FIFA World Cup 2018 brands


The 2018 World Cup is estimated to be the most expensive event in the tournament’s history.


As Russia currently hosts one of the biggest sporting events in the world, the many brands associated with the legendary tournament are in overdrive. To ensure some all-important return on investment (ROI), sponsors are busy rolling out activations to cash in on consumer excitement during the tournament’s limited summer run.

FIFA has found the 2018 World Cup—estimated to be the most expensive event in the tournament’s history—a hard sell in terms of sponsorship. Direct links with FIFA’s controversial governing body, and indeed Russia’s sports ministry and government, have spooked many stakeholders and consumers.

But it’s not just official sponsors and partners that have jumped on the World Cup bandwagon — in the era of “ambush marketing," there are other ways to muscle in on the action than parting with cash. In recent years, ambush or “guerrilla” marketing stunts have become a regular fixture at the event, often stealing the spotlight from away from the big sponsors. While easier on budgets, these unofficial tactics are not without their own risks.

The last two years has seen the rise of “aerosol advertising” in Russia, in which property owners lease the exterior of their buildings to companies such as Nike and Aeroflot to advertise their products in graffiti. However, those short-lived campaigns met their downfall well before the tournament kicked off, as Moscow city officials embarked on a cleaning spree to remove all graffiti in compliance with FIFA advertising regulations.

Mastercard is the most high-profile company to play their unofficial hand to date (Visa is an official sponsor), though their campaign has caught headlines for all the wrong reasons. They stated that for every goal scored by superstars Neymar or Messi, the company would donate 10,000 meals to the World Food Programme. This didn’t quite turn out as planned; Argentina and Brazil both stumbled through the group stage with each player scoring just one goal a piece and Mastercard are now under fire for “gamifying starvation”.

But it’s not just official sponsors and partners that have jumped on the World Cup bandwagon

Burger King Russia has also been involved in a bizarre and staggeringly misjudged campaign, offering a lifetime of Whoppers to mothers who get impregnated by World Cup footballers. The Guardian reported that the promotion offered women 3m Russian roubles (£35k) and all the Whoppers they can eat in a lifetime, if they could prove they netted a player's child. Thankfully the campaign was quickly retracted and an apology issued, acknowledging it was “too offensive”.

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, usually known for its risqué and at times tasteless campaigns, has fared better this time around, pledging to donate £10,000 for every goal Russia scores at the World Cup (in protest at the country's LGBT laws). They may not, however, have anticipated the hosts—as one of the lowest ranked teams—scoring eight goals in the first two games, already resulting in sizeable donations.

One of the most famous World Cup ambush marketing examples was devised by the Bavaria brewing company in 2010 — a year when Budweiser, one of their competitors, was a major sponsor. Thinking outside the box, the brand sent a troupe of undercover models to a match posing as Dutch football fans; it was only once the match had started and the TV cameras were rolling that these Trojan horse brand ambassadors revealed their Bavarian-sponsored outfits in a move that garnered sky-rocketing traffic to the Bavaria website and social channels. They were ejected from the stadium, but since then, Bavaria’s cheeky tactics have inspired some imitators.

As we approach half time in Russia 2018, it seems it’s the outliers who are in the lead when it comes to grabbing the spotlight, even if it’s not for the reasons they hoped.

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