Is the age of expensive brand sponsorship coming to an end? The World Cup starts today and the brands getting the most brandlift from the events are not the ones who signed expensive sponsorship contracts.

It’s Pepsi and Nike who have achieved the most World Cup buzz so far. But Adidas and Coke are the ones forking over for sponsorships. In today’s world of the digital brand ambush, it’s getting harder to make the case for official sponsorships.

If you’ll remember The Olympics this winter, brands that were not official
sponsors were banned from cheering on their own celebrity spokespeople or using
imagery that implied a relationship with the Olympics
. But you can’t stop people from sharing information online. And with the runaway popularity of the World Cup, brands are taking advantage of the captive audiences.

Nike’s “Write the Future” video stars well-known
soccer players like Wayne Rooney
and Cristiano Ronaldo interacting with personalities like NBA player Kobe Bryant and Homer Simpson. Over two weeks, the video has achieved almost 15 million views.

Meanwhile, Pepsi’s “Oh Africa” video has been racking up hits as well.

World Cup sponsors have been launching online video as well. But the official partnership doesn’t guarantee traction online.

Adidas only launched its World Cup video on June 5, and achieved less brand equity than Nike — about 3 million views. Almost 1/3 of the online buzz around the World
Cup in
the month running up to the tournament was focused on
Nike according to Nielsen. That’s twice as high as the buzz for Adidas.

Nike was the most talked about brand in relation to the World Cup, getting mentioned in 30.2% of the
messages tracked online by Nielsen from May 7 to June 6. 
Adidas came in second at 14.4%.

The World Cup is the world’s most popular sporting event. Today some 11 million visitor requests are being sent to Akamai’s News Index per minute, up 233% from the normal demand at this time.

According to EIG, The World Cup will generate $1.6
billion in sponsorship revenue from the 2007 to 2010. But policing brand activity during a worldwide tournament is not easy. For instance, nine of the 32 World
Cup soccer teams are wearing Nike equipment, compared to 12 wearing

For brands looking to gain traction during major sporting events, the game is changing. Traditional sponsorships may not be completely dead, but brands can no longer sit back and expect simple monetary expenditure to pay off online. Especially when comparing Nike and Adidas here, it becomes clear that companies have to make sure they are first and innovative online, regardless of their official partner status.