Top 5 World Cup marketing controversies

July 14th, 2014 / Together

So after weeks of thrilling football matches, numerous goals and various upsets, the World Cup has finally come to an end. And what an end it was!

This year’s tournament is likely to be remembered for three things: Brazil’s defeat to Germany, Louis Suarez’s hungry mouth, and the injury of Brazil’s star player, Neymar.

As marketers, we’re always interested to see how non-associated brands try to align themselves with one of the biggest events in the world without falling foul of Fifa’s rules. So here’s our rundown of the 5 biggest World Cup marketing controversies in recent history:

5) Neymar and Suarez wear banned Beats headphones: Sony is the official headphone sponsor of the World Cup 2014, with all competing brands of headphones specifically banned by Fifa to protect their investment. This hasn’t stopped stars including Suarez and Neymar flaunting the rules by being seen in their Beats by Dre headphones while travelling, at practice, and even at a press conference. This association with big football stars and breaking the rules is absolutely priceless for Beats, to the detriment of poor old Sony.


4) Kulula breaks the rules: The South African airline challenged Fifa’s anti-ambush marketing rules by running a press campaign referring to itself as the ‘Unofficial National Carrier of the You-Know-What’. Alongside vuvuzelas and stadium imagery, the World Cup inference was clear, and the company received a stern letter from Fifa.


3) Bavaria Beer: During the 2006 World Cup, Bavaria organised a giveaway of thousands of sets of branded lederhosen to Dutch supporters. World Cup officials were less than impressed: supporters were either unceremoniously stripped of their trousers or made to watch the game outside the stadium. Some claimed their human rights were violated.


2) Bavaria Beer strikes again: During the 2010 World Cup, retired footballer and ITV sport pundit Robbie Earle was fired because the seats for Denmark vs Holland game allocated to his family were filled with models dressed in matching orange outfits. It turned out that this was another marketing plot by Bavaria. Fifa were pretty vexed, resulting in the organisers of this stunt being detained by police.


1) Anti-gambling ad backfires: This year, a Singaporean anti-gambling helpline ran an ad showing a little boy hoping Germany wouldn’t win the World Cup:



As luck would have it, of course, Germany did win, somewhat dampening the heart-rending message of the ad. The National Council of Problem Gambling responded by releasing a follow-up version:

changed ad

Good save.

Did we miss any big World Cup marketing controversies? Add them in the comments.

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