Summary:

Big league advertisers and agencies are banking on the football World Cup in South Africa next summer — and the Olympics in 2012 — to give…

Big league advertisers and agencies are banking on the football World Cup in South Africa next summer — and the Olympics in 2012 — to give a welcome boost to revenues. But increasingly brands are using social networking sites and one-to-one fan engagement, instead of big TV and billboard campaigns, to get their message across. The idea is, why broadcast to millions of fans when you can engage with them directly one-by-one?

Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC), which is the “official” mobile handset maker of the 2010 finals and a major sponsor. SE’s director of global marketing partnerships Callum MacDougal tells Reuters.com: “We have made the conscious decision to steer away from the traditional branding route… Instead we are going straight to online fan communities through popular social networking channels.” Parent company Sony has a $305 million (£271 million) deal with football’s governing body FIFA lasting until after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

There may be a drift away from big, showpiece TV deals (one might wonder whether now is a good to capitalise on falling TV ad rates), but is SE doing anything online that’s different from the standard campaign? It’s running an old-fashioned ticket give-away competition, an odd competition to see which competing nation has the most Twitter followers and a World Cup search engine.

Similarly, the organisers of the 2012 London Olympics are working with sponsors to add a social, online element to their ad campaigns: 2012 new media head Alex Balfour is collaborating with Adidas to create sites encouraging people to give sports a try, while virtually all the action will be able online live and on demand thanks to the BBC.

Is there a point to ad companies and brands investing in social? Brands are hungry for the kind of (superficially) spontaneous, viral word-of-mouth online buzz that Twitter and Facebook can generate — it’s cheaper than spending millions on cross-media adverts, you can get real-time metrics and on how many people are engaging, and it allows the likes of Sony Ericsson to form long-term relationships with “fans” that just aren’t possible with TV and print.

And that is why people are keen to invest in social media and online PR agencies.

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