Brands who take a stance against this world cup are missing an opportunity for something better. There is a way to make change and create joy for fans at the same time.
I think we can all agree that this World Cup is in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s been catastrophically managed and everyone is the poorer for it – brands included.
A week out, what options do companies actually have?
The first option is to get onside. This isn’t particularly appealing. There are of course those tied to FIFA through long-standing contracts, many of whom are largely keeping heads down and shuffling past this one hoping they go unnoticed.
” Fans need to wake up to something other than inflation rates and global crises. “
Matt Readman, Chief Strategy Officer, Dark Horses
Other brands who aren’t sponsors but would normally get behind the spirit of a World Cup are recoiling from the toxicity of Qatar 2022. This is a shame because believe it or not brands do have a role in making an event like a World Cup or Christmas (or both) feel special. Fans might not put ads at the top of their wishlist, but they’ll miss them when they’re gone. Not doing anything is therefore arguably the safest play, but it’s not very satisfactory.
The second option for brands is to tear this World Cup down. Through your own righteousness you declare it an outrage and call on all others to boycott it – something BrewDog tried last week. It’s dangerous because you have to have a genuine track record of making meaningful change to pull it off.
The bigger flaw in this approach however is that it lacks basic emotional intelligence. You are promoting yourself at the expense of others’ enjoyment. Sure; you look good but you make others feel bad.
It’s easy to forget that fans want to enjoy this World Cup. They have been let down through no fault of their own. It should be an amazing moment of escapism – after all professional football itself was originally created as just that – instead fans feel unable to commit to it.
That’s especially unfair in current times. Fans need to wake up to something other than inflation rates and global crises. This kind of approach can strip them of that.
So; damned if you do, damned if you don’t. That basically leaves brands out of options right?
Well not quite; there is a third option. Brands can find a way for fans to enjoy this World Cup and make change at the same time. You can do this by giving them what they want; the ability to have a great time and celebrate, but also ally this to a great cause. For example in 2018 Paddy Power donated £10,000 to LGBTQ+ rights charities for every goal Russia scored. The result was huge numbers of fans started cheering those goals in.
The frustration for Brewdog I imagine is that they would argue they have done exactly this. For me the subtle difference is that they focused most of their energy on attacking the World Cup, which made the story all about them, rather than giving the World cup back to the supporters, which would make it all about the fans. If they had said ‘come to our venues, the more you celebrate the more we will give to human rights charities’ that would have done similar levels of good, but would have made them more the people’s hero they claim to be.