More than 3.2 billion people from over 200 countries are expected to have tuned into the World Cup by the time of the final on 15 July. It’s the biggest single global sporting event in the world and gives brands the opportunity to control the conversation and get fans engaging with them on a worldwide stage.

Off the pitch, the world’s leading brands such as Nike, Adidas, Coca Cola and Mastercard are all reflecting on their respective World Cup campaigns which have – so far – delivered mixed results.

According to data released by Zenith last month, there could be as much as $2.4 billion spent on World Cup TV advertising globally, but it’s the brand-building power on social media that could really be the winner, with more marketing effort and resource being directed towards social media at this tournament than ever before.

To get the desired ‘cut-through’ brands have turned to the ‘creatives’ to produce unique, inspiring, diverse and cutting-edge content that aims to appeal and engage with multiple audiences across multiple channels. Consumers want brands to be authentic and appeal to wider, younger audiences and in turn, brands are looking at ways to be creative while also maintaining their appeal to a mass audience. 

However, campaigns that push the boundaries or brands that single out specific socio-economic backgrounds for ‘perceived’ commercial gain are risky, and it can have far-reaching consequences if it goes wrong.

Through SMS INC. RADAR analysis we were able to identify and analyse all the digital commentary surrounding the key advertising campaigns ahead of the World Cup. Looking at the data, Nike, Adidas and Budweiser appear to be the real winners. However, in Mastercard’s case, the repercussions of a failed ad campaign could be felt for some time.

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Adidas – ‘Creativity is the Answer’





Budweiser – ‘Light up the FIFA World Cup’





Nike – ‘Brazil kit advert’







Coca-Cola – ‘Ready For’





New Balance – ‘Always attacking’







Mastercard – ‘Hunger campaign’   






Positive/negative sentiment of World Cup advertising campaigns


In an attempt to engage with football fans, Mastercard launched its ‘goals for meals’ campaign, pledging that for every goal scored in the World Cup by Lionel Messi or Neymar, it would provide 10,000 meals to starving children. Within minutes of the tweet going live on its Latin and South American Twitter page, the post sparked outrage online, with several commentators and high-profile social media users calling it a disgrace and saying that it was in poor taste.

Indeed 82 per cent of commentary online was negative in the immediate aftermath, with commentary peaking on 5 June. Unsurprisingly, the reaction online led commentators to describe it as one of the “most ill-advised campaigns of all time,” and “the worst marketing they had ever seen” while 62 per cent of people questioned why Mastercard thought it was acceptable to “trivialise hunger and use players as a tool to give food to the less wealthy.”

In previous World Cups, brands might have got away with such tactics but consumers’ instant access to social media platforms and forums enables them to collectively air their views – and this is where brands start to feel the pain. We have already seen the impact that social media can have, with Mastercard forced to withdraw its advertising campaign in response to the universal backlash. 

New Balance’s attempt to challenge the global dominance of Nike and Adidas certainly appears to have backfired among the online audience

Elsewhere New Balance, which launched limited edition Russian-inspired football boots, also provoked a backlash online, with 69 per cent of the commentary negative. Most criticism came from consumers in relation to the advert “causing a political stir.” Indeed, New Balance’s attempt to challenge the global dominance of Nike and Adidas certainly appears to have backfired among the online audience, with the two sportswear giants leading the way once again.

The innovative way in which Adidas launched its ‘Creativity Is the Answer’ campaign, bringing together 56 of the world’s largest celebrity endorsers, was well received by fans online. SMS INC. RADAR analysis found that 92 per cent of the commentary was positive, with 40 per cent of those comments coming from America, 9 per cent from the UK, 6 per cent from Germany and 6 per cent from France.

As a result of the fragmented way people are consuming the World Cup, brands have been forced to look at alternative ways of getting the audience’s attention. Proof of this is the #HereToCreate campaign Adidas launched, encouraging fans to create their own content. At the time of writing, the hashtag had been used 2,000 times in 60 days.

Brazil’s new kit, meanwhile, fronted Nike’s World Cup advertising campaign, although it was the Nigeria kit that captured the imagination of the world online. Despite Nike sponsoring 10 teams at this year’s tournament compared to Adidas’s 12, if we look purely at the mentions in the last 60 days, Nike is dominating the conversation online: 150,000 for Nike versus 23,000 for Adidas.

If further proof were needed that brands are accepting that they have to adopt a combined digital and social approach in order to reach consumers, Coca-Cola’s ‘Being Ready’ campaign certainly demonstrated that in practice  

If further proof were needed that brands are accepting that they have to adopt a combined digital and social approach in order to reach consumers, Coca-Cola’s ‘Being Ready’ campaign certainly demonstrated that in practice. As well as its TV campaign, it also launched special edition Coca-Cola cans, with the numbers 0 through 9 printed on them so that fans can share predictions before each match with their friends on social media platforms. Collectively, Coca-Cola and the World Cup has been used in tandem approximately 6,400 times. 

And finally, Budweiser launched its World Cup campaign in more than 50 countries in 24 different languages, making it its biggest ever global activation. The overwhelming response to the ‘Light up the Fifa World Cup’ campaign has been positive, with 82 per cent of the commentary reflecting that. Interestingly, 25 per cent of commentary was from India, 24 per cent from Russia, 11 per cent from Australia and 9 per cent from the UK, demonstrating the global success and fully immersive nature of the campaign.

As the competition heats up on the pitch, it also remains fierce among the brands as they battle to reach the World Cup’s global audience. While TV advertising remains important, the role that social media plays will continue to grow, proven by the data set we were able to collect through SMS INC. RADAR.

It will be interesting to see how brands respond to on- and off-field events throughout the rest of the tournament but one thing remains clear, social media will continue to play a huge part in the World Cup fan experience. Whether it’s truly the first mobile World Cup, only time will tell.