Lionel Messi stars in Pepsi’s World Cup advert, which features football tricks and one-upmanship

Steve Howell of creative agency Dark Horses picks the best and worst World Cup adverts ahead of the month’s tournament in Qatar.

‘Tis the season with a World Cup unceremoniously stuffed in the middle like the turkey in a Pret Christmas sandwich.

The 12 years since Qatar were awarded the tournament have been full of controversy and, as this month’s tournament nears, organisers must be willing for kick-off so everyone stops focusing on the jail time you face for being a homosexual in the host nation.

Anecdotally, I’ve never experienced such a lack of excitement for a World Cup. Even USA ‘94 had more fervour and England didn’t qualify. But one thing that usually gets the goosebumps going is the flurry of adverts that surround a tournament.

Name a famous football ad and I guarantee it’s from a World Cup. And surely World Cup + Christmas = a marketer’s dream scenario? Well, actually, probably not. With an Islamic nation hosting, a global brand will probably make the Christian holiday take a back seat.

Maybe a purpose-driven brand will take a righteous stand about the controversy surrounding the tournament? Well, actually, probably not. Global brands might seem empathetic, tweeting their prayers when disaster strikes, but they seldom stick their neck out over Fifa or the Middle East.

In fact, it’s been quiet in adland for this tournament. Nike hasn’t dropped its campaign yet. Nor has Adidas or another stalwart sponsor, Visa. So maybe there are a few campaigns to come. Until then, let’s look at the brands upon whom the excitement of Qatar 2022 solely rests.

Why joyful Pepsi is best World Cup advert so far

ITV is promoting its coverage by cleverly avoiding any reference to Qatar and instead taking us on a trip down memory lane of past tournaments.

It’s nostalgic and beautifully put together, although it doesn’t get the adrenaline going like I hoped it would.

Coca-Cola has launched its “Believing is Magic” campaign, which sits well with the sportswashing that we’re all getting rinsed through at the moment.

In it a young girl is swept up in a carnival-esque celebration of the beautiful game after taking a sip from the famous bottle. It’s like a visualisation of her literally drinking the kool aid.

American beer giant Budweiser has set its commercial inside a massive tunnel and poses the ponderously obtuse statement “No Matter Your Tunnel, The World Is Yours To Take”. With those exact italics.

Lionel Messi and Neymar make their obligatory appearance, but I’m left wondering about the italicised words and what the tunnel in my life might be, other than the Northern Line.

Hyundai has given us the most unexpected pairing of Korean boyband BTS and former Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard in the same advert.

In fact, it feels like three adverts in one – there’s some football stuff, then a BTS pop video on a rooftop, and then some banal, cliched driving along a coastal road.

It’s a weird mix of drivel that feels really disjointed. But admittedly, I’m not a BTS fan. Or a Steven Gerrard fan. Or a boring cliched car ad fan either.

Puma’s “Find Your Fearless” ad features a group of London teens on their way to a house party before embracing their fearlessness and becoming grime artists. As you do.

It follows Puma’s usual mix of music, fashion, sport and youth culture and does so with stellar performances from the young actors alongside the ubiquitous Neymar, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic and Inter Miami reserves’ Romeo Beckham.

It screams that it never wanted to be a World Cup ad, so it sits like an empty promise shouting “be fearless” with nothing fearless about it.

Pepsi’s World Cup campaign is the only one that feels like it answered the brief. It’s a joyful extravaganza of one-upmanship like World Cup campaigns gone by.

Messi, Paul Pogba and Ronaldinho feature in a mass game of nutmegs that culminates in Qatar with some football tricks involving a thobe.

It’s well executed, exciting and set to Fatboy Slim’s “Rockafeller Skank”. So what’s not to love?

Pepsi aside, if the World Cup is anything like the adverts it won’t just be the most controversial World Cup ever but the most boring one too.

Steve Howell is Creative Partner at agency Dark Horses.