Which brands are winning the World Cup ad stakes?

As the FIFA World Cup nears the half-way mark, with England through to the final 16 (and Germany out), Marketing Week takes a look at the winning (and losing) ads of the tournament – and it’s an unlikely brand leading the way.

At the mid-way point of the FIFA World Cup, it’s a San Fransisco-based shopping app that is leading the way in the ad stakes, triumphing over football heavyweights such as Coca-Cola and Adidas, according to data shown exclusively to Marketing Week. 

When it comes to emotional engagement, US online shopping portal Wish comes out top for its ‘Time On Your Hands’ campaign, according to System1, which monitored how thousands of UK consumers responded to 28 different World Cup ads by getting them to register their emotional responses by showing them eight different faces – contempt, disgust, anger, fear, sadness, neutral, happiness, surprise.

Ads were then weighted for business effect and given a score of between one and five stars based on ROI growth, with one star representing 0% growth and five stars 3% growth.

Wish recruited football legends such as Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon for its campaign, with this ad in particular winning the attention of British consumers, with an ’emotion into action’ score of 76.5% – the highest of any ad in the ranking.

The campaign scored three out of five stars, meaning it was a good ad with the potential for reasonable long-term brand growth, with the company’s focus on humour and the star power of footballers from Italy, Wales, Holland and the US – nations which didn’t qualify for this year’s World Cup.

The data shows that ads have generally not resonated that well this year though, with none of those tested scoring a four or five, and just four ads achieving three stars. By comparison, nine Christmas ads tested using a similar methodology achieved the top score.

While no World Cup ads score higher than three stars, the ones that do best have ramped up humour, patriotic sentiment and excitement, to achieve emotional resonance with consumers, according to System 1’s head of communications Tom Ewing.

But Ewing says UK advertisers have instead focused much more on supporters enjoying the tournament as a whole. “That’s a safe route because everyone loves a party. But it’s not an especially exciting one, which is why nothing hit higher than three stars.”

Ewing says the Wish campaign has a “solid creative idea” behind it that explores what non-qualified footballers do during the World Cup through a quirky execution, which “made viewers smile and sparked imagination”.

But not all ads in the campaign were as successful as the Buffon execution, with the ad starring Gareth Bale, for example coming 19th of the 28, with a star rating of one.

“[It confused viewers] particularly with the TV executions, where the brand cut down the 50-second online clips to 30 and 40 seconds for TV, which meant they were very compressed and occasionally bits of connective storytelling tissue went missing,” he says.

UK ad flop

Of the local ads tested in the UK, BT’s ‘There Father and Son’ performed the worst, scoring just one star and an emotion into action score of 60.9%.

While Nike only managed to score two stars for its ad celebrating Brazilian street ‘futbol’, it performed better in other countries. For instance, it was given a five star rating in Portugal.

Ewings says Nike scored poorly because it focused on football culture in one nation, meaning other countries who don’t identify with Brazilian football can be “left cold”.


“Credit to Nike for taking a more authentic route and making an ad firmly rooted in the footballing culture of one nation, but it means that in countries which don’t especially identify with Brazilian football, audiences can be left cold. Hence why it scored five stars in Portugal and just two in the UK,” he says.

Nike did score better than Adidas which achieved just one star in the UK for its celebrity-packed ‘Create The Answer’ campaign which has been labelled an “emotional bomb”. Ewings says it was busy, confusing, cliche and alienating.

“Adidas’ ad is the ultimate incarnation of the celebrity-packed sports ad, but what has all this clubbing and partying got to do with football? The fact it bombed so badly shows it’s an approach that’s run its course, and also underlines what a hard job UK advertisers had this year,” he adds.

Looking abroad

Meanwhile in the USA, five ads were tested, none of which managed to score well either.

Budweiser’s ‘Light Up The World Cup’, Gatorade’s ‘Everything Changes’ and Powerade’s ‘That’s Some Kind of Power’ all earned three stars.

In Germany, retailer Otto’s campaign scored four stars with consumers, and in Portugal energy company Galp Leva’s ‘Portugal a Peito’ earned full stars alongside Nike’s campaign. Ewing believes Germany and Portugal have managed to engage consumers at an emotional level because of their ability to acknowledge national pride, honesty and good humour.

“It’s the same formula that makes ‘Three Lions’ such an enduring football song – acknowledge the nation’s faults but come up proud anyway,” he says.

“That means you make the patriotic viewer happy while winning over neutral viewers who might be suspicious of pure jingoism. Galp and Otto show you can make patriotic ads without getting ugly and British creatives can take a leaf from their book.”

Having low expectations can be a good thing, often so if you’re an England supporter, but Ewing says this isn’t the case for the nation’s admakers who were “too timid and misread the nation’s mood”.

“People had low expectations (of England), so advertisers kept it low key and focused on the fans not the players,” he says.

“But there was an undercurrent of genuine liking for this England team which canny advertisers could have tapped into. And then the on-field performances so far have boosted that feeling a lot. Advertisers didn’t spot that feel good factor and so they’ve missed out.”

Top 10 UK World Cup adverts:

1. Wish – Time on their hands

2. Coca Cola – Ready For

3. Pringles – Celebrate

4. Pepsi – One love. Love it. Live it


5. VISA – Don’t miss a Goal


6. Paddy Power – VAR

7. Qatar Airways – Dancing in the Street

8. Wish – Robin Van Persie

9. Hyundai Motors – World Cup 2018 (ft Maroon 5)


10. Nintendo/EA – “FIFA 18”

Keep up to date with what brands are doing around the World Cup with the Marketing Week blog.