But instead of paying to emblazon its logo on match-side billboards, Apple took a different tack—and it may not even have been on purpose.
Players from around the world have been seen wearing Apple’s AirPods wireless earbuds, and Beats headphones, which Apple also owns, before matches, disembarking planes, or even returning to their home countries in defeat.
FIFA has pretty strict rules around what it calls “ambush marketing,” where a brand pays players to wear or use its products before or during World Cup games, even though that company has not paid to be an official World Cup sponsor. It’s why any player you see wearing Beats headphones before a game, for example, has the company’s logo taped over.
But both Beats and AirPods have a distinctive look that is difficult to mask, even with the branding obscured. While covered-up Beats were a big marketing win for Apple at the 2014 World Cup, just months after it had acquired the company, AirPods are a more subtle sell this time around. The minuscule $160 earbuds are one of the few Apple products that don’t have any Apple branding on them at all. But when you see them on a player, it’s almost impossible to mistake them for anything else.