 2018

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What: Wells Fargo’s campaign featuring Landon Donovan supporting Team Mexico in the World Cup has gained some attention amid some “controversy” regarding the spots.
Why it matters: Marketers can use the window of Mexico’s success and popularity with an American figure who can transcend cultures and casual fans to draw needed awareness here.

Make no mistake about it, Mexico is America’s Team, or at least the Team of the Americas, for the World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup). El Tri’s (@miseleccionmxENsuccess was further cemented over the weekend by a 1-0 first match win over Germany in Group play, and the ongoing drama from Rafa Marquez and his off field involvement or lack of involvement with unsavory business dealings, and now the “controversy” over Landon Donovan supporting Mexico as they make their run.

All of that casual spin, drama and success makes for great opportunities for Mexico as the world’s largest sporting event unfolds in Russia in the coming weeks, and is great news for the first adopter brands who have come on board (with the help of Soccer United Marketing who represents them and the U.S. men’s National team and other properties in the game) looking to grow their demo with not just the Latino fanbase, but the casual soccer fan and the World Cup viewer.

Some of those brands, like AT&T (@ATT), Allstate (@Allstateand Home Depot (@HomeDepot), have used partnerships to grow affinity in key markets where the Mexican following is established in the U.S., like Texas and California, while others have looked to try and reach an even larger market as the World Cup begins, pushing the theme that Mexico is in effect, the club the U.S. fan base could and should be rooting for.

The question is, will other brands already engaged now find a way to ride the Mexican wave, not just with the National team but with Liga MX?

That push by Wells Fargo (@WellsFargo) (see below), also a sponsor of the U.S. Men’s National Team, drew a great deal of fire over the weekend, as the campaign included American legend Donovan using the social space to push the following of El Tri, something which some soccer loyalists saw as blasphemous.

Really? Given the fact that Donovan is of Mexican heritage, grew up outside of LA in a mixed Latino neighborhood, and played in Liga MX last year, it actually seems like a great play and great timing for Wells Fargo, who has Donovan on their team as a paid endorser as well. Add in that the joint bid for World Cup 2026 was now set and the fact that the USMNT was NOT in the field, there is great validity to use the window of Mexico’s success and popularity with an American figure who can transcend cultures and casual fans to draw awareness for a sport that needs to grow.

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For Wells Fargo the buzz in the social space probably got them more exposure than was even expected, and given the spotlight that will now be on Mexico in the coming weeks, that’s a good thing. The question is, will other brands already engaged now find a way to ride the Mexican wave, not just with the National team but with Liga MX (@LigaMxEng), which is already the most watched professional league in the United States for soccer?

“The interest in World Cup, even without the U.S. being in this time, is still huge, and it will continue to grow in the next few weeks, so the brands that found their way in and are ready to activate even more, will do well,” said Chris Lencheski, veteran sports marketer now at M.P & Silva (@MPSworldwide), and professor at Columbia University. “This type of ‘controversy’ is good for all, and if I am a company that has invested and can activate locally, especially in those markets where you know there is a solid following already, the time to strike is now.”

For their part, both Donovan and Wells Fargo did a good job of diffusing the controversy on his participation through his social following. Whether fans continue to see this as some sort of sellout by an American asking for fans to support a rival is really trivial, as Mexico’s success will undoubtedly bring more casual eyeballs than complainers, and frankly, the casual American soccer fan needs someone to root for, so why not Mexico?

As we sit in the midst of group play, Mexico’s brand value may never be brighter for soccer marketers, buffeted by World Cup early success and welcome news for the future, and the well-placed buzz by a participating brand with an established star that caused some fun disruption in the marketplace.

Will other partners now look to push the opportunity even more? There is a solid lineup in place, we will watch and see who scores.