The World Cup of brand marketing campaigns: Who did what?

The highs and lows of World Cup branded tie-ins and content.

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Some are coming home – others didn’t even get there in the first place…

Just like the Olympic Games, the quadrennial footballing orgy that is the FIFA World Cup provides a lucrative platform for advertisers and marketers to get involved.

Behemoths such as Adidas and Nike predictably bring their A Game for these events and have enjoyed strong sales this year with replica shirts flying off the shelves. Meanwhile the likes of VISA and Budweiser push the marketing budget boat out as they look to increase their market share.

In tribute, we take a look at the good, the bad, and the downright inappropriate of this tournament’s marketing campaigns. In the interests of keeping a level playing field, we have omitted sports clothing companies from this list.

Wall charts at the ready, here’s the Brand World Cup results.

Group stage exit – Burger King

It’s difficult to know where to start with this one.

The Russian arm of the global fast food chain offered a promotion via its VK account – the Russian equivalent of Facebook – offering women three million rubles (approximately £36,000) and a lifetime supply of Whoppers if they become impregnated by football players competing in the tournament.

To no surprise, the campaign was instantly met with a huge backlash, the promotion was taken down and the company apologised. The old mantra goes that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Well, we beg to differ – especially as archrival McDonald’s is enjoying a strong tournament. More about them later…

If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:

The Netherlands

Ok, so we’ve cheated a little here as the Dutch national team failed to qualify for the tournament. But quite frankly so did Burger King. The parallels are there – many successful products down the years but ultimately falling short on the big stage and always in the shadow of bigger and better rivals. And with the occasional cataclysmic error thrown in for good measure…

Group stage exit – Getty Images

Also making an early exit in our Brand World Cup is one of the world’s leading photo agencies, Getty Images. They apologised after posting an image gallery on social media titled ‘World Cup 2018: The Sexiest Fans’ in which all the photos were of female fans. The watershed #MeToo movement has proved to be a decisive turning point and Getty spectacularly scored an own goal with this post.

[Getty replaced the gallery with this apology]

If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:


Judged the tone horribly. One of the heavyweights of the game pays the price. However, there’s no doubting their depth and quality so they’ll most likely learn and come back from this.

Last 16 – Wish

Scoring big with famous footballing faces and playing on the fact that many big names, such as Gareth Bale and Gianluigi Buffon, aren’t actually playing in Russia – Wish’s campaign is a series of short clips that pique the interest of the viewer and raise the profile of a little-known shopping app.


It focuses aggressively on social media influencer marketing and the humorous videos have been viewed tens of millions of times. Wish should be commended for being so bold with their brand ambassadors but ultimately it falls a little short. Frankly, you just don’t believe that any of the players use the app – they simply picked up their big cheque and moved on.

If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:


Bold start to the tournament and announced themselves on the big stage, but ultimately faded and flattered to deceive.

Quarterfinals: BBC Player Rater, Three, Screwfix, Paddy Power

Incessantly plugged throughout their live coverage of the tournament, the BBC’s Player Rater has brought a simple but well-executed idea to the table aimed at increasing both traffic and engagement to its website.

If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:


Beyond echoing the Japanese attitude towards bringing new(ish) technology into the mainstream consciousness, the Player Rater is not to everyone’s tastes, nor is it something particularly innovative. But it’s served its purpose well.

It’s a similar story for Three, with the addition of Three Lions to the fascia of each of its stores. You just wonder if they could have taken it a step further and launched a more concerted campaign. Perhaps it even seemed too obvious. Or maybe the marketing team didn’t have full confidence in England’s ability to get too far in the tournament.

Also, after a few questionable campaigns, Paddy Power returned with a VAR-inspired advertising strategy. Football audiences are easy fodder for betting companies and it sees the bookmaker return to its place as market leader in terms of quirky television adverts.


And a word too for Screwfix, who secured a spot as an ITV sponsor, using members of the public who share names with famous faces from English football. It’s another simple but well executed campaign that targets a captive and relevant audience.



Semi-finals: McDonalds

For years, customers have yearned for McDonald’s to move into home delivery. Holidaymakers have often been amazed to find that the chain delivers in various countries around the world. Now the restaurant has finally brought the service to the UK.

FIFA has many global sponsors but, compared to other in-game adverts from the likes of VISA and Wanda, one of the most recognisable pitchside ads has been McDelivery, which perfectly fits its purpose without needing further description.

If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:


French Fries? Need we say more? Well respected worldwide, prone to the odd hiccup, and could easily go all the way.

THIRD place: Lidl

Much like the brand itself, the glory of this advertising campaign is its simplicity.

A group of young children mix it up with the England team, putting them through their paces at St George’s Park. Putting aside decades of rivalry, the German discount supermarket secured its place as an official England sponsor and has also offered low cost clothing and will close its stores early if England reach the final. An affable campaign all round that also reflects well on the players.



If they were a team at the World Cup, they’d be:

Look, we’re not tempting fate here. At the time of writing England and Croatia haven’t played yet so we’re steering well clear of predictions.

Final: BBC vs ITV (but not as you know it)

We’re not talking Lineker vs Pougatch, or which Neville brother is a better pundit (mainly because the latter isn’t even a debate. Sorry, Phil). But this is about how Britain’s two broadcasting giants have fared from an online and marketing perspective.

Firstly, both have experienced predictably record-breaking numbers to their online hubs with fans watching live coverage of games. ITV has notably fared better when it comes to lag between streaming and live television – BBC iPlayer users have been finding themselves over a minute behind the television. That said, there have been still been a few technical hiccups with the ITV Hub service.

When it comes to social media, the BBC is far more engaged with its followers – having fine-tuned its methods over the years with its extensive portfolio of football and sporting coverage, notably Match of the Day. But both accounts score highly with instant video highlights as FIFA seek to crack down on illegal streams and unsanctioned clips appearing online.

Unfortunately for ITV, there’s no contest when it comes to website, with the BBC streets ahead for news, features and stats.

On the strength of that, we declare the winner of the Brand World Cup to be: the BBC.

Now, back to the football.

Blayne Pereira