How Brands and Searchers Prepared for the World Cup

Written by Dylan

The long wait is finally over

On Sunday 20th November, Qatar and Ecuador kicked off the FIFA World Cup, with 32 nations battling for football’s ultimate prize.

Having been awarded to hosts Qatar, the tournament has become the first-ever finals played during winter months for the Northern Hemisphere.

It is being played in the winter because of the country’s extreme heat conditions in the usual summer months, which has meant that supporters, brands and teams have had to wait longer than normal for the event. 

In addition to the unusual feel of a winter World Cup, other factors have made this year’s competition feel a little bit different.

The hosts Qatar, who were awarded the under a dark cloud after allegations of corruption in the voting process have also been criticised by many highlighting Human Rights issues, in particular, its treatment of LGBTQIA+ people and the working conditions of migrant workers who were involved in building the stadiums.

In this article, we will look at how Google has added new features for fans to consume the action. We will also explore the global search trends and the stances different brands and influencers are making in the moral maze.

The new features on Google

Describing it as the ‘most digital World Cup ever’, Google has unveiled a range of new features that it has made in Search, YouTube and other areas. 

When searching ‘World Cup’ or similar, users will land on a page that will look and feel familiar to other previous event landing pages, but the page will now allow users to subscribe to tournament notifications, as well as individual team notifications. 

Users also have the option to pin a live match score to their home screen, removing the need to search for the score – perfect for keeping track of events unfolding whilst glued to your work screen.

As well as this, Google has partnered with official broadcasters like the BBC to show daily video recaps, making it easy to catch up with the key moments.

Within the browser, there is an additional game that will allow you to pick a team and score as many goals as you can, with your score contributing to a global total.

Finally, to help individual businesses, companies will have the option to tick a label to help users discover places that are showing the games. These will appear when searches like ‘watch world cup near me’.

Source: Google Search

The Searching Trends

Google is predicting that interest in the World Cup will rise from the data in 2018. 

During the World Cup four years ago over 3 million people attended the matches in person, but over 3 billion searched the World Cup on Youtube and that resulted in over 5 billion views. 

Search volume has also increased from the previous tournament, with SEMRush reporting that ‘World Cup 2022’ has been receiving a total of 2 million searches per month on average for the year.

Source: SEMRush

In what could be the last World Cup finals for two of the best players ever to play the game, individual player search trends have also been up in the past 12 months. 

In 2022, Cristiano Ronaldo was searched for a total of 13 million times, with Lionel Messi having the second-highest number of searches with 8 million.

Elsewhere, the top five most searched players are Neymar(6 m), Kyllian Mbappe(2.7 m) and Robert Lewandowski (2.5 m).

Source: SEMRush

However, the wider context of hosting a tournament in a country that has been criticised for its human rights records, including the treatment of migrant workers building the stadiums and the LGBTQIA+ community has resulted in a trend of searches around these subjects.

Sportswashing, a term used to describe the practice of individuals, groups, corporations, or governments using sports to improve reputations, has seen an upturn in search trends, especially in the 12 months leading up to the finals.

Source: Google Trends

‘Qatar Human Rights’ is also a search term that more people have been searching, which shows that much of the world is not just focusing on football, but the wider geopolitical landscape.

Source: Google Trends

How the brands and influencers are reacting

Unlike previous editions of the FIFA World Cup, many companies, celebrities and other organisations are being a bit more cautious with associating themselves with the Qatar-held event. 

In total, partners have spent a collective £960 million in order to partner with FIFA for the World Cup, but Qatar’s rules around the consumption of alcohol have led to Budweiser being unable to sell their product in and around stadiums.

In response to this, Budweiser has announced that it will donate the beer it can’t sell to the winning country of the tournament – leading to many on social media calling for their team to deliberately get eliminated.

Crates of unsold Budweiser in Qatar

Another beer brand Brewdog has received a mixed reception for an ‘anti-World Cup’ campaign, with profits from their new ‘Lost Lager’ going towards fighting human rights abuse.

After promoting the new beer, and calling themselves the ‘Anti-Sponsor of the World Cup’ they have been heavily criticised for screening the games in their bars. 

The announcements made on social media received a lot of backlash, with Brewdog being accused of hypocrisy, with Brewdog defending their decision to show the games as they don’t want to stop people from watching the football.

And it isn’t just companies who have been on the receiving end of public and moral outrage. Having previously campaigned for the World Cup in 2022 to be hosted in England and Wales, former footballer David Beckham has taken up a lucrative role as an ambassador for the Qatar World Cup.

Comedian Joe Lycett responded to this with a very public publicity stunt pleading with Beckham to end his sponsorship deal with the country, promising to donate £10,000 of his own money to LGBTQIA+ charities – and if he didn’t he was going to shred the money.

David Beckham or his team didn’t respond to the request, and the comedian later appeared to shred the money – he later announced that it wasn’t real money and that he had already donated the cash to charities, but the stunt attracted the attention of millions.

In conclusion, the general consensus is that this doesn’t feel like a normal World Cup, and this has been reflected in user search behaviour and the uncertainty from brands about what stance to take, which has taken gloss away from the big event.

But Google has already highlighted the global interest in the tournament, with it already being the most searched World Cup in history just less than a week in.

Despite the controversies that preceded the World Cup and its hosts, the quadrennial tournament is always going to generate huge interest, and as Google and the internet evolve there are always going to be new opportunities to offer something new to the user.