Sony has distributed free headphones to every athlete participating in this month's World Cup, as part of its exclusive licensing deal with FIFA, but as Reuters reports, that hasn't stopped Beats Electronics from stealing the spotlight with some familiar marketing tactics. Although soccer's governing body prohibited players from wearing the popular headsets on the field and at official media events, stars like Neymar and Luis Suarez have been seen wearing them elsewhere in Brazil this month — at practices, and when getting off busses — and marketing experts say the ban may even play to the Apple-owned company's advantage.
"When fans see World Cup athletes wearing Beats in their downtime, by choice, it has as much impact as seeing them lace their Adidas [shoes] or sip a sponsored beverage," Ellen Petry Leanse, a marketing strategist and former Apple and Google executive, told Reuters. "Maybe more, actually – Beats isn't a sponsor, so the message is more authentic and credible."
The company, which Apple acquired last month for $3 billion, has skirted similar licensing deals in the past. During the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Beats representatives were seen handing out headphones to some athletes, undermining Panasonic's official sponsorship deal. The Dr. Dre-founded company has not commented on its marketing strategy for this year's World Cup, though the event is certainly a point of focus. Earlier this month, Beats released a cinematic, five-minute World Cup ad featuring appearances from Neymar, Serena Williams, and LeBron James, among others.