Humanising brands: lessons from the 2018 football World Cup

July 11, 2018

Global milestone events like the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics, the Superbowl – even a royal wedding – present brands with an important opportunity to demonstrate the extent to which they are in touch with public sentiment. The euphoria surrounding England’s progression to the semi-finals of the World Cup has created a swell of goodwill across the nation that many brands are seeking to capture.

Such PR opportunities often spring without warning. Few England football fans predicted their team’s successful run at this World Cup; even fewer marketing departments did. Such emergent PR opportunities are rare and seizing them successfully requires creativity, agility and bold decision-making in equal measure.

Creative, agile, bold

In recent days, we have seen several impressive moves by UK and European brands seeking to capitalise on England’s World Cup run. The announcement by supermarkets Aldi and Lidl that they will close every one of their combined 1300 UK stores at 3pm on Sunday, to allow staff to watch the World Cup Final at 4pm, was a commendable move that scored reputational points with internal and external audiences alike. Justin Timberlake’s decision to open his 11 July concert in London two hours early and stream England’s semi-final game to his fans prior to his show, is similarly impressive. Virgin Trains have equally been praised for lifting ticket restrictions on 11 July to allow workers across the UK to get home in time for England’s semi-final kick off.

But seeking to seize such opportunities is not without risk and strategic mis-steps are common. British bookmaker William Hill has been roundly criticised for purchasing the hashtag #ItsComingHome – the family-friendly motto and war cry of England football fans for more than twenty years – from Twitter in order to promote its gambling services. This may prove an ill-judged move, particularly as public and celebrity figures take to social media to denounce the company.  

Beyond gimmick – humanising a brand

These case studies demonstrate an important point underpinning successful brand reputation management. Organisations need to be cognisant – and be seen to be cognisant – of the stakeholder environment in which they are operating and show they understand and empathise with their audience.

The decisions taken by Aldi, Lidl, Justin Timberlake and Virgin Trains provide useful examples of how organisations can successfully exhibit their understanding of stakeholder concerns. Done well, such moves humanise brands. Beyond pure marketing, such actions are of genuine use to stakeholders. There is arguably no better form of public relations.