Brands fill the Italy-sized World Cup hole

—Though the Azzurri failed to qualify for the world’s biggest soccer tournament, some brands figured out how to make Limoncello out of those sour lemons, says Craig Redmond—

I was having brunch with a buddy in Toronto’s littler Little Italy on St. Clair West when the restaurant windows began to quiver.

We looked outside and could not believe our eyes, as we watched a throng of thousands pouring onto the streets with red, white, and green flags, all howling with joy. It was July 9, 2006. The last time Italy won the World Cup.

That day, everyone was from Italy. There were Canadian Italians, African Italians, Chinese Italians, and every Italian in between. That’s why we just decided to emotionally emigrate along with everyone else there in Corso Italia. Besides, there was no way we were getting our cars out of the café parking lot anyway. And so, “Viva Italia! Viva Italia!” we happily joined the chorus.

Now, 16 years later, two consecutive conspicuous absences from the beautiful game’s big show have left all those adoptees here at home, not to mention millions more Azzurri fans around the world, feeling a woefully darker shade of blue.

It’s left a gaping hole in the legendary lore of world football. Not to mention confounding a whole bunch of marketers left scratching their heads, and wondering what to do amidst this strangest of emotional voids.

But then, of course, there were an intrepid few who decided to make some Limoncello out of the sour lemons life had given them.

Cases in point:

The last place I expected to learn something about Italian football fanaticism was while watching 60 Minutes. But sure enough, on came the story of the Panini brothers, who invented a player collectables craze named after them.

It began when they printed off photo stickers of all the players in the 1970 World Cup that fans could buy, trade, and collect in a binder—just like our own hockey cards here at home. This thing, however, grew into a global phenomenon and has become an obsession for generations of World Cup nutters ever since.

Without Italy in these past two World Cups, however, those Panini stickers have begun to lose a little of their adhesive magic.

Which is why an Italian family heritage brand out of Argentina decided to borrow a page from that old homeland pastime and start a cold cuts collectable album of their own to fill paninis of an entirely different kind. (In Spanish, but in no need of translation.)

 Paladini Meats:

A wee bit further North, in equally football-mad Mexico, you’ll find a chilli Ketchup called Curtis Brothers. And because their spicy condiment is made with 100% Italian tomatoes, the Latin brand chose to offer up this pretty funny incentive to their Italian brothers and sisters as an olive… er… tomato branch.

Curtis Brothers Ketchup:

Finally, from Italy itself comes a conciliatory consolation call to action that transported me right back to those red, white, and green painted memories from St. Clair West five World Cups ago.

Italian potato chip brand Fonzies staged a faux press conference asking Italians here and everywhere to take their bottled up passion, repressed with Italy’s World Cup absenteeism, and channel it into support for Canada.

A fitting choice since our own football phenom—if you didn’t already know—is named Alphonso Davies. Or “Fonzie” for short.

Fonzies Potato Chips:

Turns out that Davies, whether he was inspired by Fonzies’ backing or not, scored Canada’s first ever goal in World Cup history. And what an intoxicatingly thrilling moment it was. But then, alas, their opponent soon scored. And again. And again. And again. With those four goals, Croatia crushed our classic Canadian underdog hopes.

And what an equally gutting feeling it was.

Which quickly reminded me of how all our Italian friends here and abroad must have been feeling, not seeing their own beloved blue and white taking the pitch in Qatar at all.

Allora… Mi dispiacei per tutte.

Here’s to 2024!

Craig Redmond is creative director at TANK Worldwide in Toronto.

Craig Redmond