The World Cup finally kicks off today in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In addition to the 32 teams vying for the championship, there’s likely to be even more soccer-themed commercials played between matches and shared online over the coming month. Since the last World Cup in 2010, U.S. ad spending on soccer programming has increased 43 percent to $378 million in 2013, according to Nielsen.
Despite being the biggest sporting event on Earth, the World Cup is a decidedly different marketing affair from the Super Bowl. While the Super Bowl is a celebration of advertising as much as (American) football, each half of soccer is played continuously with no breaks, so there’s considerably less time for commercials. That’s led savvy marketers like Nike and McDonald’s to craft short films instead of traditional 30-second spots. Indeed, the concept of branded entertainment seems to be reaching new heights for marketeers now, with many of the ads featuring minimal product placement and being entertaining in their own right.
Here’s a look at the most effective World Cup commercials that have debuted so far:
Beats By Dre - The Game Before the Game
The epic sweep of this commercial for Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s premium headphone line would make soon-to-be-new parent Apple proud. Beats has long tried to position itself as a fashion symbol for both musicians and athletes, and this spot takes that branding to its most extreme level yet. Not only are soccer stars Neymar Junior, Cesc Fabregas and Luis Suarez in the ad, but LeBron James, Serena Williams, Nicki Minaj and Lil Wayne also make an appearance. By the time ESPN anchor Stuart Scott inexplicably appears, you’re totally primed to watch soccer for a month straight.
Adidas - House Match
Every World Cup ad doesn’t have to be about an epic clash of titans. This humorous Adidas spot pits retired greats David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane against current stars Gareth Bale and Lucas Moura in a pickup match in the middle of Beckham’s mansion. Zidane accidentally smashes Beckham’s trophy case amidst the rough housing, but the players manage to keep it light. No headbutts this time around.
Nike - Winner Stays
Here Nike flips a classic childhood fantasy—pretending to be a star athlete while you play your favorite sport—and allows it to become reality as a group of ragtag teens are transformed into Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and other modern stars.
Nike - The Last Game
If a movie studio was going to make a soccer-themed version of Space Jam, it would probably feel pretty similar to the impressive animated short Nike made for the World Cup. In the short film, a team of All-Stars that includes Ronaldo, Rooney and Neymar Junior are replaced by clones that make less risky plays and therefore win more. Given the setup (and if you recall the plot of Space Jam), it's easy to guess the rest of the plot. Though predictable, the short’s a joy to look at and is likely to appeal to both kids and adults.
Adidas - The Dream
Nike and Beats may upstage Adidas (who is actually an official World Cup sponsor) in terms of epicness, but this spot features the debut of a brand new Kanye West song called “God Level.” That’s worth a few cool points.
The Sun’s World Cup Ad
The British newspaper The Sun pulls off its best OK Go impression in this clever ad in which 74 soccer players head a ball to the beat of the Dexters singing “I’ll Never Find Another You.”
Hyundai - “Avoidance”
Hyundai’s offiical World Cup stars a soccer fan desperately trying to make it home to his Tivo recording of the latest U.S. match without discovering whether Team USA won or not. It’s something we can all relate to in this era of constant online spoilers.
McDonald’s - GOL!
This might be the coolest trick shot commercial since that one of Tiger Woods goofing around on the driving range back in the day. In the spot, soccer talents old and young show off their skills by bouncing balls off escalators, church bells and giant floating barges. The most impressive player might be the model juggling in five-inch pumps.