The World Cup is an event like no other.
Happening once every four years, there are no do-overs for coaches, players, and marketers alike. You get once chance at making a dent in front of an engaged, global audience.
In 2019, I had the utmost honor of leading Eastbay’s marketing efforts for the 2019 World Cup in France. The U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) entered the competition as proverbial favorites, but their goals stretched further than just hoisting a championship trophy. In the team’s sights was also gender equality, namely against their own U.S. Soccer Federation over a pay gap with their men counterparts.
Sensing the larger issue — one that was more top of mind for our female consumers than just winning a game — we latched onto that narrative as part of our marketing campaign. Empowering the next generation of female athletes became our focal point. Below are the initiatives we took to connect with and inspire those consumers:
To execute the campaign, we worked hand-in-hand with Nike, the official sponsors of the USWNT. The Swoosh also sponsored seven other WWC-qualifying teams, all of which we carried product on-site for. Regardless, the home team was our marketing spotlight since the vast majority of our core consumers side with the Red, White, and Blue.
With Nike’s aid, we honed in on USWNT superstar Julie Ertz as our campaign centerpiece. The former US Player of the Year lent her star power to our campaign in all consumer touchpoints including social, web, email, mobile, and print. A bowling-pin of a player that can do it all on the pitch, Ertz was the perfect embodiment of the campaign story — strong, fearless, and relentless.
At Eastbay, our printed, mailed catalog remains our most distinguishable piece of marketing (for better or worse). Ertz covered the catalog (her second time doing so) during the month of the tournament, which can be seen below. Proud and powerful, indeed.
Along with Nike, Heart & Hustle Productions was an integral partner in our campaign. We hired the agency to capture content with Ertz that would carry us throughout the two-month-long campaign.
Heart & Hustle perfectly encapsulated the female empowerment story through their images and videos. I can’t possibly include every single piece, but below is one of the lead videos that had paid money behind it on social channels.
I glossed over it earlier, but I need to add some color here. The whole campaign ran for over two months, which is more or less an eternity in the retail world that moves hot product in and out in days, if not hours or minutes. Of course, this one had to go longer to endure the whole tournament, which lasted a month exactly. Tack-on pre-tourney hype and a post-tournament celebration in the case of the US, and yep, you have a lengthy campaign.
On the marketing side, the challenging part of a prolonged campaign is keeping it fresh throughout. A less-prepared team can either burn through all their assets or start recycling them over and over again, fatiguing an audience in the process. Not us, however.
During the timeframe, we banged out 155 unique social posts across our main Eastbay channel and our more niche, Eastbay Women channel. The posts touched on it all — game reactions (pre, in, and post), hand-drawn illustrations, more salesy stuff (highlighting key products such as jerseys and cleats), Ertz-centered content, and so much more. In the end, the social results speak for themselves:
- Total Impressions — 3,565,058
- Instagram — 1,300,000+
- Facebook — 1,300,000+
- Twitter — 979,500+
- Average Engagement Rate — 2%
- Instagram — 2.79%
- Twitter — 1.43%
- Facebook — 0.94%
Picking a few social assets to highlight here was so damn hard — probably akin to choosing a favorite child. After that painstaking process, here’s a few standout pieces I settled on.
We dropped the below video minutes after the US defeated the Netherlands 2-0 in the World Cup final. Mind you, we filmed the Ertz content months before the tournament took place — not knowing the US would sweep through all seven of its opponents. But that didn’t stop us from believing they would do so anyway and capturing the “seven up, seven down” countdown and stashing it in anticipation. Hate to say “we called it” but yeah, we totally called it!
As I eluded to before, artist-drawn illustrations were part of the social strategy. We sourced these from freelancers and dropped them around key tournament moments — after a US victory or before a big matchup, for instance. This actually marked the first time Eastbay used drawings on social despite their ever-growing popularity on channels like Bleacher Report or ESPN.
Not only was it on us to decide which moments deserved artist attention, but it was also on us to provide them creative direction. Below is one of my favorite drawings, dropped before the knockout round of 16 began.
If you can’t tell, it’s themed around the Stranger Things poster for season three, which just happened to drop on Netflix during this exact time period. I’m a giant fan of cross-pollinating sports with pop culture since there’s such a heavy overlap between the two. I’ve found there’s a lot of success, particularly on social, when you can merge these shared interests in a non-forced, authentic way.
When you’re strictly an e-commerce company like Eastbay, nothing matters more than your website — and it’s not even close. While social and content get the glitz and glamour (I’m guilty of this myself), it’s actually web execution that keeps the lights on.
For the sake of time, I wanted to bring attention to two of our efforts — a week-long homepage takeover (left image below) and an entire World Cup experience (right):
The homepage of an e-commerce site is effectively its storefront. Grab the attention of a consumer browsing by with a graphic and they’ll keep clicking around to see what else is inside. Don’t and they’re onto the next site, probably a competitor.
For a week stretching between June 10 and June 17 (which strategically coincided with two games featuring the US), I convinced my marketing peers (in non-soccer business categories) to “take over” the homepage and theme it around Team USA. While we did lead with soccer-focused stories, even running and athleisure stories leaned on using USA-themed products in its imagery. Collectively as a brand, we stood for US soccer this entire week and it was great if I say so myself.
Moving on to the experience pages, get this, we built 10 pages from scratch to guide our consumers through the World Cup stories and product. Pages included a hub on all Ertz content (featured above), but also a shop-the-look section featuring multiple models and product listing pages for key items (e.g. US apparel, on-field cleats, jerseys, etc.).
You can find metrics on web performance, plus other marketing channels, right here. I pulled these myself following the campaign completion to see where we went right and where we went wrong.
Another integral piece in the World Cup campaign was our own downloadable Eastbay mobile app. Like the homepage, it too was “taken over” for a full week with US-themed stories only. Beyond that home screen presence, we also sent six unique push notifications to our users during key points of the tournament. Below is an example of one (sent in anticipation of a US matchup):
Altogether, the six messages tallied a direct engagement rate of 10 percent. The indirect engagement was nearly double that at 19 percent.
To connect with female consumers outside of Eastbay’s own following, we leveraged influencers with strong roots in soccer. Working hand-in-hand with Foot Locker’s public relations team, we settled on these five tastemakers — Lizzy Calderon, Skye Cowie, Jamia Fields, Shawna Gordon, and Denise Jones — for the campaign.
Each received their own 1-of-1 Eastbay catalog (the same edition Ertz was featured in), only with themselves front and center on the cover. For example, Jones’ custom cover is below:
On top of the catalog, the influencers were also seeded priority product such as the US home jersey and a pair of Air Max sneakers. Each influencer shared the catalog and seeded items on their social channel with their own message about female empowerment.
These are just some overarching highlights from the campaign. But it also stretched into other marketing channels — email, print, search (both organic and paid), etc. As the project manager of the whole campaign, it was ultimately on me to bridge all these channels and tell a cohesive story, which I believe we more than did.
But of course, having a kick-ass team like the USWNT backing it up on the pitch makes this whole marketing thing a whole lot easier. The swagger they played with (cue Alex Morgan sipping tea against England) just has a way of getting eyeballs to your work. So all credit to them for making me and my teammates look like a million bucks.