As the 2018 World Cup group stages come to a conclusion, certain brands have shown their marketing colours. Here are some of the emerging strategies.

The 2018 Russia World Cup is in full, brutal, end-of-the-group-stage swing. Teams in contention for the next round grow restless. Following a limping 2-1 opening win against Tunisia, England fans were out on London’s Charing Cross Road, stopping cars like Harry Kane had actually brought football home. Scraping through a victory against Nigeria, Argentina’s talismanic Diego Maradona was characteristically low-key in his celebrations. As many as three Swiss players have faced bans for politically charged symbolism while celebrating goals. It’s the greatest show on earth on and off the pitch and advertising has had to step up.

Prior to the tournament, there were reports that FIFA had struggled to fill all of the sponsorship spots in the lower tiers, with brands fearful of an association with Russia’s international profile alongside FIFA’s unwholesome recent history. Though at the official level Chinese brands have been happy to fill the void, many of the usual global brands have not missed out.

The stars in no particular order

Not known for its marketing subtlety in recent years, everybody’s favourite street-party/protest-loving soft drink brand is at it again with a major TV spot, prime-time media spend and big names.

Inexplicably, world class players, including Lionel Messi and Marcelo, boot paint-filled balls at each other while their faces suggest they’re having a good time. In a statement released at the campaign’s launch in March, Pepsi said it was known for “bringing football's most iconic heroes and hopefuls to the world in unexpected, entertaining ways.” To be fair to Pepsi, the campaign is intended to go much broader than the World Cup and is intended to associate the brand with literally any and every instance of football taking place in 2018.


Why get all the stars in when you only need one? Visa seems to think that Zlatan + fast payments is a sure winner. The sheer quantity of extra footage that he has appeared in alongside the hero film attests not only to the Sweden legend’s stamina but also to Visa’s deep pockets. Though he is not playing in the World Cup, people love and hate him enough to spark a reaction. If the competition is kicking paint around then you are likely to elicit something if a grown man continues to refer to himself in the third-person.

The 360-degree, millennial, influencer fest

Again, the adidas brand likes to leverage its sponsored stars, and once again Leo Messi is with us. But then so is a roll-call of people you like and people you don’t: stars from the worlds of music, football, basketball, and Jose Mourinho.

The link, more logical than Pepsi, it has to be said, is clear: all high achievers and all creators. The list of credits is similarly long. Whether it is creatively or commercially successful or not remains to be seen, but people did rather like the brand’s Italia 90-inspired kit designs. Clinging to creativity as a strategy is a useful notion, as a glance across adidas’ social channels shows, where ‘Here to create’ or ‘Creativity is the answer’ slogans abound and apply to every player.

Ryan Morlan, VP Brand Communications at adidas said: “We have re-engineered the traditional advertising campaign – the way only the Creator Sports Brand can – by creating endless inspiration through unique and personal content.” If the 2018 World Cup is about anything, it’s the personal story and the individual experience over country. It's an emotional time.


FIFA contracts mean we can’t really call any of Nike’s 2018 output a World Cup ad, even if it’s about the Brazilian squad wearing the kit they’re currently playing in and the fact it reflects the hopes and dreams of that very nation on the stage they have dominated no less than five times. It even replicates Ronaldo (V.1)’s part in the 1998 Nike World Cup ad.

It fits into the brand’s wider ‘Believe’ platform, where names like Philippe Coutinho and Harry Kane contribute personal videos. For less obvious footballing stories, Nike has also delved into less visible teams. For instance, its association with the Nigerian team – not to mention its social media-razing kit designs – led to a 20 minute documentary on Nigeria’s unique style and attitude to football.

A caveat to Nike’s inclusion here: being Nike is not really a strategy, not unless you’re Nike, but the brand wrote the book on putting its advertising around the subject of football. If nothing else, enjoy the YouTube channel; there are some remastered goodies in there.


On Tuesday, McDonald’s and Uber Eats announced that they would be giving out free deliveries on the day of England’s game against Belgium. This may well fit with their opening strategy, that of getting a sad-looking Andrea Pirlo in to find a new team to support, given Italy’s failure to qualify.

Though there is some quite funny writing, a quick Google search turns up very little about the ad and lots of PR about free burgers on Thursday. England are through already, and the offer, perhaps, comes from a place of desperation and not aspiration. England, it seems, are beginning to believe. Maybe no one will take them up on it. Maybe everyone will be too busy turning cars over in central London. Maybe this time, it might happen. Then we’ll all need a free delivery.