Mastercard's 'Hunger Games' campaign was an epic own-goal

Daring, imaginative campaigns launched on a global scale should leave PR professionals and brands with plenty to aspire to.

Mastercard's World Cup campaign missed the goal by a staggering distance, argues Phil Hall
Mastercard's World Cup campaign missed the goal by a staggering distance, argues Phil Hall

Unfortunately, Mastercard’s shocking World Cup initiative in partnership with the World Food Programme missed the mark, or rather - the goal - by a staggering distance. 

The initial premise was simple – for every goal Messi and Neymar score, Mastercard would donate 10,000 meals to children in the Caribbean Latin America. 

Dear Lush, you might have screwed up the delivery of #SpyCops, but at least you're not Mastercard

However, within moments of its launch, the campaign provoked an enormous backlash online, with social media users quick to recognise the countless ethical flaws in the ‘simple’ mechanism. 

The campaign has come under fire for a number of reasons - there were concerns about goalkeepers being publicly shamed for saving goals and also on the immense pressure being placed on individual players to score.

The initiative was also criticised for ‘gamifying’ hunger and poverty and it became clear almost immediately that Mastercard shouldn’t have attempted to turn taking action against global starvation into a game of chance.

As perhaps one of the most poorly considered CSR campaigns of recent years, many industry professionals along with members the public have been left wondering; how could a global brand get it so wrong?

Some have suggested that there may have been less negative feedback if Mastercard had committed two million meals from the outset and incrementally increased the number of meals donated for every goal scored by any team. 

Perhaps this may have softened the overall message, however, it is my view that fundamentally Mastercard’s failure here was due to the fact that the brand appeared to be commercialising and exploiting charitable donations for its own gain. 

Yesterday, in an attempt to stem the backlash Mastercard committed 2,000,000 meals throughout 2018, but, unsurprisingly, the ‘afterthought’ failed to silence online critics. 

And sadly, a campaign which set out with the intention of combatting global hunger has ultimately drawn attention away from the critical issue.

This response has also done very little to remove the shadow over any future work undertaken by the global payments company as part of partnership with the World Food Programme and its wider #StartSomethingPriceless campaign. 

Mastercard is just one of a long list of brands that have made mistakes when it comes a global CSR campaigns – but they won’t be the last.

In admitting their misjudgements, the organisation reaffirmed their well-meant intentions, but they haven’t escaped unscathed - the public’s reaction will likely hang over them for many months to come.

And so, it goes without saying that anyone looking to craft an effective CSR campaign in the future could learn a lot from Mastercard’s own goal. 

Phil Hall is founder & chairman of The PHA Group 

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