top of page
  • Writer's pictureNick Bonney

Street Style or Joga Bonita - The Battle for the World Cup of Advertising

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

So, after much hype, it’s almost time. The World Cup 2018 is nearly upon us.

I have a confession to make – I LOVE the World Cup. It’s integrally linked to so many happy and vivid childhood memories. My earliest memory of The World Cup is being 'allowed to stay up' to watch the first half of the 1978 final and being blown away by the ticker tape and the noise in the stadium.

However, the first World Cup which really got me bitten by the football bug was 1982. The rituals started long before the tournament – I got the England shirt for my birthday in May and then began collecting Panini stickers in earnest as soon as the album appeared in the newsagent. After a fast start (Robson scored after just 30 seconds), England went on to fade to disappointment (Something I have become increasingly accustomed to over the years!).

However, ironically it was England's ignominious which really ignited my passion for the World Cup as the 20 v 20 games in the school playground began to evolve. Rather than Ray Wilkins, I was now Marco Tardelli, lining up against those who dared to compare themselves to Eder, Socrates or Zico. We then drooled over the real thing – the passion of Italy overcoming Brazil 3-2 in what remains one of the greatest games of football I’ve seen. I sat in front of the TV enthralled as the game progressed and as Paolo Rossi and the Azzurri won through.

These days of course the rituals of the World Cup involve the big set piece TV commercials. Much like Superbowl, football fans around the World wait to see which stars have been pulled together into which brand's 90 second extravaganza. The battle started early – Pepsi began their Love it, Live it campaign back in March and we’ve since seen some unusual entries into the fray – Budweisers’ ‘Invasion of the Drones’ (*not an official name!) feels particularly sinister rather than a celebration of The Beautiful Game.

There are also a couple of left-field examples this year. Visa, for example, feature Zlatan in full self-parody mode (funny but not convinced on the brand linkages) :

In the absence of an official World Cup song this year, Umbro have produced a piece of YouTube content providing guidelines on how to create a football anthem. It's a nice piece of content but at 3 mins long feels a little bit self indulgent?

Just Eat, though clearly win the crown for the strangest ad of the World Cup, A group of football fans licking John Barnes’ head is not something I ever thought I’d seen gracing the TV screen but I’ve got a feeling this could become one of the most shared ads. Personally, I’m waiting for the inevitable Tango-style outcry when kids up and down the country stop doing the Floss or the Fortnite dance to start licking each other’s faces randomly in the playground!

Undoubtedly though the big battle comes between the tournament’s two primary kit sponsors – Nike and Adidas. This year, Nike have opted to evoke memories of one of their most famous World Cup campaigns, the Airport campaign from 1998. Again they celebrate the iconic Brazil side but also create an emotional ad celebrating the diversity in the game, from the womens’ game to youth football.

Ronaldo re-creating his penalty miss from the 1998 advert is sure to have many football fans heading to YouTube to re-watch the original. I’ve saved you the trouble, watch and enjoy below!

Adidas meanwhile opt to throw in references to their fashion credentials through the inclusion of Pharrell , Stormzy, A$AP Ferg (OK, I had to look him up on YouTube) and Karlie Kloss alongside The Special One, Dele Alli, Lionel Messi, David Beckham and Roberto Firmino. This mixture of sport and celebrity has worked well for Adidas in the past but this ad feels like it misses a trick in not generating enough emotional connection to the football itself? Sure, the Beckham Predator reference is a nice throwback (A la Ronaldo 1998) but, personally as a football fan, it appears to lack the humour or emotion of the Nike effort.

Realeyes have tested both ads and would echo that the Nike ad has a greater emotional connection. However, in their data both fail to score above 5 out of 10 against their database, showing that both brands have some way to go. I'd be interested in your views too, however:-

However, it's also worth reflecting on what we, as marketers, can learn from this battle for attention during the Festival of Football. Firstly, as Mark Ritson constantly reminds us, TV is far from dead. Yes, a lot of this content will also get shared digitally but equally the chance to engage with a large audience during appointment to view TV is still worth investing in for these big brands.

Secondly, brand heritage remains a powerful tool. Byron Sharp would refer to Ronaldo's penalty miss and Beckham' Predators as distinctive assets; emotional cues which create fondness and warmth towards the brand and it's clear both brands are attempting to leverage these. I'm sure I'm not the only one who watches that scene and can't help themselves immediately humming Mas Que Nada by Sergio Mendes!

Finally, I can't help reflecting on the creative development process. As ever, the initial focus is always on the 90 or 120 second epic but the real trick is likely to be how these cinematic ads are cut down to 20-40 sec ads which can be shown in prime time breaks during the tournament itself.

With the range of agile research tools available now, it’s much easier for brands to get a rapid read on which vignettes drive the greatest emotional engagement quickly rather than the old approach of research as judge and jury. As with so much in business, evolving to a more agile, iterative approach is as much about the people as it is about the process or technology. In other words, the key to making this process work is not just in the selection of the right tool but crucially in establishing collaborative ways of working that allow insight team, brand team and agency to work effectively together.

Maybe here it’s time for us too to hark back to the great teams of the past? World Cup winners like the great Brazil teams of the past have undoubtedly always possessed great skill but also a fluid sense of teamwork with players adept at slotting into each other’s positions. That sensation of playing with a freedom that only comes when you trust completely in those around you and in addition to a belief in your own ability. That sounds like a great model for marketing teams to me.

With that, I couldn't resist closing with one of those great sides (OK, I know they lost in 1998 but they found redemption in 2002!) and that original 1998 ad.... get humming everyone!...


bottom of page