Branding at the 2018 World Cup: Which brands reigned supreme

July 20, 2018
World Cup

By Manil Dodani

Now that one of the planet’s largest sporting events has come to a nail-biting finish, Manil Dodani analyzes which brands really brought it home at the 2018 World Cup.

A fascinating sense of excitement has permeated my daily routine for the past couple of weeks. Watching the World Cup matches with friends and family, roaring after a goal, or collectively sighing after a missed penalty shot has been an unforgettable experience. While Russia bathes in the limelight of being the host this year, brands across the world are spending millions to get a sliver of customer attention.

Whether you’re a brand that sells shoes, beverages, or the next lux-tech product that aims to disrupt the market, running a World Cup campaign is a daunting task. You have to magnify and maintain the sanctity and spirit of football, and harder still, you have to do it without any reliable targeting. So how can brands get their messaging right and make an impact in a crowded brand landscape?

It’s all about storytelling. Building and promoting content that a brand can truly “own” is of paramount importance. Here’s a roundup of the World Cup brand campaigns that used storytelling to catch and hold my attention, make me laugh, and help me revel in the charm of football—all while remaining relevant to their consumers and true to their brands.

1. Nike: Vai na Brasileiragem

Nike knows World Cup dialect like nobody else. By hardwiring the brand into the foundation of the game, Nike used its ad to create a brand utopia. Twenty years after its iconic ad featuring Ronaldo and Romario running around an airport, Nike hit the right notes again, this time with a Brazil ad starring Neymar and company—complete with airport references and nods to Nike’s legacy.

2. Gatorade: Destined to Lift the World Cup

It doesn’t matter if Argentina couldn’t make the cut this year, Gatorade’s commercial made my heart beat for Lionel Messi. Gatorade used creative storytelling that harkened back to Messi’s days as a young football prodigy, cutting seamlessly to the crowning moments of his career. “You have a dream to chase, nothing can stop you,” an evocative voice chimes through the spot. The ad resonated as an absolutely on-brand salute to Gatorade’s tagline, Win from within.

3. Coca-Cola: Together (SAMAN með)

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say “Iceland”? If you’re like me, it’s lots of ice—and very few people. Bringing together a country to thunderclap for its national goalkeeper made this Coca-Cola ad especially memorable, particularly after finding out it was directed by that goalie himself. The ad used catchy beats and fast-paced editing to get you jumping in your seat, while telling a unifying and inspiring story.

4. Apple

A sneaky shout-out to Apple for being the silent mastermind at the 2018 World Cup. Although Apple wasn’t an official sponsor, tons of players were spotted wearing Apple AirPods over the course of the event. It was a subliminal signal of the tech giant’s prowess through on-the-ground, grassroots marketing.

Apple airpods

With the World Cup over, France is in celebration mode after its stupendous victory and brands are taking home their own share of the FIFA pie through sales, awareness, and customer loyalty. Here are a few key points to remember if you’re using a sports platform to market your brand:

  • Stay true to the game above all else
  • Know your brand’s purpose and hold to it; if you do, victory will follow
  • Connect with consumers by creating a narrative arc between your brand’s purpose and the key message you want to communicate

Allez les bleus! Vive la France!


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