This article was updated on Sunday afternoon with a comment from Mastercard.
Mastercard is publicising the campaign, which supports the World Food Programme, on its Twitter account for the Latin America and Caribbean regions.
Goals that changes lives: for each goal scored by Messi or Neymar Jr. Mastercard will donate the equivalent of 10,000 meals to @WFP to fight childhood hunger and malnutrition in Latin America and the Caribbean #TogetherWeAre10 #StartSomethingPriceless https://t.co/URfIp77ElN pic.twitter.com/Ckq61oJgld— Noticias Mastercard (@MastercardLAC) May 31, 2018
It comes less than two weeks before the start of the World Cup, although the campaign does not reference the tournament as Mastercard is not a sponsor – it is a long-time sponsor of the UEFA Champions League, however.
Journalists, broadcasters, and PR professionals are among those who have criticised the campaign as being in poor taste.
So, MasterCard clearly have the money. But the hungry, malnourished children only get the food if Messi & Neymar have a good World Cup?!?!?— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) June 2, 2018
Just for context, one month ago, MasterCard reported a 38% increase in revenue...to $3.5bn. https://t.co/tBE9jWfYXG
Welcome to 2018. Where Mastercard have money reserved to feed starving children but will only do it if Messi and Neymar score goals in the upcoming World Cup. This is the biggest PR own goal in a long time. Fucking capitalist reptiles. #Mastercard #Messi #Neymar https://t.co/4znkhM45fL— Ryan McCann (@RyanMcCann90) June 2, 2018
'Here's a idea: we promise to feed 10,000 kids but ONLY if Messi or Neymar score'— Goal (@goal) June 2, 2018
The brains in Mastercard's PR department will be regretting this one...https://t.co/bRK48d3KB9 pic.twitter.com/odWqAV0OL8
The Times chief football writer Henry Winter accused Mastercard of "turning the World Cup into the hunger games".
compassion should never be a competition. it should be an instinct. and what does that say to Messi and Neymar? if you miss a goal, people starve. It's a crass campaign anyway.— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) June 1, 2018
I work in brand Comms and can say from a professional perspective that it’s a crass stab at publicity through gamifying starvation. They didn’t ask themselves ‘How can we help people in need’ but ‘how do we get publicity out of our World Cup sponsorship which makes us look good’.— mark perkins (@thatmarkperkins) June 2, 2018
Brazilian coach Tite expressed misgivings about the campaign when asked about it at a press conference on Saturday.
"Mastercard, I will tell you something. This donation is very beautiful. It is beautiful and great. And it will still be if you give meals if every Argentina and Brazil player scores," Tite is widely quoted as saying.
"Here we work as a team, and with all these values it can be a little frustrating."
Contacted by PRWeek, Mastercard sent this statement: "The campaign is running in Latin America, not here in the UK or Europe. This campaign is a small part of our overall global commitment to deliver 100 million meals to those in need of food assistance.
"Mastercard is a firm supporter of the great work done by WFP and over the last five years we have driven a multi-million dollar investment in the agency’s life-saving work. We are proud to be the single largest private sector supporter of this agency. And we have the opportunity to use our brand and our brand ambassadors to raise awareness of this important cause."