As any fan of soccer – or communications – will attest to, the World Cup traditionally delivers memorable campaigns.

Nike often leads the way with epic adverts such as ‘The Secret Tournament’ (players battling in a cage on a disused tanker) or the immense ‘Write The Future’ (a 'sliding doors' ad which features Wayne Rooney living in a caravan). Both managed to balance deification and anticipation with a sense of humour.

This year, Nike's spot starring the Brazil team (see below) felt like an unoriginal mash-up of ‘The Chance’ and the infinitely superior ‘Airport’ from 1998. Indeed, the best moment is Ronaldo's pastiche of his role in the latter.

Nike was active on social media but deployed a faintly jarring tone of voice. Compelling stars to overcome unknown doubters (see below) – with no movement of tongue towards cheek – felt wrong during the World Cup, which should be a celebration of national unity; when club loyalties evaporate and it is ok to chant a rival’s name.

hazard nike instagram post 

Sadder still was the lack of a great boot. The latest 'Mercurial' was hardly an upgrade on 2014’s 'Superfly', which came in a riot of colourways and was a totally new silhouette. Nor was the 'Magista' discernibly better than what came before. The biggest shame was that Virgil Abloh’s zeitgeist 'Mercurial Vapor 360' was not given an outing. The one bright star was Nigeria’s kit, which was bold with an accompanying narrative that celebrated contemporary cultural influencers

nike nigeria kit

The Nigeria kit was a highlight 

As the official sponsor, Adidas produced the ‘Telstar 18’, a ball fitted with an NFC chip. This promising start evaporated upon pairing with an app when users discovered that they could unlock special content and enter a keepy-uppy competition but could not track shot speed (which is all anyone really wants).

Slightly underwhelming for $130+!

In 2014 the German manufacturer produced the undoubtedly decisive and equally unmissable ‘Battle Pack’, a thematic drawn from the paving stones of the Copacabana that featured across five boots. But this time in 2018 the shoes were dull, none more so than the bland 'Predator 18' (see below), which was far less impressive than David Beckham’s retro 'Accelerator'.

predator 18 

The new Predator 18 was underwhelming

As with most of their promotional activity Adidas looked to twin sport and culture: ‘Create The Answer’ was the tagline (see the video below), however despite a star-studded cast the message never quite landed.

The goal was to create one video that could be cut into smaller formats with segments targeted to various international audiences (such as baseball’s Aaron Judge for the US etc.). Yet despite the obligatory hashtag there was no discernible call to action; thus, when Pharrell Williams ‘hands’ the microphone to the viewer at the end of the clip it is not clear what the consumer is meant to do next. In an age of camera phones and filters surely there was a missed opportunity here...

Puma was slightly unlucky that Italy – their marquee team – failed to qualify and then the African sides all crashed-out in the group stages. Uruguay did make the quarter-finals but after Argentina's Sergio Agüero was dumped-out at the round of 16 it was left to Belgium’s Lukaku and France’s Griezmann and Giroud to grab the headlines. Four years ago that might have been easier with the ‘evoPOWER 1 Tricks’, a pair of boots with left and right shoes of totally different colours.

Yet in Russia the ‘Illuminate Pack’ was an unremarkable turquoise and silver. There was something interesting about the webbing effect on the upper, which allows the wearer to lace it in their own configuration. Although little reference was made to this empowering attribute. The overlaid campaign featured short animations on social media with the generic ‘#NewLevels’. Like Nike, it had a faint anti-troll sentiment.

Some commentators warned that uneasy geopolitical relations with Russia and the unknown reception awaiting fans meant that brands were afraid to lean-in. Sadly, that might be even more problematic with the controversial 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The same cannot be said of Euro 2020, which will be played across 12 cities throughout the continent. It represents a chance to reinforce diversity and, hopefully, produce genuinely exciting marketing activity that integrates consumers into the journey.

Whereas 2018's final game produced a 4-2 thriller, the big three finished with creative goalless draws all-round.

Further reading:

Charles Wade

Published 18 July, 2018 by Charles Wade

Charlie is a business development manager for ASOS in New York and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter, connect via LinkedIn, or read his personal blog.

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Comments (3)


George Karabelas, Student at Benedictine University

Hi Charles,

Given that the United States is still up and coming towards football as a whole, and also given that the country didn't qualify for the World Cup, do you believe this hurt the ability for Nike, Adidas and Puma to leverage their marketing towards these consumers?

Also, given that many of the worlds stars went out early at this years World Cup, and that these starts have sponsorship's with many of these companies, do you believe this also hurt their ability to place meaningful adds in front of consumers?

28 days ago

Charles Wade

Charles Wade, Director, Client Engagement at VML

Hi George,

Thanks for your question!

I am not sure how far the lack of a US presence impacted the big three: the World Cup offers such a huge sales opportunity globally that it would have short-sighted to ignore it for that reason. For context, Statista estimates Nike's revenue across Western and Central Europe and Japan to be c.$8.5bn. That is less than the US - but still pretty significant. You could argue that for Puma, Italy's failure to qualify (and African nations, such as the Ivory Coast) saw them scale-back.

I suspect that all three were nervous about being too visible in Russia. Also, despite exceptions like Nigeria, the products were quite underwhelming - especially the boots!

Nike and adidas's marquee players were disappointing, - with the exception of Mbappe - none more so than Neymar, who seemed to go backwards in terms of marketability. As such, I imagine that many Instagram posts ended-up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

Finally, I think that all three just got their campaigns wrong. Nike didn't have a call to action; adidas tried to shoe-horn theirs into the wider 'Creators' movement; and Puma under-potentialised their ambassadors.

28 days ago


George Karabelas, Student at Benedictine University

Hi Charles and thanks for the response.

I do agree that all three brands looked as though they feared being too visible in Russia given the political climate surrounding the games and even around the stadiums where many now the video advertisements surrounding the field where you'd normally see Nike, Adidas and Puma and other major brands running ads .

I do agree Mappe will become Nike's next biggest marquee player with an aging Ronaldo. and his move to Italy where in the US market at least, not many people have access to Serie A feeds. I also agree that Neymar took a step backwards with his marketability as compared to four years ago when the World Cup was in Rio and he was the poster child for both Nike and Brazil just based on his behavior, which I would suspect Nike was none to thrilled.

27 days ago

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