After a controversial start, the World Cup has been hailed a huge success – at least as a football competition. After lots of upsets, including an Arabic nation (Morocco) getting through to the semi-final, icon Lionel Messi capped a glorious career by picking up the Fifa World Cup trophy in what experts agree was the best final in living memory. 

But what about the World Cup as a marketing ‘event’? In the sporting calendar, few events, if any, can match the World Cup when it comes to marketing potential: NPD, giveaways, heavy promotion, the aim of the game is big sales off the back of big parties and big pub crowds. 

It’s why sponsors like Coca-Cola, Budweiser and McDonald’s pay an estimated average of £50m+ to get in on the game. 

And normally, we would expect to see other brands doing some brisk promotion of their own, while skilfully slaloming round Fifa’s costly but cumbersome commercial machine through endorsements of national teams, individual players and the beautiful game more generally. 

As we’ve come to expect from 2022, nothing can be counted on, however. 

As the first-ever winter World Cup, it’s faced competition from an even bigger commercial venture: Christmas. And the first Christmas in years unencumbered by Covid. And guess what? The World Cup has come out the loser. 

As Gareth Turner, director at Big Black Door and former head of marketing at Weetabix says: “It’s hard enough to get cut-through for a summer tournament, but a winter World Cup has the added complication of seasonal feature space devoted to eggnog and tinsel.”  

Sure, the big sponsors have got involved. But it’s been a lot more muted. At least at a UK level.

Coca-Cola ran some limited on-pack promotions, but the prizes were modest: 10,000 World Cup-branded footballs could be won. It’s hardly the sort of giveaways we’ve grown used to, with free flights and accommodation to lucky on-pack winners, and a few trips for the trade to boot.

But this Scrooge-like approach has been quite conscious. And not just due to the cost of living crisis

As one senior exec at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners put it: ”There’s just not been enough time to fit the World Cup in around other activities. Normally there’s a long lead time. But no sooner have we finished with Halloween than we’re into Christmas. You can quickly end up having to sell promoted bottles through the trade at vastly reduced prices after the event.”

Moy Park has also run on-pack promotions courtesy of parent company Marfrig’s sponsorship of the World Cup. But the branding seems somewhat toned down in comparison to previous incarnations.

As to Budweiser, the decision to ban alcohol sales in Qatar stadia just days before the competition was probably not the ringing endorsement AB InBev was hoping for. Then again it was difficult to get excited by its UK activation, with limited-edition Fifa World Cup-branded packaging introduced in October on some lines. In fact Budweiser made more of a hoo-ha about the England women’s team in a 150,000-bottle Tesco giveaway.

The same goes for guerrilla marketing. The most notable guerrilla PR stunt of the World Cup – BrewDog’s anti-advertising campaign – was a spectacular own-goal. Tesco’s gamble on stocking an ale from Wales ace Gareth Bale went a bit flat too, as the Welsh wizards crashed out of the competition in the first round. And the fact that Warburtons was promoting football crumpets says it all, really. 


So the World Cup has been a bit of a damp squib marketing-wise. It turns out it isn’t as big a draw for punters as Fifa likes to think. That combination of a longer competition (albeit only three days), the start of the summer holidays for many schoolkids (rather than rehearsals for carol services and nativity plays), and the warmer weather in its usual summer slot are just as important ingredients in the success of the World Cup as the football itself. 

Of course, there’s also been a lot of bad publicity surrounding Qatar in terms of its treatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ groups – not to mention the circumstances under which it secured the World Cup in the first place via alleged bribery of Fifa officials. For brands, Qatar and Fifa doesn’t fit all that well with their environment, social and governance (ESG) agendas. 

But marketing-wise, Christmas killed the World Cup. As Richard Buchanan, founding partner and director of consulting at The Clearing, says: “This isn’t a time of year where supermarkets need to win a battle over who will sell more sausages for the barbecue. Footfall in December is going to whoever is winning on Christmas, not the World Cup.”