With the World Cup such a significant event in the sporting calendar, it’s unsurprising that so many brands have used the tournament in their marketing efforts. Official FIFA partner brands paid £100m for the privilege, while others teamed up with a media partner, sponsored a nation, or simply adopted a football-centric approach for the duration of the tournament.
The World Cup boasts a predicted cumulative global live audience of 10.8 billion: no wonder that football-based advertising is everywhere, that limited edition FMCG packaging is on all the supermarket shelves, and that brands are aligning certain product lines with supermarkets’ in-store summer promotional activity.
While some brands and products are perfectly aligned with the World Cup’s values, for others it’s a more tenuous link. And while some of this year’s campaigns will be remembered for the right reasons, others have attracted more complaints than Neymar’s diving.
Here is our pick of the best - and the worst.
Own goal: Mastercard
At the start of 2018, Mastercard added a charitable element to its 20-year Priceless campaign, in a bid to infuse everything the company does with the meme-worthy “for everything else” campaign.
Using an existing brand approach made sense for the brand’s World Cup marketing, and a high-profile campaign backed by and featuring Messi and Neymar was sure to make an impact.
The impact, though, was not positive. The premise of the campaign was the donation of 10,000 free meals to children in the Caribbean and Latin America for every goal the pair scored.
Immediately, the public took to Twitter to voice their disapproval.
As one tweeter pointed out, a simple tweak to the premise could have had the opposite effect.
The pair, in the end, scored just three goals between them - far from the PR-friendly number that Mastercard were no doubt expecting. A definite own goal from the credit card company.
Top corner: Icelandair
2018 will go down in Icelandic history: the nation’s first ever World Cup qualification. To celebrate, airline Icelandair ran an experiential campaign throughout May and June, allowing their passengers to experience Iceland through the eyes of its footballers.
Passengers could apply to take part in one of a series of 90-minute experiences, curated by the national football team’s players themselves.
From joining the Tólfan supporters club at a Reykjavík match or enjoying a family day at the Breiðablik football school to mountain hikes and geothermal spa visits.
The campaign tied in perfectly with Icelandair’s overall marketing and branding approach, which focuses heavily on the visual. Their brand identity standards explain: “When developing the photography style an emphasis was put on a strong lifestyle approach, but still capturing the striking nature of Iceland. In every picture there are people that are experiencing and enjoying Iceland. The people look and feel modern: they are people that the viewer can identify with.”
Red card: Budweiser
This year, beer giant Budweiser sponsored the tournament’s Man Of The Match award: a partnership that fits with their brand image, that has a strong and distinctive brand identity, and that provides them with some great branded content for social media.
However, their involvement with this year's World Cup is seen by many as divisive. The trophy is sponsored by an alcohol brand, emblazoned with its logo and resembles a goblet - which explains why Egypt goalkeeper and devout Muslim Mohamed El-Shenawy turned down the award which he won in his team's match against Uruguay.
The consumption of alcohol is prohibited by Islam: any Muslim player receiving the award would be likely to turn it down. And with the tournament’s majority-Muslim countries including Iran, Tunisia, Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Budweiser’s superficially great campaign design ends up one alienating much of the World Cup’s audience.
Back of the net: Beats by Dre
With eye catching visuals, a star-studded cast, and a compelling story and tone of voice that resonate with today’s consumer, the Guy Ritchie-produced Beats by Dre World Cup ad ticks all the boxes.
The ‘Made Defiant’ campaign, with its segmented approach mirroring that of a mixtape, is fast-paced and razor sharp, telling the story of a Russian boy who is a footballing star of the future. It delves into the back stories of World Cup footballers like Neymar, Özil, Mendy and Kane all sharing the obstacles they faced in their journey to stardom. And they’re all wearing Beats headphones too.
The four-minute length and cinematic approach mesh well with the brand’s previous approaches to sports marketing, cementing their reputation further still as content creators, rather than simply product pushers.
With every major sporting event comes a slew of related brand alignments, some hitting the back of the net, and others definitely deserving of a red card. We’ve shared ours, but what are your standout campaigns of the tournament?