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Which World Cup campaigns are receiving the red card?

Hermione Hitchin Senior Executive 15/12/2022
The World Cup final is this weekend; let’s take a look at how the official partners – and “anti-sponsors” – are faring.

December 2nd marked 12 years since the announcement of a World Cup in Qatar – and unbeknownst to governing body FIFA, this bid would quickly become one of the most controversial moments in the history of association football.

Controversies included a whirlwind of corruption and bribery allegations, causing outrage amongst fans of the game. Qatar’s known mistreatment of migrant workers, and overt intolerance against members of the LGBTQ+ community has encouraged a number of brands to publicly criticise the antics of the Gulf state.

But who is taking a stand… and who is watching from the sidelines?

In November 2014, further allegations about the bidding process emerged, causing Emirates to cut sponsorship ties with FIFA. In something of a snowball effect, former partner Sony spoke out, stating FIFA must stand by principles of integrity, but terminated its partnership shortly thereafter.

In the same year, we saw official partner Adidas take a reticent approach in response to the claims. Acknowledging the negative discourse, Adidas simply stated that the allegations were “neither good for football nor FIFA and its partners”. The sportswear brand remains an official affiliate of the 2022 World Cup.

Earlier this year we saw Lucozade, long-term sponsors of England’s national team, make the daring decision to pull all branding from the tournament. No bottles or logos would be seen on screens during press conferences, training photos, or matches. As such, the energy drink brand may be considered an ‘anti-sponsor’.

Also in the anti-sponsor category lies craft-beer brewers BrewDog, and Virgin Atlantic, which flew the England national squad out to Doha on a plane called ‘Rain Bow’ that was printed with its LGBTQ+ mascot, Oscar.

Own goal for BrewDog?

Data from BrandVue, Savanta’s daily brand tracking tool, shows a decrease in Brand Love of more than 10% for BrewDog’s most popular beer – Punk IPA –  between November 1st and 15th. Furthermore, its Negative Buzz score increased four-fold to more than 6% during the same period.

BrewDog is a self-proclaimed ‘anti-sponsor’ of FIFA, and made its antipathy known in a provocative campaign that dubbed the tournament a ‘World F*Cup’. However, the attempt to champion injustice was quickly discredited when rumours of the brand’s poor treatment of its staff began to surface. Worsened by the decision to show the World Cup in its branded bars, consumers began to feel BrewDog’s condemnation of FIFA was nothing more than an empty gesture.

The change in consumers’ attitude is unsurprising given the controversy BrewDog endured however the negativity was short lived.

Spirited away: FIFA gives booze the boot

To add to the controversy, less than 48 hours before kickoff, FIFA made the decision to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in Qatar’s stadiums. In a call that was influenced by the legal status of alcohol in the Gulf state, major sponsor Budweiser were thwarted, and left with no choice but to rely on the sale of its non-alcoholic counterpart, Budweiser Zero.

The day after the announcement (Nov 19th), Budweiser saw Brand Love at a healthy 23%, but in the 7 days following, witnessed a 5% decrease. Furthermore, Negative Buzz increased by 3 percentage points during the same time.

In contrast, BrewDog’s Brand Love was loitering around 11% on the 19th but it quickly sprung back to almost 16% within the 5 days following. Perhaps the brand’s ‘anti-sponsor’ position prevailed, or did consumers just forget about the scandal?

Did Adidas benefit from staying on side?

It seems not. In the run-up to the start of the tournament, Negative Buzz for official partner Adidas increased, with the most notable rise taking place between November 1st and 9th (+4%).

Brand Love for Adidas over the same period is also telling; the sportswear giant boasted a 28% Brand Love score on the day of kickoff, which dithered for a few days, but eventually plummeted to 23% in just over a week.

This year’s World Cup is a case study in how brand partnerships don’t always result in an increase in Brand Love, even when aligning with the most watched sporting event in world. The context, the controversies and the scandals all leave a mark on the reputation of the brands involved.

Is it worth brands taking a stand?

The jury is out for BrewDog as their anti-sponsor status came with it’s own controversy while Adidas and Budweiser are still waiting to see the pay-off from sticking with the event.

Brand partnerships can be a risk for any brand; if the result is negative, the response should be strategic.

BrandVue monitors the opinions of 1m+ consumers each year across more than 2,500 brands, acting as an invaluable tool to measure changes in KPI metrics against competitors and react in real time to develop strategic responses that mitigate any negative impacts on your brand.

Negative Buzz refers to the percentage of all respondents who have heard something negative about each brand in the last month. To find out more or book a free demo, get in touch here.


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