I must admit that after having moved to Germany, I now understand why people gather to watch football.  There is certainly something unique about the atmosphere surrounding an outdoor World Cup viewing. It proves to be a fun backdrop for drinking beer with friends on warm summer nights in Berlin.

Until, of course, the streets become battle zones for people who feel empowered by the liters of beer they drank to manifest the most primitive forms of nationalism and xenophobia, only because they (accidentally) have the same passports as those distant eleven men on a TV playing the game. Still, I’d like to think that the World Cup is a necessary outlet into which many can conduct that sudden surge of the national pride, as opposed to channeling it towards more violent and extreme displays. Fun aside however, at Startling Brands I would advise against any of our current or future clients participating in marketing activities surrounding the FIFA World Cup.

Naturally, we understand the tremendous marketing potential this event generates. The advertising, sponsorships and licensing deals allow brands to get an immediate exposure to estimated 3.2 billion viewers. Nonetheless, out there is a big group of consumers who don’t want their favorite brands being associated with the corruption scandals surrounding the FIFA organization, such as hosting events in countries which are terrorizing its own minority citizens or close neighbors. By assigning the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and to Qatar in 2022, FIFA turned the World Cup into a toxic brand asset, resulting in the termination of sponsorship deals by several long-term FIFA sponsors. Conscious consumers are aware that their money, which brands poured into World Cup marketing activities, indirectly legitimizes autocratic regimes pursuing injustice, intolerance and fear.

When autocratic leaders hijack states, it is in the conscious brand’s interest to step up and defend humanistic ideas. Take for example Patagonia, an outdoor sport retailer who recently made the headlines with their “President stole your land” initiative, suing the Trump administration for reducing the size of two national monuments in Utah. A sport brand, with a decades-long and impressive track record of authentic brand activism, quadrupled its profit to $1 billion in the last 10 years, without ever becoming a FIFA sponsor.

With the steadily declining interest in the World Cup among younger consumers and increasing concerns about how their favorite brands are spending profits, companies who put purpose before value will inevitably gain their loyalty. No matter how tempting it might be for brands to stick their logos to disreputable events like the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, future-minded companies are wise to channel their brand and marketing activities into events that matter; activities that ensure their brands remain truly authentic and defend the core values their customers stand for.