Tuesday, July 17th, 2018 | 8 min read
Well, who saw that coming?
After a World Cup filled with unpredictability, upsets, and at times VARcical scenes, France emerged victorious for the second time after an absorbing encounter with Croatia. The final itself was a microcosm of a flawed but fantastic tournament: controversial refereeing decisions, own goals galore, questionable defending, etc. The 2018 FIFA World Cup had it all, and then some.
Indeed, the Beautiful Game’s showpiece event surpasses every other sport. At time of writing, viewing figures for the 2018 edition are unreleased. However, it’s not unreasonable to expect viewing figures to surpass the staggering 3.2 billion who watched in 2014. As a means of comparison, an estimated 103.4 million viewers saw the Philadelphia Eagles triumph over the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl.
The passion of fans is unrivaled: for some, the only thing that rivals a World Cup win is holding their kid for the first time. Indeed, the quadrennial nature of the World Cup adds to its excitement.
Leading brands tapped into the energy of this year’s World Cup, connecting with fans in print and on social. Here are four prime examples.
The largest acquisition in Apple’s history, Beats has built a reputation for showcasing the strong connection between music and sport. Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Beats rolled out a cinematic, 5-minute ad about the pregame rituals of stars such as Neymar, Luis Suárez, and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández. ‘The Game Before The Game’ also featured superstars from other sports, including LeBron James and Serena Williams.
This time around, Beats teamed up with film director Guy Ritchie to deliver ‘The Defiant Mixtape Vol. 1,’ a gritty look at the formative years of leading soccer players. The 4-minute film explores the moment each kid ‘turned an obstacle into an opportunity,’ showing how leading players made it to the World Cup, using their hometowns as compelling backdrops.
Part of the brand’s ‘Made Defiant’, the film plays out an inspirational message of courage and dedication in the face of adversity. Peaky Blinders actor Paul Anderson provides the gritty narration and players are seen wearing Beats’ Decade Collection headphones throughout.
Brazilian superstar Neymar has entertained audiences around the world since making his professional debut with Santos at just 17 years old. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, however, audiences at this year’s World Cup were equal parts entertained and unimpressed by one particular aspect of his game: theatrics.
In light of persistent gamesmanship against Costa Rica and Mexico, Neymar became a fixture of the burgeoning meme culture. The hashtags #NeymarChallenge and #NeymarRolling went viral on social as fans across the world showcased their acting skills. Neymar’s antics led one Swiss TV station to determine that, through his first four games of the tournament, Neymar spent an astonishing fourteen minutes on the ground.
As many brands figure out how best to approach meme culture, KFC South Africa led the way, anticipating Neymar’s histrionics before Brazil had kicked a ball at the World Cup.
This hilarious take on sporting dramatics highlighted two things. One, marrying surrealist humor with one of the most popular World Cup talking points is a winning strategy when done right. Two, the lengths that people will go to for some chicken know no bounds.
During this year’s World Cup, “It’s coming home,” the refrain of a 1996 song by English band The Lightning Seeds, served as the rallying cry for fans of the English national team. And although it’s not quite coming home in 2018, English fans have cause for optimism. England achieved its best performance at a World Cup since 1990. More importantly, however, English fans were inspired by a new sartorial icon: Gareth Southgate.
For each game of the World Cup, England’s manager wore a Marks & Spencer waistcoat on the touchline. As the official suit supplier to the England team since 2007, the retail brand was happy to benefit from “the Gareth Southgate effect,” reporting a 35% rise in demand for waistcoats. Ahead of England’s semifinal clash with Croatia, Southgate’s $76 M&S waistcoat had in fact sold out in most sizes. Those with waistcoats, however, were encouraged to get behind the team by dressing up for #WaistcoatWednesday.
— M&S (@marksandspencer) July 11, 2018
Smart use of print and outdoor ads cemented Marks & Spencer’s place at the forefront of the World Cup conversation. M&S also collaborated on a waistcoat giveaway with British Airways, another brand which embraced the “It’s coming home” mentality.
In advance of the quarterfinals, BA wrote a ticket home for “Football,” adding some hidden gems in the ticket vocabulary for English fans.
It’s coming home… pic.twitter.com/Qxg8g0HvLe
— British Airways (@British_Airways) July 7, 2018
Although English dreams ultimately fizzled out, brands such as M&S and BA enjoyed their time on the Three Lions bandwagon. The viral nature of “It’s coming home” dared a nation to dream. As for Gareth Southgate, the Museum of London plans to add a “Southgate waistcoat” to its collection, ensuring the spirit of England’s 2018 World Cup adventure lives on for years to come.
After Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in over sixty years, Italian legend and 2006 World Cup winner Andrea Pirlo faced a difficult question: Now that the retired midfielder is watching as a neutral, which bandwagon should he jump on?
With this in mind, Uber Eats launched the #TeamForPirlo campaign to help the Italian find an alternative nation to support at this year’s World Cup. The tongue-in-cheek campaign saw soccer legends such as previous World Cup winners Cafu (Brazil) and Marcel Desailly (France) pitching for Pirlo’s support ahead of the tournament.
Ciao @marceldesailly, @officialcafu, @HarryKewell, @petercrouch, @Rui_Patricio1, @elmatadorpr, @borgetti58, @alexguimaborge. I’m still no closer to deciding, but you’ve given me lots of food for thought 🍟 ⚽. #TeamForPirlo #WorldCup #advertising pic.twitter.com/HqZnYmJ9V5
— Andrea Pirlo (@Pirlo_official) July 1, 2018
McDonald’s is integrated with the ad campaign, promoting the fact that McDelivery is one of the order options on Uber Eats. For Pirlo’s sake, one would hope that the virtues of jumping on the French bandwagon proved to be irresistible.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup has come and gone, but for brands, the takeaways are clear.
Each of the four brands, and indeed many others, have experienced success by combining the potential of social and the grandeur of the World Cup. Some have linked soccer to other elements of pop culture via compelling narratives, while others have embraced the unpredictability of the tournament itself. After all, Brazil’s early exit, England’s relative overachievement, and Italy’s failure to even qualify came as a shock to many.
France will feel on top of the world, now and for the foreseeable future. The brands who got it right during this year’s World Cup will be enjoying the view alongside them.
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