Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the greatest football players in the world. They have both achieved tremendous success on the pitch, and their off-the-pitch marketing strategies have also been hugely successful, the pair of them being the hallmark of what it means to be a social media influencer. In addition, both footballers are fashion icons and style leaders, launching their own clothing brands and other merchandise.
However, the two have taken different paths when it comes to their marketing strategies; both have been involved in extensive sponsorship over the years and both are active on social media, but Ronaldo takes a much more aggressive approach.
Luis Vuitton capitalised on the popularity of both players in their ad showing the pair competing at chess which was aired before the World Cup. In line with the never ending Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, fans had various theories as to who won the chess game; but what about the marketing game? This article will review both players’ strategies and see who comes out on top.
Both Messi and Ronaldo are among the world’s most recognisable athletes, their career accomplishments and records speaking for themselves. Both have created a variety of co-branding partnerships with major companies which have helped to further extend their reach and to establish their brands in a variety of different markets. The pair are heavily invested in the use of social media, regularly updating their accounts with content relevant to their brands (one more than the other).
In terms of the last year’s earnings, Messi won; his gross earnings over the past year reached $130 million, placing him first in Forbes’ list of highest paid athletes of 2022. Ronaldo was in third place with gross earnings of $115 million.
The brands of Messi and Ronaldo are reflective of their personalities and values, and therefore, are very distinct. Both athletes came from humble beginnings, representing the ability to achieve success no matter your background. They are both highly inspirational and aspirational figures.
Ronaldo, widely known as CR7, has become one of the world’s most popular celebrities, and his tremendous performance on the pitch field has made him a global idol and beloved by millions of fans from all over the planet. His fame has enabled him to build an impressive business empire, ranging from apparel, fragrances, and footwear to restaurants and even hotels. He’s also taken an active role in humanitarian causes around the world; for example, he went to Indonesia after the earthquake and tsunami in 2004 in order to raise money for reconstruction.
Ronaldo is a model example of an athlete striving for excellence. His dedication to the craft is evident in his commitment to an optimal dietary regimen and intensive exercise routines. He is even aided by a team of professionals who ensure he remains in peak condition.
He pays a great deal of attention on perfecting and maintaining his clean-cut appearance. Allegedly, this also applies during matches, his stylist ensuring he looks his best throughout.
When an athlete excels as an influencer, they tend to transcend their image as a sportsperson and instead, become an icon representing a lifestyle. Ronaldo has done that to a greater extent than Messi.
While Messi is also a symbol of excellence, his image is more grounded, humble, family-orientated, and natural, and his appearance does not take centre stage. He prefers to keep his personal life private and stay out of the headlines; his sportsmanship is what wins him attention – he has not become a celebrity in the same way as Ronaldo has.
Messi endorses some of the world’s biggest companies, including Adidas, Gatorade, Huawei Technologies, and PepsiCo. He also has his own range of merchandise including clothing and accessories, as well as a line of Lego figures.
In addition to corporate endorsements, he formed ‘The Leo Messi Foundation’ which is dedicated to providing educational opportunities to children in need. His foundation has partnered with UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross, among other organisations.
Ronaldo has now surpassed $1 billion in total earnings. His yearly earnings at present are approximately $60 million from football and $55 million from endorsements (he has had more than 31 sponsorships since 2003).
Nike is Ronaldo’s main sponsor and he currently receives more than $20 million per year from them. He also has a lifetime contract with them which was established in 2015, which is worth $1 billion and involves the designing of new products together. This strategy is a common one for high-profile athletes; the brand invests in the athlete’s future ventures and the athlete invests in the brand’s success.
Herbalife Nutrition teamed up with Ronaldo in 2013 and launched the co-branded sports drink known as ‘Herbalife24 CR7 Drive’. He has since been their brand ambassador, claiming that their products can help athletes to improve their performance.
Ronaldo’s other deals include the following:
- DAZN: He started collaborating with this sports streaming platform in 2018. He is the global ambassador of this brand.
- Unilever: Ronaldo was featured in a video by Clear haircare which encouraged people to build resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Egyptian Steel: An unpredictable partnership in which he promoted this steel-producing company in an advertisement.
- PokerStars: He starred in an advertisement competing against poker player, Aaron Paul.
- Armani: The athlete has been the face of Emporio Armani and Armani Jeans.
In addition to his endorsements, Ronaldo has his own CR7 brand, which sells apparel such as clothing, underwear, footwear, sunglasses, and fragrances.
According to Forbes, Messi made $55 million from endorsements in 2022. Earlier in his career, he was also sponsored by Nike but in 2006, signed a contract with Adidas which is now his main partner. It evolved into a lifetime contract as of 2017 which brings him more than $12 million per year at present, and he also launched his own brand of Adidas boots, known as Adidas Messi. Other partnerships are as follows:
- Ooredoo: This Qatar based Telecoms company has been associated with Messi since 2013. He’s since featured in numerous campaigns across various channels.
- Hard Rock International: The international restaurant chain took Messi on as a brand ambassador in 2021.
- Lay’s: The crisp brand launched a global marketing campaign in 2014 featuring him; since then, many more campaigns followed.
- Gatorade: Messi is a brand ambassador for Gatorade and in 2018, the company launched an ad about his life.
- Pepsi: Ad campaigns featuring the footballer have been running since 2013.
- EA Sports: Messi has featured on the covers of FIFA video games.
- Telmex: This telecom company secured an endorsement deal with Messi as a teenager to help promote its brand in Argentina.
- Audemars Piguet: An endorsement contract with this Swiss luxury brand was established in 2010.
He has also been brand ambassador for Gilette, Turkish Airlines, and Huawei Mobile, and partnered with Jacob & Co., releasing a line of luxury watches.
Like Ronaldo, Messi also has his own ventures, including a clothing line known as “The Messi Store” and his own theme park, “Messiland”.
Social Media Presence
Comparing the social media presence of Messi and Ronaldo is a bit like comparing apples to oranges; as mentioned, the two athletes have very different personalities, Messi being more reserved and humble, while Ronaldo is more outgoing and brash, doing much more to stay in the public awareness.
The aforementioned Luis Vuitton ad was shared on both player’s Instagram accounts, garnering 23,000 likes on Messi’s page and 29,000 on Ronaldo’s – a close call. However, there is a much wider gap in terms of their reach and activity. On Instagram, for example, Ronaldo has 499 million followers while Messi has 375 million. The same discrepancy exists on other platforms. (Ronaldo was also the first person in the world to exceed 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.)
Ronaldo earns significantly more from his social media accounts than Messi. He has generated hundreds of millions in revenue for Nike through posts that include a Nike logo or mention. He posts frequently, mentioning Nike and other sponsors, which generate much greater revenue than Messi’s. Not only does Ronaldo have significantly more reach, he has more engagement, with around four times more likes and comments on each post, in turn making his posts generate far more revenue. Messi is less active, engages less with his followers and therefore, earns significantly less.
Who Wins the Marketing Game?
The marketing strategies of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are very different. While Ronaldo has taken a more aggressive approach on social media, posting much more often and generating much greater revenues, Messi is more laid back and prefers a quiet life, out of public awareness unless it relates to his football career. Regardless, both have been hugely successful and have some extremely valuable deals under their belts, not to mention their own independent ventures.
If their success is going to be based purely on the social media metrics and the resulting revenues then of course, Ronaldo wins. He is an example of the ideal persona that any brand looking to leverage influencer marketing would seek out.
On the other hand, Messi stays true to his values, so in a way, Messi wins as well. That’s not to say that Ronaldo is not authentic but with Messi, it comes across very clearly; his athletic performance is the focus above all else and he continues to come across as genuine and humble after all these years.
Ultimately though, Ronaldo wins – his strategy demonstrates consistency, which is so fundamental to being successful at marketing. If we want to look to one of the players for inspiration on leveraging our digital audiences, then Ronaldo is the one.
To discover how we’re helping businesses worldwide develop leading marketing strategies, contact us – we would be delighted to assist.