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Brands at the World Cup

Noticed any football on TV lately? Apparently there is some sort of world championship going on.... but it’s not just about football, the World Cup gives brands a chance to show off their skills too.

Plus it is giving Russia, an opportunity to try and change its international reputation as a thug. A chance it is making good use of. As Carl Thomson, director at public affairs agency Interel and former deputy chairman of the Association of Professional Political Consultants, says: “One thing that became noticeable in the first few days of the World Cup is the difference between people’s perception of Russia as a hostile, unwelcoming place, and the experience of the England fans who have been impressed with how well things have been run and the friendly reception they’ve been given.

“Before the tournament a lot of fans said they were cautious about going to Russia due to fears about violence and hooliganism. In some parts of the media there was almost a sneering attitude around Russia’s ability to host such a large sporting event. The tensions over things like the Skripal incident, the war in Syria and Crimea mean that Russia generally gets bad PR. Should things go as well over the next few days as they have over the last couple of weeks, the World Cup could be more effective at changing some people’s attitude towards Russia than any PR campaign might have done.”

Russia is one PR success story of the champtionship so far, below PR pundits describe the brands that are also scoring this summer.

Cheers for Budweiser!

Steve Monk-Chipman, designer at agency Bottle, says: “Brands should take a lesson from ABInBev’s Budweiser, which has used this opportunity to activate the largest commercial campaign in its history, across more than 50 countries.

“Perhaps you’ve seen its playful Wall-E-esque film that sees drones delivering Budweiser, or vending machines asking fans to cheer for beer, or the BudBoat on the Thames, decked out in its red livery. Even if you’ve missed any of the eight million light up stadium cups on your screens, Bud’s unfaltering presence in our supermarkets is unavoidable. Entrances and aisles are piled high with their promotional and limited-edition World Cup offerings.

“The force with which Budweiser has claimed momentary supermarket monopoly is impressive. If the purpose of marketing is to elevate visibility of a brand to an audience, then Budweiser is well on its way to an enduring World Cup ubiquity.”

Paddy Power scores goals for polar bears and LGBT issues

Chris Gratton, head of sport and entertainment, UK at PR firm FleishmanHillard Fishburn, says: “Major sporting events will never be short of attempts by brands to capitalise on the hype and eyeballs which they inevitably attract by both official sponsors and non-sponsors alike.

“And whilst the location of this year’s World Cup has led many brands to play safe and steer clear of any significant statement or position, Paddy Power has ‘come out’ all guns blazing – with two (and counting) punchy and purposeful stunts which both shine a light on, and pledge funding around two contentious Russian policies.

“Using ‘Agee’ the polar bear as the protagonist, the bookmaker’s first stunt – the initial reveal of which caused considerable furore – was a terrific exposé of the Russian Arctic’s environmental and geographical secrecy and a pledge to Polar Bears International. Next, came an equally commendable pledge to donate £10k to an LGBT charities for every goal the Russian football team score, both to highlight and rebuke Russia’s ‘policy of discrimination’.

“Paddy Power is not alone in speaking out on important, and sometimes divisive issues; but it is amongst the bravest and most imaginative. In appealing beyond the liberal set, Paddy Power has used its unique brand power to shine a very bright and uncomfortable light on LGBT and environmental issues in a way that speaks as loudly to the fan as it does the activist.”

Research perspective

According to research from Kantar Millward Brown, adverts which engage consumers emotionally and build memorable and lasting impressions are more effective. Storytelling is a powerful way of achieving this, and ads which tell stories are more involving, more noticeable and more memorable, all of which contribute to sales. Brands which the research highlights include:.

Coca Cola

Coca Cola’s campaign is certainly more leftfield than most and captures the spirit of the game without relying heavily on celebrity endorsements.

The brand’s ‘Ready for’ ad puts it firmly in the spotlight, featuring the array of emotions often experienced during the World Cup by fans, both male and female. The popular soft drink plays an essential part of that experience as fans go through the highs and lows of the tournament. It has a universal, global and local appeal, and feels like it’s steering away from traditional stereotyping,  


Lidl’s ‘Dream Big’ World Cup ads feature enthusiastic and inquisitive boys and girls putting some of the England squad through their paces during an indoor training session. Here Lidl uses humour effectively to reinforce its support for grassroots football whilst underscoring its role as the Official Supermarket of the England football team.


Adidas once again excels at consistently communicating its core messages – such as ‘Creativity is the answer’, ‘Never play on repeat’ and ‘Put your spin on things’ – something that creatives might do well to take on board when planning their World Cup campaigns.


Forward planning and careful testing should be fundamental to any major advertising campaign. Failure to do this can result in some heavy social media flak hitting a brand, as Mastercard recently discovered. It was caught offside by its promise to reward thousands of starving children with free meals providing football superstars Messi and Neymar could entertain the crowds with their goal-scoring abilities. The brand felt the full force of a consumer backlash as it was forced to pull the campaign soon after it appeared on social media channels.

Speaking about the World Cup campaigns, Graham Page, Kantar Millward Brown’s managing director for offer and Innovation, says: “It's refreshing to see some marketers avoid the stereotypical, clichéd ads that often appear around major sporting events. Our research shows that progressive advertising is more effective because it’s more engaging, relevant and different. Stereotypical ads tend to alienate viewers, which is bad news for the brands who’ve chosen to portray women as bored shoppers and passive supporters, or to show men as one dimensional tribal clones.” 

Jane Bloomfield, Kantar Millward Brown’s head of narketing comments on what makes a successful ad created to run during a major sporting event: “Brands which have clear meaning are more powerful and successful in the long term. Marketers should move beyond the message and focus on the impression they want the ad to leave behind as a whole. Brands need to think carefully about what is being said in the ad, the way the story is told, and the emotional tone. It’s time to stop selling product features and start building brands instead.”

Amazingly, as I write this, England is still in the tournament. So never mind which brands are winners, come on England!

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