World Cup ads 2018: Visa, Mars and Lidl get the most kick from their creative


The most effective World Cup ads tell relatable stories that capture the joyful spirit of the event, and celebrities and big budgets are no passport to success, according to new research.


World Cup advertisements from Visa, Mars and Lidl are the biggest hits with viewers, according to research from Kantar Millward Brown.

Using its AdExpress tool, it assessed how this tournament’s crop of ads is performing, by measuring consumers’ reactions across 12 different dimensions. These included the seven critical factors that have been proved to motivate people to buy, and build a strong brand in the long-term: Enjoyment, Involvement, Branding (meaning people will realise what the ad is for), Relevance, Difference, Persuasion and Brand Love. The research also included facial coding, which measures consumers’ emotional responses by their facial expressions.

Ads from Lidl, Mars and Visa were the best performers. Consumers scored Visa’s Don’t miss a goal and Mars’s Sweetstake well above the norm on 6 of the 7 critical factors and Lidl’s Dream Big on 4 of the 7. Also doing well are Coca-Cola’s Stock Up, LG’s Live the Game and Pringles’ Pringooals.

Anticipated big winners Adidas and Nike, however, were among the lowest performers, alongside Beats. They did not manage to forge a connection with UK consumers, largely because they failed to tell a good story or make a meaningful point.

The results highlight that advertisers have mainly opted to use the World Cup as a brand building opportunity, rather than just shooting for a temporary boost in sales. The 12 ads researched tend to be much stronger on measures related to brand building, such as Involvement (engaging people actively in a positive way) and Brand love, rather than attempts to persuade people to buy. However, some of the strongest performing ads have also found ways to use the World Cup to communicate product messages, and the results clearly show that blockbuster ad formats are no guarantee of making a connection.

The highest scoring ads have three things in common, indicating what makes a great World Cup ad:

  1. They capture the spirit of the World Cup. The ads that were celebratory and joyful in theme connected best with consumers. Coca-Cola’s Stock Up features the array of emotions often experienced during the World Cup by fans, both male and female. The popular soft drink plays an essential part of that experience as fans go through the highs and lows of a match. Ads which promoted more earnest or negative messages, such as the struggle to succeed depicted in Beats’ ad, missed the mark.

  2. They tell a clear and relatable story. Previous Kantar Millward Brown research shows that the world’s strongest campaigns tell engaging stories based on fundamentally relevant insights. Mars, Visa, Lidl and Coke all depict real-seeming situations that everyone can identify with, and tell a human story. Celebrities and footballers featured in many campaigns and while these can be interesting, using them without a story or in an unrealistic setting fails to connect emotionally. Lidl’s ad, on the other hand, successfully shows the human side of the England team rather than idealising them, which creates a strong response, much in the same way that people are connecting with the team in the tournament.

  3. They harness the emotional power of the World Cup, combined with strong branding and a connection to the product. The World Cup offers a great opportunity to boost salience and borrow the emotional power of a global event, but consumers also have to make a link between the ad and the brand and benefit of the product to them for the emotional associations to accrue to the advertiser. Mars does well here, with a highly relevant competition, while Visa clearly articulates an existing benefit (contactless) in a fresh new way.

Graham Page. Kantar Millward Brown’s Managing Director, Offer and Innovation, says: “Advertising around major sports events is much more successful if it gauges and harnesses the mood. ‘Real’ stories and humorous situations work better than big, grandiose or earnest ads, which don’t really connect with consumers. The World Cup is all about joy, so the ads that are about struggle and weighty causes are not widely resonant.”

Previous Kantar Millward Brown research has highlighted the importance of diversity and non-stereotypical portrayals of gender in driving advertising success. The ads here show a similar pattern. Facial analysis of viewers highlighted that the female footballers in both the Adidas and Nike ads were highlights, and they also loved Lidl's non-stereotypical portrayals of the players and children. In contrast, the portrayal of the struggle for success in Beats’ ad came across as a more clichéd portrayal of maleness and footballers, and was not well received.

The research measured the performance of 12 ads from a mix of official sponsors and other major brands: Create the Answer (Adidas), Made Defiant (Beats by Dre), Drones (Budweiser), Stock Up (Coca-Cola), Your 1 in 20 Chance (Currys PC World), Live the Game (LG), Dream Big (Lidl), Sweetstake (Mars), Brazil (Nike), Pringooals (Pringles), Dancing in the Street (Qatar Airways) and Don’t Miss a Goal (Visa).
Commentary from Graham Page on some of the ads:

Visa provides a really engaging exposition of the brand benefit – contactless payment may not be news, but the telling of the benefit is. This ad uses a celebrity really well without being pompous, and Zlatan poking fun at himself is really well received by viewers.

Lidl’s different approach is appreciated by viewers, with a fantastic facial coding response to the kids and the players’ interaction with them. It works well on an emotional level for the brand, with universal appeal for both men and women.

Mars has created a really simple, straightforward, relatable and funny spot that is well told. It communicates the offer really well, and viewers appreciate it. The offer is interesting enough to hold attention to the branding moment, and relevant enough to be persuasive.

Budweiser’s ad has an engaging and celebratory narrative, and branding is strong due to a good use of cues and the role of the beer in the story. Many people engage with the ‘lone drone’, but it lacks some emotional warmth, perhaps because some people are uncomfortable with the ‘drone invasion’ imagery.

Coke is engaging, with a strong storyline and a ‘real’ situation, and a central role for the brand. Enjoyment is perhaps hampered due to the slightly negative consequences for the characters, but the idea is well received and as a result engenders good emotional warmth towards the brand.

Pringles is great reminder advertising – but there’s no real narrative. Branding is good, as it is very much recognisable as Pringles’ style. It is quite weak on gender stereotyping, possibly because all the ‘fans' are stereotypes.

Adidas is similar to many World Cup ads, featuring celebrities and sportsmen. It lacks a narrative – there’s an MC shouting about creativity, which has no obvious link to the brand. Facial coding showed that consumers found it wasn’t enjoyable or relevant, and was actively irritating to some, with a lot of frowns.

Qatar is disappointingly average for such a grand shoot, failing to grab people with any kind of narrative or link to the event. The main response in facial coding is puzzlement through the first half of the ad, followed by mild smiles. This is a typically ‘big’ World Cup ad, with a celebrity and kids playing football in the street around the world, but without a real point, and so is seen as irrelevant by many.


Kantar Millward Brown evaluated 12 World Cup ads, testing them with 650 consumers using its AdExpress performance measurement tool. Viewers scored each on 12 dimensions: Branding, Involvement, Enjoyment, Persuasion, New information, Different information, Relevant information, Believable information, Different from others, Meets my needs, Made me love (brand), Sets the trends. 11 of the 12 factors are scored on a scale of 1-5, while ‘Involvement’ is based on a selection of words taken from four set lists.

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