Who’s winning the World Cup (of advertising)?

We know it’s not a Tide ad. But is it a Christmas ad or a soccer ad? Not surprisingly given the World Cup’s proximity to Christmas, several brands have opted to combine the two.

Many of this year’s World Cup ads feature the sport’s most recognizable names, while others opt for humour, and others lean towards gravitas. Here’s a round-up of just some of the ads that have caught our eye in the tournament’s early days and our ratings (expressed in soccer balls, of course).

Sports Direct — “Give Me Football”

British sports retailer Sports Direct is among the several brands taking advantage of the World Cup’s timing with a series of ads featuring past and current football stars including Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Mason Mount and Declan Rice, as well as beloved commentator Clive Tyldesley.

“[W]e wanted to celebrate notable festive traditions with a comedic football spin,” said Sports Direct’s chief marketing officer Beckie Stanion.

The ads from London-based “football media business” COPA90 feature typical advertising tropes (such as a family gathered for Christmas dinner) interrupted by the famously hot-tempered Cantona issuing what could easily become a buzzy catchphrase in the soccer-mad nation: “Give me football.”

Bonus points for the hilariously unexpected appearance by Tyldesley’s head.


Paddy Power – “Where Were You in ’22”

The spot from the gambling company opens at a Christmas pageant, only to be disrupted by the organist watching a World Cup match on her phone. “You hear that? It’s the sound of Christmas and the World Cup colliding” says the voiceover. And we’re off…

The spot from Droga5 continues in that humorous vein, with holiday-related takes on familiar soccer motifs including the infamous Zinedine Zidane headbutt recreated in Christmas lights, and the brand’s lanky spokesman (and former England player) Peter Crouch as a modern-day Joseph, being informed there’s no room at The Inn, which in this case is a pub named The Inn.

Charming and funny.


McDonald’s — “Wanna Go to McDonald’s?”

Launching simultaneously in more than 75 countries, McDonald’s World Cup campaign is built around a common question asked in almost any language: “Wanna go to McDonald’s?”

Rather than featuring soccer stars, the ad from W+K features footie fans around the world reacting to the outcome of a World Cup match, good or bad, and asking their companion(s) the titular question.

It also features people using their local colloquialism for the QSR, like “Maccy D’s” “McDo” and “Macca’s.” The ad isn’t completely lacking in star power however, as W+K recruited popular TikTok creator Khaby Lame (we’ll see him again later), EA Sports FIFA Twitch streamer Edwin Castro, and Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis.


Gatorade — “The Next 90 Minutes”

This is expected to be soccer great Lionel Messi’s last appearance on soccer’s biggest stage, and the Argentinian star is still chasing the one trophy that has eluded him in an otherwise glorious career.

According to Gatorade, the spot is designed to show that the secret to success is not the challenge itself, but how prepared athletes are to face that challenge.

It features Messi talking about being focused on the next 90 minutes, leaving behind distractions like fame, the press, and the pressure. “The only thing that matters is how you face it,” he says before the Gatorade logo appears, accompanied by the super “The greatest never settle.”

Unfortunately, Messi and his Argentina teammates did have to settle… for an ignominious 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia in their tournament debut. You can’t help but wonder how brand teams fell when their marquee spokesperson falls flat in such a high-profile manner.

Otherwise, this is just more meh from Messi on the world stage.


Nike — “Footballverse”

This four-and-a-half minute film takes place in a secret lab in Geneva, where scientists are attempting to solve one of sports’ most popular debates—how would the greatest players of one era stack up against the greatest players from another era?

The engaging, high-energy spot features a who’s who of past and present soccer greats, including the Brazilian and Portuguese Ronaldos, as well as current French star Kylian Mbappé, Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and, er, one of the scientists’ uncles.

Set to the Oingo Boingo song “Weird Science,” and combing wonderful action with some well-deployed FX, it’s a blast from start to finish.


Adidas – “Family Reunion”

Amassing the biggest collection of global football talent possible seems to be common theme with this year’s crop of World Cup ads, with this spot from Smuggler London featuring the likes of Lionel Messi, French star Karim Benzema, and England star Jude Bellingham.

Soundtracked by the infectious Opus song “Live is Life,” (a warm-up favourite of the late Argentinian star Diego Maradona) it presents viewers with a lighthearted look at a day-in-the-life of this big, fictional football family, from eating soccer-ball shaped cereal, to playing foosball and doing jigsaw puzzles, all before boarding a bus that’s presumably bound for Qatar.

Quaint and engaging, but you can’t help but wonder if Messi’s goalscoring prowess this year will be restricted to the foosball table.


KIA — “Every Four Years”

KIA opts for gravitas with this spot from Innocean, espousing the belief that soccer is so much more than a sport but a unifying force for good.

The voiceover says that the event possesses the power to turn the ridiculous into the sublime, an event where joy and pain co-exist, and everywhere from the biggest cities to the smallest village fall silent to take in the spectacle. That message is underscored by a series of shots showing fans both revelling and despairing over their nation’s performance.

The closing shot of a KIA feels oddly incongruous with the rest of the ad, but we know car companies are big believers in always showing the product. In other words, it’s a car ad.


QNB Group  — “Dream Bigger with QNB!”

There’s been a lot of controversy around FIFA’s decision to award the World Cup to a desert nation with a questionable record on human rights, but this ad from the tournament’s official Qatari bank is working hard to present it as a moment of pride for the country.

TikTok star Khaby Lame makes another World Cup advertising appearance, this time alongside Brazilian star Neymar Jr. Told from the perspective of kids, the ad presents something of a pollyanna take on how hosting the world’s biggest sporting event can cloak Qatar’s atrocious record on human rights.

“And imagine…we’re winning the heart of the whole world,” says the voiceover.  Er, most likely not.


Chris Powell