World Cup Finals and Marketing

The World Cup Finals are coming, and you probably know the date — unless you live in one of the few countries in the world where football isn’t a religion. The World Cup (yes, the one involving ‘soccer’, which by the way really should be just called football) is unofficially the world’s most popular sporting event, not that you would know that living in Australia or USA. Billions of people tune in to the contest every four years. Not exactly for the quality of the football — if you’re looking for soccer played at the highest level, that’s club soccer, which has $$$ and isn’t constrained by passports — but for the drama. And the nationalism. And the weirdness. This year’s been no different. There have been big upsets, on pitch drama (Neymar and his infamous Oscar-worthy roll), off-pitch drama (a suicide in India, the father of Nigeria’s captain being kidnapped hours before the Nigeria-Argentina game), pre-game drama (Spain firing its coach 2 days before the tournament anyone?), rivalries (the endlessly litigated Messi-Ronaldo rivalry), technological drama (Video Assistance Refereeing is being used for the first time, with chaos) and just general drama (Don’t cry for Argentina…). Some people only tune in to football during the World Cup. If you love chaos and drama, it’s just so much more entertaining.

If you’ve been watching the games, you’re probably by now operating on low sleep, snacks, puzzlement (did Germany really crash out at the group stages? is Croatia seriously in the final?) and, possibly, a dawning realization that the logo mark, while well-intended, reminds you uncomfortably of things sold in certain kinds of dark-curtained shops. You might already have lost money on a bet. You might’ve been one of those lucky people who put a fun bet on South Korea against Germany and won scads of money, only to probably lose it again in the future. (Moral of the story: Don’t gamble.) You might have bought a jersey. You would most definitely have been bombarded by advertising in some countries, especially those with more lax advertising controls. You may or may not be surprised to find that there are actually strict rules with regards to advertising and marketing in the World Cup. So before you slap on some FIFA branding onto your last minute marketing tie-in… read this article.

Marketing During the World Cup

The Rights To Stuff™ is a hotly contested potato for FIFA. If you’re in Australia, you’ve probably noticed the SBS-Optus-World Cup stoush. Basically, different broadcasters often compete to acquire the rights to broadcast the World Cup games. FIFA negotiates the rights separately for each country. In Australia, SBS used to broadcast games on free to air TV. This year, Optus snagged the rights, with SBS gaining limited broadcast rights. However, Optus being what it is, the streaming was unstable during an Argentina game, and only got worse. When the Prime Minister feels obligated to give your CEO a personal call, you know that (1) you’ve probably messed up and (2) he’s about to do something unpopular (ICU Liberal Party budget) and needs a soft target. SBS is now broadcasting all the games for free again, and Optus refunded everyone who paid $15 for the rights to watch the World Cup. Frankly, we’re not entirely surprised by this development. A couple of us have Optus phone plans, and the reception cuts out all the time–on the way to East Richmond Station, the moment you go somewhat underground, in concert halls, in basement restaurants… so we’re not above feeling a bit of schadenfreude about this development.

FIFA also has sponsors in three tiers: FIFA Partners, World Cup sponsors, and National Supporters (which are all Brazilian companies):

“The six FIFA Partners have the highest level of association with FIFA and all FIFA events as well as playing a wider role in supporting the development of football all around the world, from grassroots right up to the top level at the FIFA World Cup. This allows FIFA and its Partners to form true partnerships, adding great value to the engagement for both sides. FIFA World Cup Sponsors have rights to the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup on a global basis. The main rights for a sponsor in this tier are brand association, the use of selected marketing assets and media exposure, as well as ticketing and hospitality offers for the events.

FIFA World Cup Sponsors have rights to the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup on a global basis. The main rights for a sponsor in this tier are brand association, the use of selected marketing assets and media exposure, as well as ticketing and hospitality offers for the events.

The National Supporter level is the final level of FIFA’s sponsorship structure, allowing companies with roots in the host country of each FIFA event to promote an association in the domestic market.”

Basically, FIFA wants its sponsors to get their money’s worth. Only sponsors can use any official imagery and descriptions of the World Cup. Everyone else can only use official branding if the content produced isn’t advertising, and if the content doesn’t imply an official partnership with FIFA or the World Cup.

There’s a whole new set of rules for social media, which we presume nobody has bothered to read, but basically:

  • Don’t use the official logos, photos, marks.
  • Don’t embed clips from your TV — FIFA has been busy issuing takedown notices.
  • If you use the official hashtag (#WorldCup) you can be sure that your post will be found and scrutinised. For advertising content, we wouldn’t recommend using the official hashtag. There are lots of unofficial ones to run with instead — for example, the finals game will probably have #FRACRO, #CROFRA, and adjacent hashtags.

Sweden’s Football Association actually got sanctioned by FIFA for the unsanctioned use of unauthorised commercial branding on playing equipment items. So yes, it’s possible to get into trouble with FIFA even if you’re an official associated body. So have Uruguay and England. FIFA is not joking around.

Guerilla Marketing Is Still Alive

Even with the above restrictions, it’s possible to run a creative, impactful campaign without official sanction. JWT London created this incredible domestic violence PSA ahead of the England-Croatia semifinal that went viral online:

Similarly, while it’s illegal to display the rainbow flag in Russia (there’s a law that bans the spread of “gay propaganda” there) 6 activists found a way to fly the Pride flag in Russia — by wearing different jerseys in their “Hidden Flag” campaign:

The activists are Marta Márquez from Spain, Eric Houter from the Netherlands, Eloi Pierozan Junior from Brazil, Guillermo León from Mexico, Vanesa Paola Ferrario from Colombia and Mateo Fernández Gómez from Argentina.

They visited iconic places like the Red Square and the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow, and also travelled on the underground and stood next to police officers.

Marta told Newsbeat: “Once we landed in Russia our first steps felt very scary, but little by little we realised that nobody knew what we were doing, so I started to relax, although I stayed alert.

“Over our five day visit there was no sense of real danger, nobody threatened us.

“Most people were very kind to us, especially the tourists who saw us as equals. However, if they had known what we were doing it probably would have been different.”

Is there an event coming up that you want a tie-in campaign for? Schedule in prep early. Want to learn more? We’re always happy to chat.

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