World Cup 2018: display advertising insights

27 July 2018

The FIFA World Cup 2018 was a mix of highs and lows, with some unexpected results proving that it’s not always the big names that get the wins. The same is true of display advertising and there were some exciting display insights that came out of the tournament, says Bannerflow’s Björn Karlström

Throughout the four weeks, we collated data on impressions, click–through rates (CTR), and mobile usage from all the ads served via the Bannerflow creative management platform (CMP).

The data we gathered provides some interesting information about  how this event engaged with million of viewers and impacted digital advertisers.

At the beginning of the World Cup, we predicted that:

  • Mobile usage would be much higher than normal;
  • Unconventional banner sizes would be the unexpected heroes; and
  • The igaming industry would be crowned champion.

In these respects, we weren’t let down.

Impressions soared, just like Croatia
It’s interesting to look at impression data throughout the tournament. Although it’s reasonable to expect overall impressions to rise, you can see that as we entered the final stages the pattern changed significantly.

For instance, compare Russia vs. Egypt in the group stage to the final, and you see impression data rose by more than 100%. 

For matches that were less frequent but with higher viewership, this was not unexpected. For the earlier matches we saw more consistent data, but once we reached later games, impressions increased exponentially.

Bet on the little guy
At the beginning of the tournament, we predicted that the biggest changes in impression data would occur in mobile formats. We weren’t disappointed, with sizes such as 320 x 50, 320 x 250 and 320 x 160 witnessing the largest spikes.

Nevertheless, this type of event presents a good opportunity to try less popular formats. Impression data may be higher for traditional sizes, but investing in these unconventional formats, where there is less competition, will likely reduce your cost per thousand (CPM).

The odd one out had the better odds
It seems that unconventional sizes won't only reduce your CPM, but could also increase your CTR as well, with unusual sizes such as 120 x 300 and 120 x 240 witnessing a significant boost.

But it’s important to factor these events into your campaign calendar no matter what format you choose. Across the board, CTR rates improved by 0.12-0.13% throughout the tournament period.

For the greatest return on investment (ROI) from your display advertising, it’s necessary to go beyond standardised banners and create some event–oriented campaigns for conversion success. 

Thinking mobile-first is for champions
As expected, mobile usage saw a spike over the tournament period. Second screen viewing is typically higher during periods where viewers watch out of home or while also watching TV.

Interestingly, there was a disparity between weekdays and weekends for mobile usage. There was an average rise of 8.4% during the week compared with an overall uplift of 6.4%.

This is in line with our general understanding of how fans were watching during the week, with greater numbers browsing on their phones while watching the match at the office.

Soccer came home – even if the team failed to turn up!
At the beginning of the tournament, we were intrigued to see how countries that didn’t qualify for the World Cup would fare in impression data.

After assessing the data, we found that countries such as the USA still witnessed higher impressions, of more than 122% in some cases. But perhaps this is less surprising if you take into consideration its share of ticket sales — a week before the tournament FIFA reported that fans from the US had purchased the second largest number of tickets, behind only Russia.

Yet, when we consider how this compares to the percentage increase of the qualifying countries, it still pales in comparison. We saw impressions rise as much as much as 155% for some banner sizes in the UK. So for multi-market campaigns, it’s certainly worth considering where you focus your campaigns for future tournaments.

Igaming won the Golden Ball 
It’s important to note the improvement to CTR in the igaming industry. Not only did impressions rise by 43%, but click–through rates increased by 15%.

Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between spikes in sports betting and the performance of display advertising.

This is in contrast to other sectors, where we can see some larger fluctuations in CTR data. Although financial services and travel either improved or remained steady, impression data for ecommerce and entertainment suffered.

The lesson we can take from this (other than that Sweden did better than expected) is that events such as these present exciting opportunities for display advertising.

The World Cup winners were those who invested in mobile–first strategies and took advantage of the World Cup to create relevant adverts for both viewers and their brand.

Björn Karlström is product owner at Bannerflow. Björn has been working within online media and e-commerce since 2004, covering both online media strategy, ad production, and e-commerce for both agencies and clients. Bannerflow was founded in 2009 to remove the mystery of digital marketing and empower brands to take advertising in-house. The creative management platform allows for the easy production, publishing, and analysis of display advertising.