18 Jun, 2018

Has the World Cup Become a Toxic Brand?


There is no doubt that the World Cup is one of the most-watched sporting events in the world, with viewership comparing only to the Olympics in terms of a worldwide audience. With millions of viewers watching each game from around the world, it would be easy to assume that companies from all industries would be leaping at this opportunity to showcase their brand to potential costumers globally.

However, according to most experts, this year’s tournament has so far felt and looked more subdued from a marketing and advertising standpoint in comparison to recent World Cups. Though the big brands like Nike, Adidas, and Visa have all launched their World Cup ads, there has been a noticeably smaller brand presence on other channels, especially on social media. With the obvious statistics being reported, it is clear to see that marketing during the World Cup has significantly changed over the past 4 years.

Back to the Facts

Altogether, only 20 of the 34 commercial spots for the World Cup have been sold to brands looking to advertise this summer. This lack of brand participation will undoubtedly cost FIFA hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue, which is bad news for its new president, Gianni Infantino, who promised FIFA member states that revenues would increase during his term in a recent press conference.

“In addition to that I am convinced a new era is starting for FIFA. I will approach our commercial partners, broadcasters and sponsors – they need to regain trust in FIFA. I’m sure revenue streams will increase and FIFA does not have to worry about the future.” – Gianni Infantino’s pledge to increase revenue in February of this year.

So, with this pledge to drive revenue and to increase FIFA’s influence in advertising, why is the World Cup not seeing as much commercial intake in comparison with previous years? To most experts, the answer is simple: Brand Transference.

Brand Transference in Marketing during the Summer of Soccer

What is brand transference and what does it have to do with the World Cup? This marketing theory asserts that a consumer’s knowledge or feeling around a brand, be it a place, person or product, will transfer to the brand it is linked to within an advertisement or marketing campaign. In this case, it is the connection with tainted “brands” such as Russia and FIFA that has some Western companies cautious ahead of the World Cup in regard to commercial participation.

However, these two major associations have not proved to be a problem for brands from other parts of the world. Chinese companies such as Dalian Wanda, Hisense, Vivo and Mengniu Dairy, Qatar Airways, and Russia’s Gazprom have happily stepped in to fill the void from other worldwide brands.

“Russia is not an unknown quantity. Brands know the problematic transference issues involved with any connection to Russia, from Moscow’s meddling in foreign elections and the Syrian civil war to the state-sponsored doping system that saw Russian athletes banned from the 2016 and 2018 Olympics.” The Independent reports.

Certainly, with Russia, an avoidance strategy might be taking place with most Western companies. As of now, the country does not feature prominently in advertising campaigns by the major Western brands for this year’s World Cup. Even though these companies are increasingly looking for ways to engage with consumers, they are also treading carefully given how fierce the public backlash can be these days, especially if a brand affiliates itself with something that could be received either way – positively or negatively – by the public.

The World Cup is More than a Tournament

Of course, the tournament still connects with so many people in a way few other events can. There are still ways for brands to find more “authentic” stories to connect with fans, such as Icelandair’s commercial celebrating the unnoticed national team’s World Cup qualifying campaign.

With a shift in the sports marketing world and how people are interacting with brands, one major question remains: Will major Western brands stay with the World Cup in the long term? Since the 2026 World Cup will take place in North America, this could bring many Western brands rushing back to the tournament, willing to pay for any deal to get their brand into the spotlight. While the future is never set in stone, we can expect to see changes in how marketing and advertising are utilized in these next 4 years.


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