The best and worst World Cup marketing campaigns so far

Tapping into World Cup passion authentically is the key to marketing success, but it’s easier said than done, writes IPG Mediabrands' Sam Enshaw. Here, he lists some of the tournament's best and worst campaigns.

In 2010, in a small town in regional Australia of just over 2,000 people, I experienced something that went on to change my life. I saw an ad. A heavily branded piece of content designed to shift product aimed squarely at teenage me. That ad was Nike’s ‘Write the future’.

The moment I saw that work I was engrossed. I downloaded it illegally and watched it on repeat, showing anyone who would listen, even those that didn’t. The split decisions that can change a life, the stories of rags-to-riches and the legacy these idols created left me absolutely spellbound.

From that moment on, I wanted to create an experience that gave someone else in my position that same feeling of hope, of inspiration and of courage. That may sound strange to those of you who don’t subscribe to the religion of waking up at 4am to watch your favourite football team play. The team that you’ve never seen live and that play 11,000 kilometres away. But those who do subscribe to the beautiful game will know the feeling.

Every four years we witness something truly incredible when the World Cup comes along. Rivalries, distance and language no longer seem so divisive as the world speak the universal language of football. There is a sense of unity that bonds us in support of a common goal, enduring the tears of joy and sadness together.

Like we saw in Mexico where a goal caused an earthquake (that later proved to be fans jumping up and down next to the earthquake detection machine) and in the United Kingdom where destructive joy bought a community together. And brands have an incredibly important role in this global event.

Some brands speak the language fluently, they’ve been practising for years and others try to get the basics in the months leading up to the big show. The brands that do well are those that tap into the passion of the game.

Take this year’s Nike ad in Brazil, it taps in to this exact passion (after the awkward Ronaldo cameo). Made for people, like me in 2010, that believed the world was there for the taking, with Nike having the tools to do it.

Meanwhile, the BBC celebrated an England win before kick-off with this.

And then the Beeb recreated some of the most iconic moments in footballing history through a truly mesmerising tapestry reinforcing their long standing support of the game.

But one of the most amazing stories of this World Cup was Iceland’s performance in the tournament. A country of 330,000 people where 98% of people tuned in to celebrate their national goalkeeper producing a great piece of advertising for Coca-Cola – playing on the now iconic Thunder Clap.

Hyundai missed the mark with a clumsy and cringeworthy piece of advertising that not only missed out any hint of passion, but actually also missed any semblance of World Cup fever, aside from the CGI stadium in the background. Not to mention that I’m still trying to figure out how Maroon 5 got the nod.

However, one of the most out-of-touch pieces of advertising I’ve ever seen came from the host nation Russia. It offered free burgers to women impregnated by a World Cup footballer. Not only was this a repulsive and backwards campaign, it spread quickly through the global platform of the tournament, sparking global a backlash and boycotts. And rightly so (not the riots bit).

Outside of boots and burgers, some truly inspiring work came out of the World Cup. The best used the game to drive much needed and often hidden debates. JWT London used the platform to highlight the shocking increase in domestic violence during the tournament.

And six Latin Americans took an incredibly creative stand against Russia’s ban on supporting the LGBTQI+ community – by hiding in plain site with nothing more than a plane ticket and a jersey.

These are the messages that help shape the values of the next generation and I know what side of history I’d like to be on. So marketers, here are the things you should do:

  • Know your audience and your authority within this audience.
  • Tap in to the emotion of the beautiful game.
  • Timing is everything. Be quick, be reactive and plan for every outcome whilst not being afraid to jump on cultural moments when they arise.
  • Our hyper connected world means even a simple social post can spark conversation (see British Airways).

  • Be genuine. Whacking a few flags on a billboard doesn’t make you a football fan.

And here’s what brands should not do:

  • Forget that your ads can seen across the globe. Be respectful.
  • Limit yourself to a 30-second television spot. Some of the best advertising stories from this World Cup have come from the most unlikely places. Or, as the six activists in Russia did, create your own campaign.

Finally, how you quantify the return-on-investment from this event are quite simple – just as you would from any other campaign. At the end of the day you need to sell product, raise awareness of your brand or highlight a particular issue.

If you haven’t achieved this then it hasn’t worked. In 2010 I bought those boots Cristiano was wearing and I contributed to the organic reach of their campaign immeasurably.  The World Cup can be an incredibly powerful launchpad, if you are clear on what you are trying to achieve.

Sam Enshaw is regional implementation manager at IPG Mediabrands.


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