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Should brands marry up Christmas cheer with World Cup advertising?

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Combining Christmas and World Cup advertising in one piece of creative could achieve standout amid an advertising year-end clutter but experts believe it's a tricky path to navigate, particularly when the World Cup is being hosted in a controversial country.

The unseasonable timing of the winter World Cup in Qatar poses a raft of questions for brands wanting to advertise over Christmas. For brands such as retailers, advertising is maxed up during the so-called golden quarter, the three months to the year-end when the retail industry hopes to make the most profit. But 2022 is a one-off year, with the run-up to Christmas chiming with a controversy-filled World Cup in Qatar. Despite the toxicity surrounding this year's World Cup, it is still a World Cup, an event that for marketers is too good to let go of, with an engaged global audience of high consumers running into the billions. So, the big question facing marketers is whether they should ignore the World Cup in their Christmas advertising?

The challenge
For the past few months, brands, media agencies and advertising agencies have been deliberating how to best dribble around a controversy-filled World Cup in Qatar taking place during the run-up to Christmas. For brands, such as retailers, Christmas is crucial and messing up their festive advertising activity with some Frankenstein-like Santa kicking a football ad could prove ruinous. So, is it best for brands to ignore the World Cup and focus on Christmas or just focus on the World Cup and ignore Christmas? Or perhaps focus on the World Cup but not address the elephant in the room: Qatar. Drilling down, there are other questions for brands to deliberate. For example, normally World Cup advertisers would carry out a full-funnel campaign (across broadcast, brand building, activation), but, amid the Christmas clutter, could it be smart for brands to swerve expensive TV ad and just concentrate on just activating off the shelf?

Regular Christmas advertisers, meanwhile, will be faced with a wave of new challengers for consumer wallets, as alcohol and delivery firms ramp up their activity to cash in on the World Cup fervour. Factor in inflation, which has been hitting TV hard (with advertising costs increasing by over 30 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels) and add to that World Cup inflation, then one gets an idea of the dizzying challenges facing marketers.

Brands across Christmas and the World Cup
Some brands have been brave (or some might say foolhardy) and converged their Christmas advertising and World Cup activity. Examples include retailers Aldi and Sports Direct- two spots which have been largely acclaimed by observers.

In the Aldi spot, the retailer pays homage to Nike's famous Airport 1998 World Cup ad, with the nation's much-loved carrot Kevin making a comeback in a teaser campaign for the supermarket's festive ad campaign.The ad appears to have been a hit, with thousands of shoppers queuing online and outside physical stores to get their hands on Aldi toys and merchandise based around its advert. Products for sale, on top of Kevin and his carrot girlfriend Katie include football-themed characters Messy, Ronaldi and Marrowdona. Meanwhile, Sports Direct's TV Christmas campaign, called Give Me Football, unites some of the biggest names in the game for a series of spin-offs that subvert the traditional Christmas advert arms race. Give Me Football, which features the likes of Eric Cantona and Thierry Henry, plays with the stereotypes of a common Christmas ad to deliver something unexpected.

BrewDog under fire
And in a left-of-field move, Scottish brewer BrewDog said it was a proud to be a World Cup "anti-sponsor", referring to the competition as the 'World F*Cup'. The brewer also said it would be donating all profits made from its Lost Lager brand sold during the World Cup to causes fighting human rights abuses. But the stunt appears to have backfired and BrewDog has been accused of being "hypocritical", as it will still show World Cup games in its bars as well as sell beer in Qatar.

What the experts say
On BrewDog, Grant Hunter, global executive creative director, Iris Worldwide, says the brewer is "exploiting the World Cup" to sell more lager. He says: "Sure, they are donating four weeks of revenue from sales of Lost Lager to human rights charities, but with the deals they have struck to stock beer in Qatar, I can't help but feel as though there are whiffs of hypocrisy and hints of a token gesture." That said, Hunter points out that BrewDog has addressed the elephant in the room: Qatar, which as he points out is "more than I can say for many other brands who have stayed silent and kept their heads down". Overall,Hunter, says it "may be a slightly disappointing" end to the year in terms of Christmas advertising.

"Disappointing" Christmas ads
"Where's the excitement? The unexpected creativity?" Hunter asks, wondering if adland has retreated to safety as the cost of living bits, marketing budgets get slashed and the human rights issues in Qatar dominate the World Cup conversation. Hunter says he is not a fan of the big World Cup sponsorship spots he's seen, citing them as "heavily saccharin-coated affairs" and "cringe-worthy". Likewise, it is a thumbs down to the "strained creation" of new football anthems created by Budweiser and Coca-Cola, which have come in for criticism on social media. On Aldi's attempts to straddle Christmas and the World Cup, he points out that looks a "tad too familiar" comparing it an old Honey Monster ad campaign.

"Glimmers" of creativity where Christmas and World Cup knitted successfully together
But despite the doom and gloom, Hunter thinks there are "glimmers" of creativity where Christmas and the World Cup have knitted together successfully. As an example, he points to Iris creative duo Peter and Ollie, creating a range of alternative National Team Christmas jumpers this year- which, he says, "generated a lot of conversation on social media and inspiring multiple fashion retailers to offer their own versions". Mark Shanley, creative director, adam&eveDDB, says it's"not that difficult" to combine the World Cup and Christmas in an ad but the key question is whether brands should do so. Shanley advises against it, saying: "I would say if your brand doesn't have an authentic reason or requirement to talk about football this Christmas, then don't. "I love the World Cup. More than I can put into words. But I don't think any brand should associate themselves with this particular World Cup. "The myriad of well-documented problems and controversies have tainted it. It's toxic."

Brands in danger of sportswashing
He believes that brands which address Qatar in their advertising should be those who have taken a public stand on Qatar, otherwise they could be labelled as guilty of being part of mass sportswashing. But on a pragmatic note, Shanley questions whether it is smart for any brand to hang their "Christmas marketing baubles on the World Cup Christmas tree". He says: "England's record of the last few years says that they could very realistically go crashing out early, or early-ish anyway, causing the national mood towards football to change very quickly indeed. "Who'd want to be left running their Santa kicking a football about spot every day for another month in that scenario? "So I think we'll see the Christmas ads continue to be about Christmas and the World Cup ads continue to bury their heads in the sand."

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