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Why were the ads during the Champions League Final so poor?

Why Champions League Final Ads were so poor

Real Madrid lifted their 14th Champions League trophy after beating Liverpool in the final this year. And, despite the 80,000 football supporters in the Parc des Princes, viewing figures are anticipated to exceed 700 million worldwide. Those astonishing figures dwarves the 112 million SuperBowl viewers from 2021. With such high viewership, advertising offers a significant opportunity for brands to reach new audiences. However, while non-football fans comment on the great ads during the Super Bowl, the Champions League Final ads were fairly bland and forgettable. So, let’s review the ads and why that might be.

A Look at Champions League Ads.

Heineken – 5/10

Heineken was the headline sponsor of the Champions League Final in the UK, promoting their new Heineken Silver beer. In a 2013 interview, their Global Sponsorships Manager, Tim Ellerton, explained how Heineken wanted to be “the only beer fans associate with the Champions League”. While the exclusivity of being the “only” beer is debatable, they are the dominant beer associated with the Champions League.

The brand has recently done excellent work promoting inclusivity around football, emphasizing the Women’s game. However, their in-game advertising left much desired as they placed a product image of their new Heineken Silver as the broadcast returned from the ads.

Additionally, they ran the below ad during the intervals. It’s snappy and gets to the point but demonstrates little other than positioning their new product toward women. While this is commendable, it may be an odd decision considering 70% of the champions league final watchers are male.

They undoubtedly had screen time, but it’s questionable as to whether they did as much as they could with it.


Playstation – 6/10

In November 2021, Playstation announced its association with the Champions League by continuing its “Play has no limits” campaign. This creative execution included God of War’s Kratos and Atreus, Ratchet and Clank, and Horizon Forbidden West’s Aloy joining a Champions League game.

It cleverly builds upon the popular cross-channel football game franchises to promote the distinctive propositions of Playstation games.

However, without a unique advert created for the final itself, this seems like a missed opportunity for the gaming brand.

Mastercard – 8/10

Mastercard continued its long-lasting Priceless campaign ahead of the Champions League Final with a series of adverts.

Perhaps the most significant was their 1-minute, 20-second spot that follows a digitally de-aged Messi. The ad relays his thoughts and feelings about his decision to depart Argentina for Barcelona at a young age. We see him experience the journey before meeting present-day Messi at the airport when he lands.

The poignant ad wasn’t aired during the Champions League final – perhaps it would have if Messi or Barcelona had made it there. However, the clever advert continued the technology and payment brand’s long-running priceless campaign.

Additionally, Mastercard utilised fans to highlight the Priceless experience of the Champions League Final. Their “What’s Priceless to You” commercial spoke to fans across the Semi-finals to get their thoughts on why the Champions League is special. This ad was quite clever because sponsoring the Champions League means reaching a broad mix of English, Spanish, Italian, French and German speakers, to name a few. So, including testimony in those languages immediately helps the ad translate into different geographies. Additionally, this approach reduces the creative overhead required to curate different versions for each country. This campaign also translated nicely to social media, thereby extending the length and reach of the campaign.

An Award-Winning Creative Ad from the Super Bowl

Now, if we compare these ads to the Super Bowl, it’s quite different. In 2018, Tide, a popular laundry detergent, hijacked every ad shown during the super bowl. Their ads began as what appeared to be an ad for another product before highlighting that with such clean clothes, it must be a Tide ad. They did a few variations, each more surprising than the last. Ultimately, this meant that the audience was never sure if they were watching a regular ad, or a Tide ad. Thereby making every ad a Tide ad.

This creative execution won Tide an Effie award and significantly impacted on effectiveness and sales. As Mark Ritson explains in the video below, it’s not only the fact that they are advertising during the Super Bowl which makes this ad so impactful. It’s the creative execution that elevates it.

Comparing Champions League and Super Bowl Ads.

The stark difference between these ads comes down to creativity. The Tide ad is clever, witty, and makes use of the platform it has to extend its own airtime into other ads. Meanwhile, the ads during the 2022 Champions League Final centre on “passion” and “emotion”. They’re good ads, but nothing particularly stands out about any of them. They don’t break the mould or go outside the box. To an extent, these ads make sense. They are building a long-term association with the sport and aim to continue that. These ads are recognisable and distinctive as these brands, but they aren’t very engaging.

A Lack of Creativity.

In 2017, Nielsen Catalina Solutions published a study of over 500 campaigns across all media and analysed the impact that different campaign factors had on sales. The usual suspects were involved:

  • Targeting: How accurate was the targeting for the campaign accounted for 9%.
  • Recency: How recently the audience was exposed to the ad before purchasing was 5%.
  • Reach: How many people saw the campaign accounted for 22%.
  • Brand: The size and strength of the brand running the campaign had a 15% impact on sales.
  • Context: Where the ad was placed and how it fit in was just 2%
  • Creative: A measure of the quality of the execution of the creative idea accounted for a whopping 47%.

advertising effectiveness

While this sounds obvious, creativity was desperately lacking in the ads shown during the UEFA Champions League Final, with many brands seemingly just happy to present. The other factors were all there; they had identified the target audience that was watching, there’s probably the largest reach of any annual sports competition, and many of these were well-known brands delivering the ads.

Difference Between Super Bowl and Champions League

Now, there are a couple of factors that potentially impact this change.

International Distribution

Firstly, the Champions League final is watched in more countries than the Super Bowl. While 180 countries can tune in to NFL’s Super Bowl, 200 nations watch the Champion’s League Final.

Additionally, the audience is more varied. While Super Bowl 2020 was aired in 180 countries, 102.1m of their 148.5m viewers were based in the US (roughly 68.8%). While figures for the Champions League final are difficult to discern, this press release from UEFA highlights the growth in markets outside Europe, including India, China, and even the USA. However, even within Europe, the most engaged countries, including England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy, all speak different languages.

As this article from Freedman highlights, this geographic variation makes it more complex for advertisers as they don’t have one huge audience to target but lots of smaller audiences. Therefore, brands must develop at least 5 creative and engaging ads (or one that works in 5 different cultures). Both options are significantly more time-consuming and difficult than producing one ad for one audience.

Audience differences

Any advertising campaign can only be effective if it reaches the right audience. Beyond the geographical, language and cultural variation that causes challenges for Champions League advertisers, there are also differences generally between European and American audiences.

Generally, European sports fans prefer a more strategic and analytical approach to sports commentary. This is quite fitting as Football (or Soccer) is generally a slower-paced and more tactical affair. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl overall is much more of an entertainment piece. A showpiece spectacle with cheerleaders, victory dances and celebrity half-time performances.

Despite the differences in how the sports fans follow the sports, the UEFA Champions League Final undoubtedly draws a more varied audience than the rest of the competition. This could therefore lend it to being more of an entertainment spectacle than you would otherwise expect. In fact, UEFA tried this in the 2022 Final. They hired Camila Cabello to perform before the match, but the decision was widely ridiculed by fans via Social Media.

Undoubtedly, the other delays to the game won’t have helped. But it’s not the first time broadcasters have tried to make the game more entertaining and failed. 

However, when considering TV advertising, there is perhaps a bigger reason why brands don’t go this route.

Different sponsorship models by UEFA and NFL

Ultimately, UEFA and NFL operate different sponsorship models for advertisers.

The NFL has found a formula for generating ad spending, with Forbes suggesting that a 30-second advertising slot in the 2020 Super Bowl cost $5.5m, with the total revenue for the event reaching $434.5 million.

Meanwhile, UEFA reserves most of its advertising slots for sponsors who committed to the entire 32-team Champions League tournament, meaning the final adds little to the revenue pot by comparison. Therefore, advertisers won’t put all their eggs into a one-off creative spectacle. Instead, they will produce ads that can run over a prolonged 8-9 month period and build an association between themselves and the sport.

That said, BT Sport allows citizens to view the final for free via Freeview or another TV package. They even stream it on their YouTube channel for free. So the audience is considerably larger and will be different from regular viewers. Therefore, there’s an argument that brands should invest in special one-off ads to capitalise on this spectacle. However, if brands did change tack by creating a one-off humorous ad during the final, there’s more chance that the football fans they have built favour with throughout the season will view it as mocking their sport. Therefore, while they may generate extra sales through the increased exposure, it negatively affects their core market.

The sponsorship approach has the additional effect that there are unlikely to be brands that advertise a one-off ad during the Champions League Final and need to make that one ad count. This whole approach favours longer-term brand building and emotional commercials over more impactful and short-term campaigns.

Will we ever see more creative ads for the UEFA Champions League Final?

In summary, the difference in sponsorship models probably has the biggest impact on the creative execution of campaigns. The sponsorship model offered by UEFA makes it difficult for highly creative and engaging adverts to be aired during the Champions League Final, despite the larger audience.

On the other hand, the NFL encourages one-off creative adverts with their sponsorship structure. Official sponsors and sports brands like Nike will continue to re-enforce their position and association with the sport in their campaigns. However, the format of the Super Bowl sponsorship allows both types of advertisers to thrive.

Additionally, the cultural variation of the Champions League Final viewership makes it difficult and more expensive for brands to execute creative campaigns that will reach the breadth of the audience on offer. While the Super Bowl is predominantly targeting one cultural demographic.

Ultimately, unless UEFA changes how they allocate their advertising space for the Champions League Final and one market becomes a dominant viewership of the competition’s climax, I believe we’ll have to save up our expectations for creative and unique commercials for the NFL’s Super Bowl.

Are the Champions League Final Ads poor?

So, are the Champions League ads bad? No. Not by a long way. They are less entertaining and creative to make a one-off big impact. But they are effective at brand building and creating an association. Jump ahead 9 years from Heineken’s mission in 2013, and they are certainly significantly associated with the Champions League. More than anything, the difference in advertising types here demonstrates the difference between long-lasting and short-term campaigns. Both have their place but serve different purposes.

This example highlights the importance of selecting your channels and sponsorships carefully and executing to maximise effectiveness. For any new business, you may consider any number of marketing channels. In truth, as a Start-up, you could choose any channel. It only matters that your ideal audience is there and that you connect with your audience meaningfully.

It’s important that in marketing, we are selective about the types of sponsorships and adverts we choose and assign clear measurable targets that align with our strategic objectives. And the creative execution needs to reflect that. Otherwise, you will not generate the outcome you expected.

The examples from the Super Bowl are superb in their short-term activation. Meanwhile, those shown during the Champions League Final are building long-term lasting relationships with viewers.

What do you think?

So, what do you think? Did you love any of the ads shown during the Champions League? Let me know if I missed out any great adverts in the comments.

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