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.

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