Which World Cup Ads Scored with Audiences?

With the World Cup now complete, it’s the perfect opportunity to analyse which countries and brands won off the pitch through their advertising.  

After the quarter-finals, both Brazil and England mourned a frustrating exit. Similar fates on the pitch, but the two countries couldn’t be more different when it comes to World Cup advertising. While British advertisers struggled to rise to the unusual occasion, Brazilian brands couldn’t stop scoring. Brazil accounted for 8 out of the Top 10 World Cup ads on System1’s Test Your Ad platform, with one UK and one US ad making up the list. 

Ads building on sporting events are a big opportunity but notoriously hard to get right. The World Cup, Olympics and other festivals of sport are magnets for powerful emotion – capture some of that emotion authentically and you have the opportunity for a real marketing boost. Get it wrong and you can look like a bandwagon-jumper. 

The World Cup in Qatar took that risk to a new level, which may account for some of the caution US and UK advertisers showed around getting involved. Sponsors paid tens of millions for their association with an event which drew huge controversy. It’s no wonder the UK’s BrewDog got so much attention for their “Anti-Sponsorship” campaign highlighting corruption and human rights issues, even if some of that attention was as critical of the brand as the event. 

World Cup ads scored an average 3.9-Stars on System1’s 5-Star scale for long-term effectiveness; 1.17 Spike Rating, which measures short-term sales impact; and 90 Fluency Rating on a 100-point brand recognition scale. In comparison, this year’s Christmas ads averaged 4.2-Stars, 1.36 Spike Rating and 89 Fluency Rating.  

While the action on the pitch was full of shocks, the ads between that action mostly played things very safe. Brazil’s brands, though, did not show any similar reticence. No country loves the World Cup quite like Brazil, with their unmatchable five titles. It’s no surprise Brazilian brands embraced even this unusual tournament with positivity and flair. Telecoms brand Vivo provided our highest-scoring World Cup ad.  




Rather than making an ad set in Qatar or spend money on superstars, Vivo’s ad focuses on the excitement of kids about the World Cup as they try and master the 6-hour time difference between Brazil and Qatar. There’s a twist – initially you think the kids want to make sure they watch the game, but it turns out they’re flying out to be the Brazilian team’s mascots. It’s a charming piece of work which earns its 4.9-Star score – way ahead of most brand ads we looked at. 

O sonho do hexa continua



In second place came Globo TV, which landed a 4.8-Star score for a straightforward ad touching on all the spectacular memories of tournaments past. Emotional response to Globo’s ad slips a little in the middle when the focus leaves the Brazilian side – some viewers are none too happy to be reminded of Diego Maradona’s greatest moments! But a montage of the Seleção’s trophy-winning moments makes the ad end on a real high. 

Waka Brahma



The third-place ad for Brahma beer, which scored 4.4-Stars, has a heap of strong branding but not a football in sight – it tells the story of a beer cart with a mind of its own, driving around spreading drink and good cheer to thirsty football fans. Brahma have a history of quirky football-themed ads – they won awards for a recent campaign in which they styled beer foam in the shape of famous football hairstyles. Their beer cart ad keeps the action away from the game itself but captures the joy and friendship around supporting the team. 

It wasn’t just local brands that performed well in Brazil. McDonalds’ global ad – based around the question “Wanna go to McDonalds?” scored well in the UK, getting 3.9-Stars. But its more local ads for Brazil, with manager Tite using a McDonalds meal to teach a tactical lesson, performed even better, reaching 4-Star scores on the Test Your Ad scale.  

Time to Play

B/R Football


In contrast, the UK and US only managed one 4-Star ad each. For the UK, the top-scoring World Cup ad was a 4.4-Star effort from media brand Bleacher Reports for its BR Football service. The imaginative ad showed models of top stars coming to life, but didn’t do much to sell – or even show – the brand, making it something of a wasted opportunity.

Classic Debate



In the US, though, Frito-Lay scored 4.4-Stars with a fine effort, showing David Beckham arguing about whether the beautiful game is called football or soccer. It’s a tongue-in-cheek ad which may not do much to resolve the “classic debate” but shows that US brands have learned how to make excellent World Cup ads. 

Overall, though, the US and UK ads are an underwhelming selection for a major international tournament. Compared to the whole-hearted embrace of the event we saw from the Brazilian ads, most of the English-speaking work felt less committed, and some ads, like Kia’s 2-Star “Every Four Years” ended up simply feeling bland.  

With this World Cup potentially divisive, it’s no surprise English-speaking brands took this less full-on route. But they should look across to South America to see how well ads performed which did take a more optimistic route. The successful Brazilian ads show there’s still plenty of emotional mileage in big sports events, provided you can find an angle which captures the joy of supporting and watching the team as well as the action on the field. 

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