Mastercard Put Its Foot in Its Mouth With World Cup Children’s Meals Campaign

Company linked meal donations to goals scored by soccer stars

Social media did not take kindly to Mastercard's charitable campaign.
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Mastercard has launched a campaign some are calling tasteless—to put it mildly. The company tried to capitalize on the upcoming FIFA World Cup in initiating the campaign to donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to the World Food Programme for children in Latin America for every goal scored by Lionel Messi and Neymar, two of the tournament’s biggest stars. 

Despite the company’s best intentions, social media reaction to the gesture was lukewarm, with some sports figures questioning why Mastercard would not simply donate the meals and others calling it “the worst marketing [they’ve] ever seen.”

Messi, for his part, said he was “proud to be a part of this campaign that will help change the lives of thousands of children in my country and other regions of the world.” The World Food Programme is the largest nonprofit organization providing humanitarian assistance to the hungry and food insecure. 

“Though helping starving children is to be commended, linking child starvation with a football [soccer] brand sponsorship came across as self-serving in this case, and making the level of food donation conditional on a soccer player’s performance did not help, as it seemed to trivialize child hunger,” said Paul Spriggs, Americas president of System1 Agency. “In my opinion, the best next step for Mastercard is to issue an apology and donate the meals to children.”

“We at Mastercard have heard the comments about our campaign in Latin America featuring our brand ambassadors Messi and Neymar Jr. in support of the United Nations World Food Programme, and we don’t want fans, players or anyone to lose focus on the critical issue of hunger and our efforts to raise support for this cause,” a Mastercard spokesperson said. “Based on the feedback, we are adjusting the campaign to replace the 10,000 meals donation per goal by Messi and Neymar Jr. with a contribution of 1 million meals in 2018.  This is in addition to 400,000 meals we have already donated as part of the campaign.”

@AlissaFleck Alissa Fleck is a New York City-based reporter, podcast producer and contributor to Adweek.