Top 5 World Cup marketing controversies

Ambush marketing, sponsor spats and a dog named Sepp, Marketing Week looks at the some of the marketing gaffes, controversies and mishaps that have beset the greatest shindig in world sport. 

Budweiser 2006

Budweiser/Bud becomes the official (not) beer of the 2006 Word Cup

The 2006 World Cup in Germany presented several challenges for the beer brand. Firstly, in a country that knows a thing or two about beer it is not considered one as it contains rice, a definite fail according to the Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity law to you and me. Secondly its long-running spat with Czech brewer Budweiser Budvar meant it was unable to be sold by the full-name it carries in the rest of world and was therefore offered by its acknowledged nickname, Bud.

Elsewhere, there was a question mark over whether fans would be allowed to enjoy the offical beer of this year’s football fest in Brazil before and during matches until the Brazilian government overturned a ban on in-stadium drinking in 2012. Doubts remain over its status in grounds to be used for the 2022 tournament in Muslim Qatar but then a cloud hangs over that chapter of the World Cup story generally.

Free the Bavaria 36

Continuing on a Budweiser tip, the official beer was somewhat upstaged during a match in 2010 when 36 mini-skirted orange clad girls were ejected from a Denmark v Holland game. Their crime? Not conclusive but it was thought that they were there to champion Dutch beer Bavaria. The, ahem, brew-haha, did not stop there. ITV pundit Robbie Earle was sacked after it emerged he had passed on his freebies to Bavaria, while two women accused of being ringleaders of the stunt were arrested. Calmer heads prevailed following an intervention by FIFA and they were freed without charge. 

Credit card kerfuffle

FIFA was at the centre of a dispute again this time between the two great titans of, err, payment services: Visa and Mastercard. In 2007, Mastercard sued FIFA after the sport’s governing body awarded the coveted official payment provider title to Visa. This was not just sour grapes, however.

Mastercard argued that it had first refusal on sponsoring the 2010 and 2014 tournaments but had not been given the opportunity to present its pitch. A US court agreed but the deed had been done and Visa became sponsors, while MasterCard concentrated efforts on the Champions League.

A dog named Sepp

The Paddy Power of South African airlines Kulula tried its best to cause a stir before the 2010 tournament in its home country with a series of highly amusing PR stunts that bought more attention than its modest budget could have managed.


Its first foray into ambush marketing was the launch of a print campaign, which announced itself as the “unofficial national carrier of you know what”.

The flirtation with breaking the rules in place to protect official partners earned it a rebuke from FIFA but Kulula simply took that as encouragement to step things up. Another ad soon after used FIFA assets and included an explanation of why it was on the right side of the law. The apogee of its FIFA baiting came when it offered to fly anyone sharing the name of FIFA president Sepp Blatter for free and adopted a dog named Sepp as brand ambassador. Puerile? Yes. Effective? Most definitely.

Goals v ads

Goals by England players were scarce at the 2010 World Cup so to miss one was to miss one of the few good memories England fans have of the tournament. Instead of watching Steven Gerrard’s opener in England’s opening game against the USA, those viewing on ITV’s HD channel were treated to an ad by Hyundai.

Those quick to complain about the commercialisation of the game were given plenty of reason to.    

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