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3 advertising own goals at World Cup 2018

Date 29.06.2018

Second year Advertising & Digital Marketing student, Emily Pearson, gives her run down of the biggest advertising campaign fails during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Image - Emily Pearson

Emily Pearson, Advertising & Digital Marketing student at the University of Northampton

Has the pressure to make new and dynamic campaigns been too much for marketing teams at this World Cup?

The total global ad spend for the Russia World Cup will total at a whopping $2.4bn this year, with £40m being added in the UK itself. However, there have been quite a few campaigns already making headlines – and not for the right reasons.  Here’s some examples of what not to do:

Goals That Change Lives

Firstly, we have Mastercard’s World Cup children’s meals campaign, ‘Goals That Change Lives’. The image circulating for the campaign claimed that for every goal scored by either Messi or Neymar, it would donate 10,000 meals to children in Latin America and the Caribbean. Now, of course you must be asking yourself a multitude of questions.

Of course many people were asking: why not just donate meals anyway? Obviously it has the capabilities to do so. And there’s the glaringly obvious statement of: what if neither of them scored any goals? What would Mastercard’s back-up plan had been? If any?

It seems Mastercard was too focused on football sponsorship and garnering some positive PR, by trying to put emphasis on empathy and compassion – when in reality, it just made it seem out of touch.

As Paul Spriggs, Americas president of System1 Agency, quoted in a recent AdWeek article, put it: “Though helping starving children is to be commended, linking child starvation with a football brand sponsorship came across as self-serving in this case, and making the level of food donation conditional on a soccer player’s performance did not help, as it seemed to trivialize child hunger.”

After a massive backlash, Mastercard announced it would not be continuing with the campaign, and instead will be providing one million meals in 2018, in addition to the 400,000 already donated.


On the opposite end of the spectrum we have a very strange and short-lived promotion from the Russian chains of Burger King. It decided to offer three million rubles (which is about $47,000) and a lifetime’s supply of signature burgers to any woman impregnated by a world football star.

The ad was only published on a Tuesday but by the following Thursday all traces of it had been removed due to a justified social media backlash.

Pack it in, Paddy

The notoriously tongue-in-cheek Paddy Power, which was the sponsor of this year’s Royal Ascot, released an awareness campaign which showed a Russian man spray painting the English flag on a Polar Bear. As a follow-up it then released claim over the ad with a full newspaper wrap in the metro.

Many people called the ad shameful and some even said that it had “crossed a line” within creative advertising.

But does this show how shock advertising doesn’t work anymore? The world of online and digital is a very sensitive place and things are often taken outside of context. Any advert involving animals, whether they were really harmed or not is definitely a big ‘NO’ for most people.

Controversial? Well, Paddy Power claimed it was actually an awareness drive.

It released a pun-filled statement about its reasoning for the ad:

“Our footage caused social media to meltdown almost as quickly as the polar bear’s home in the Russian Arctic. And while the bear’s habitat is reduced massively in size each year, with scientists crying out for information and access to the region, Putin turns a blind eye because of big business and oil.”

Thankfully Paddy Power played it safer for the Royal Ascot, creating a campaign around a mobile drunk tank. Lesson learned maybe?

Personally, I don’t think that the MasterCard campaign is a PR stunt, but just a poorly planned campaign. With some deep thought the campaign could have been great for them, and showed a lot of empathy by using its power and influence to help those in need. However, it came off as insensitive to the plight of many poor hungry children bargaining the chance of their next meal against how well some overpaid players fared in the World Cup.

Burger King is a conflicting one, Russian chains of the fast food giant have a track record for controversy, last year they got into big trouble because one of its ads portrayed a 17 year old who was a lookalike of a rape victim. The question is, if you are reprimanded for a highly offensive ad last year, which would surely have had a knock-on effect to sales (you’d hope) – why would it try to pull a stunt like that again during one of the world’s most high profile sporting events?

Paddy Power’s stunt is definitely a PR ploy, but people were listening more to the negatives rather than the positives. If the ad had been revealed as Paddy’s attempt at an awareness campaign from the beginning, it probably would have turned out a lot better. Unfortunately it took on a life of its own fair too quickly, with the reveal of the real message staying unheard.