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The brands and charities taking a stand against the controversial Qatar World Cup

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

November 23, 2022 | 13 min read

We take a closer look at the brands and organizations speaking out against the 2022 Fifa tournament in the Gulf.

World Cup brands making a stand

Half of Brits would respect brands that speak out against the Qatar World Cup

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world – Fifa claims that more than 3 billion people watched Russia 2018. Back then, Visa’s Chris Curtin called the World Cup one of the “last unchallenged bastions of appointment viewing”.

For many low-to-mid-budget brands, the smart play has long been to hijack the event with clever ambush marketing stunts without riling the legal eagles at Fifa. Former Paddy Power head of mischief, Ken Robertson, even joked to The Drum that CMOs spending up to $120m (£100m) on a top-level football sponsorship “should be shot”.

But this year, some brands are using their marketing clout to spotlight the injustices of a tournament held in Qatar. The IPA reports that half of Brits would respect brands that speak out against the Qatar World Cup so there's a real opportunity to build goodwill and do the right thing. So far brands have been reluctant to touch the subject.

But here are the biggest stunts so far and we will be adding more as they happen.

BrewDog

World Cup

Craft beer brand BrewDog took an aggressive stance against the tournament with a divisive advertising campaign and commitment to donate some profits to human rights charities. It's the loudest voice in the business world against the tournament.

The campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi included billboards with bold copy such as ‘Proud anti-sponsor of the World F*Cup,’ ‘The Beautiful Shame,’ ‘Eat, Sleep, Bribe, Football’ and ‘First Russia, then Qatar. Can’t wait for North Korea.’

Of course, with BrewDog being BrewDog, the bold creative was criticized by a distrusting audience. On Twitter, it came under some considerable fire for its stance on worker rights in Qatar (it has been facing its own fair share of labor disputes), its sudden interest in football audiences (which some say is cynical) and the fact it will be selling its product in Qatar (something that owner James Watt said didn’t weaken the stance).

Explaining the campaign, a BrewDog release read: “Football is meant to be for everyone. But in Qatar, homosexuality is illegal, flogging is an accepted form of punishment and it’s OK for 6,500 workers to die building your stadium.”

The campaign received broad media coverage (some of it negative). It remains to be seen how that moved the dial on sales and perception, but this was a controversial campaign for a controversial time and the campaign continues to run.

Hummel

Hummel

Sports apparel company Hummel is the kit provider of World Cup competitor Denmark. In September, it announced it will run a “toned down” version of the kits as it “didn’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives“.

Cynics will note that as the provider of a mere one kit at this tournament, it gained disproportionate attention for its stance while debasing the overwhelming visibility of category leaders Nike, Adidas and Puma, which represent 13, seven and six teams respectively.

Naranja X

In Argentina, fintech company Naranja X brainstormed a way for ‘safe hugs’ in Qatar – a protest against its LGBT+ laws.

The campaign is from Becoming Mode, a creative agency led by Nicolás Pimentel, and production company Nro3, in collaboration with Assist Card.

SportsBet

Aussie bookmaker Sportsbet has built a campaign around the general tournament apathy, despite the Socceroos featuring in it.

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic

“England team to be flown to Qatar World Cup in ‘Rain Bow’ plane with LGBTQ+ icon,“ announced the Independent newspaper amid a flurry of media coverage recently, while the Daily Mail reported that the footballers had traveled to the gulf state in a “Gay Pride plane“.

This was a strong sign of solidary for the LGBT+ community – somewhat weakened by the airline suspending its gender-neutral uniform policy to “ensure the safety of our people“ after considering “laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and expressions of identity“ in the country.

It came before the English and Welsh teams ditched the 'One Love' armband for fear of receiving a yellow card. Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchel called it the "tiniest of gestures... but even that was too much for Fifa, who have bullied the England team to not wear it."

Lucozade

Lucozade, energy drink of alcohol giant Beam Suntory, is a sponsor of England. As per The Sun it has pulled all its branding from the World Cup "in a snub to Qatar". It will make sure its bottles will not be seen at matches, in training or at press conferences.

Pressure on brand Beckham

UK comedian and LGBT+ advocate Joe Lycett recently gave Qatar ambassador David Beckham an ultimatum. He said he would give £10,000 to charity if the gay icon pulls out of his £150m partnership with the gulf state.

Lycett pressured the former footballer over Qatar’s laws against LGBT+ people – a group of people Beckham has professed to care about, having spoken of his pride in 2007 at being tagged as a “gay icon”.

He appeared to have shredded the money as shown above but it turned out to be a bait and switch to draw attention to the subject.

As a result of this partnership, Beckham may no longer be the pride of the gay community. Performance brand agency, Journey Further, reckons this stunt garnered almost £3m-worth of media coverage seeing 7,400 published articles over a span of 10 days.

The Farm

The Farm, the band behind pop anthem All Together Now revealed they blocked McDonald's from using the track in its World Cup ad. "It wouldn't be right," said singer Simon Hooton. More here.

Germany

Football and labor organizations are closely linked in Germany, and it is here some of the fiercest protests around Qatar hosting the tournament can be seen. The workers' welfare agency AWO lit 20,000 candles in a stadium to mark the Day of The Dead as well as the opening match. It looked to draw attention to the workers who died preparing the Gulf state to host. More here.

And the national side has made a political statement on its first match by holding their hands to their mouths in response to the One Love armband being banned by Fifa. It follows the Iran team staying silent during their national anthem to protest the trouble at home.

Meanwhile, top German grocery firm Rewe has scrapped an ad campaign with the German Football Association (DFB) after soccer's global governing body cracked down on players wearing 'OneLove' armbands.

Football Blackout campaign

Football Blackout

German-based human rights organisations launched a campaign that aims to boycott the World Cup in Qatar called Football Blackout for Human Rights. It is encouraging people to do anything but watch the World Cup.

Multiple statements on the campaign website allow people to post on their social channels the kind of thing they’d prefer to be doing instead of watching football. This includes: “I’d rather marathon kiss my Queer partner in public” or “Chalk-paint rainbows on my street” to “Deep clean my oven” or “Drunk text my ex”.

The Slavery Cup

Slavery

The Slavery Cup campaign has projected strong messages of support for the 2 million Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis, and Nepalis that flew to Qatar to work in construction and help build the World Cup infrastructure.

It has projected messages onto FA headquarters and the UN, including dropping thousands of passports with stories of workers who died building the stadiums. Watch here.

Duolingo

Image

Language-learning company Duolingo announced a sponsorship of ‘the other Qatar’ – an amateur soccer team based in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Through the sponsorship, Qatar FC players will wear jerseys emblazoned with the Duolingo logo.

To promote its sponsorship, Duolingo sent out a press release that looked like it had faced the pen of a Soviet censor: names and phrases had been conspicuously removed from every paragraph – the brand’s cheeky way of reassuring Fifa that the campaign definitely, certainly has nothing to do with its international and beloved sporting event. Because that would be illegal.

It's not exactly a stance against Qatar but there's some savvy antagonism towards Fifa. Read more here.

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