Brands at the FIFA World Cup: the iconic and the controversial

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Fifa World Cup branding

The FIFA World Cup has long been utilised by major brands as a key opportunity to promote their products and services. Alongside the Olympic Games, the two have an unparalleled global reach and hold massive promotional potential for a brand. The FIFA World Cup, however, captures the attention of nations to a level that even overshadows the Olympic Games. Reaching over 3.2 billion television viewers, World Cup viewing numbers dwarf the viewership of both the Olympic Games and Tour De France. This results in a huge brand promotion opportunity, albeit with an increasingly hefty price tag that meant that this year FIFA struggled to fill their sponsorship roster with their usual ease.

Many big sponsors were not put off by allegations of corruption and bribery that have plagued the tournament, and continued their long-standing battle for branding dominance at the FIFA World Cup. One of the longest-running battles, however, is between the two sporting giants: Nike and Adidas.

Adidas is an official partner of the FIFA World Cup, which Nike counteracts by sponsoring players and teams, running advertising campaigns that feature a huge football tournament but never quite mention the FIFA World Cup.

According to the Independent, the stats before kick-off put Adidas in the sponsorship lead, having sponsored twelve teams against Nike's ten. But it was Nike that claimed the World Cup marketing crown.

The France vs Croatia final was a massive marketing win for Nike as, despite not being official FIFA World Cup sponsors, they captivated global sporting attention by being the sponsor of both finalists. As well as Nike being sponsors of both teams in the final, Nike-sponsored athlete Kylian Mbappé was named 2018 FIFA World Cup Best Young Player, earning the sportswear giant further column inches. A series of ads celebrating Nike-sponsored France's triumphant win have now been released. The ads celebrate Les Bleus and dedicate an ad to the addition of the second star – exactly 20 years after their first World Cup win in 1998. The Nike and Adidas rivalry is a battle of the brands that is set to deliver many more star-studded and colourful campaigns.

The global stage also opens up an opportunity for controversial advertising, with possibly the most notable and brazen company to take these reigns being PaddyPower - well known for embracing controversy. Every four years, the global reach of the FIFA World Cup offers a golden opportunity for an elaborate shock marketing ploy, one that is rarely passed up by the bookmakers that never fail to raise an eyebrow.

In Brazil in 2014, PaddyPower used the platform to draw attention to deforestation – pretending to shave the forest in support of the World Cup. The stunt was performed in collaboration with Greenpeace and was a resounding success, provoking outrage and comment worldwide.

This year was no different, as they polarised the country with their campaign to promote the plight of the polar bear in Russia. A public outcry followed the release of an image of a polar bear emblazoned with the St George's Cross flag. Not just a marketing ploy, the stunt was also an opportunity to fund a ground-breaking research project into Russian polar bears. PaddyPower have pledged a five-figure sum to Polar Bears International and are using the platform to encourage further donations from the general public.

Less welcome was William Hill's attempt to piggyback upon the glory of the English World Cup run. The bookmaker integrated the #ItsComingHome within its First View Twitter promotion and its promoted trends, meaning that every time a fan shared the hashtag they would also – unintentionally - share the William Hill logo on a football shirt. Using the massive platform of social media, it is quite hard to regulate that the only viewers are 18+ and remain gamble aware, something that was quickly picked up and scrutinised by the public. Controversial promotions have the potential to polarise and unify opinion: as both bookmakers will know all too well - you win some, you lose some.

The World Cup stage has also been a creative breeding ground for some truly inspired and iconic branding, from BA's ticket bringing football home this year to psychic Paul the Octopus in 2010, to the Old Lions Carlsberg advert of 2006 .

Whether a controversial stand, or a subtle rebrand to mark brand personality, the gargantuan reach of the FIFA World Cup is a massive playing field for brands looking to show a streak of character.

Despite a more reserved sports sponsorship roster for the FIFA World Cup 2018, the battle lines of the brands were perhaps more defined than ever. If the traditional sponsorship deals are starting to falter as a formula for success, brands are becoming increasingly inventive in how they capture public attention on a global stage – whether that be controversial, patriotic or iconic. As brands become more and more conscious of the connections they make, more selective sponsorships and allegiances give a more rounded impression of brand personality and character that can carry as much weight as a logo.

Alice Leary, digital marketing executive, Hydra Creative

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