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Who Won Advertising’s Rugby World Cup?

Trends and Insight 323 Add to collection

LBB’s Laura Swinton catches up with the industry’s rugger fans and looks back on a surprising tournament

Who Won Advertising’s Rugby World Cup?

Rugby widows and widowers rejoice – there’s only one more weekend of high tackles, bloody noses, and dodgy ref calls (Craig Joubert, I’m looking at you) left to endure. The 2015 World Cup will wrap up on Saturday as New Zealand take on Australia at Twickenham. From an advertising perspective, it’s been an eye-opening tournament, with big brands piling into the sponsorship scrum like never before. Beats by Dre, Lucozade, Heineken, Guinness Coca-Cola, O2, Land Rover and more have created high profile campaigns, playing throughout the competition. But advertising is an industry which seems more at home with the footie World Cup and the Olympics, so how did it cope with rugby and its odd-shaped balls?

In the first week of the tournament I caught up with Neil Dawson, co-founder of Dawson Pickering and rugby connoisseur, for a cheeky pint and to pick his brains about the creative output that he’d seen.

The Samsung campaign from BBH Sport, starring British comedian Jack Whitehall, we both agreed, had some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments as he took his fey, posh boy persona down to an England training session. The idea was to give rugby virgins a simple guide to the game’s many confusing rules, but, Neil wondered, did it do enough to cut through the complexity that puts off potential rugby initiates?

Others made less of a conversion – either fumbling and generic ‘sport ads’ that had no incisive insight into rugby culture or campaigns that tried a little too desperately to get chummy with rugby fans and missed the mark entirely. Lucozade’s ‘Strictly for the Home Nations Only’ ads trumpeted the drink as ‘only’ for Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, overlooking the friendly, convivial togetherness of the rugby crowd. Rugby fosters a hearty, international openness (just watch the Irish and Canadian fans cheering on Japan’s victory against South Africa, to get an idea) so the thought of excluding the supporters who had crossed continents to reach the tournament didn’t quite sit right… And the so-called ‘home nations’ are more likely to cheer on the plucky underdogs – Uruguay, Japan, Georgia, Romania – than they are their neighbours.

Neil, who was working in South Africa when Mandela became president, has a real understanding of the power that the sport has to bring a divided nation together. Later, in an email, he wrote to me: “In order to do this you have to find the truths around rugby. Mandela understood the power of it in 95. Some brands have taken the time and made the effort to create not just another sports ad. Others haven't...”

Another rugby fan I recently chanced upon (they are unicorns on the creative side of the ad industry, they really are) was Leo Burnett’s Mark Tutssel. He was full of enthusiasm for the thunderous Beats by Dre ad ‘The Game Starts Here’, starring New Zealand's Richie McCaw – the rumbling, meditative spot was deeply emotional. Another campaign that hit the spot was the Guinness work starring former Wales captain Gareth Thomas from AMV BBDO and Stink – and not just because Mark himself is Welsh! The image of Gareth’s teammates rallying around him and showing their empathy and strength when he came out spoke, he said, quite powerfully and genuinely about rugby’s culture.

As the tournament unfolded it was interesting to see which campaigns started to flag at half time. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pity for VCCP – their beautifully animated campaign for O2’s sponsorship of the England team sort of lost its relevance when said England team bombed out of the tournament in the pools stage. It was lovely and the sentiment behind it even made me, the sweatiest of socks, get a little bit damp around the eyes when I first saw it... but as hundreds of fans started trying to flog their semi-finals and finals tickets at knockdown prices it was, looking back, a bit of a gamble. (O2 would have got more from their sponsorship had they backed Scotland, just sayin’. We made it to the quarter finals.)

Land Rover’s #WeDealInReal sponsorship idents showed rugby players, their fans, friends and supporters doing their thing on home territory. It may not have been the most immediately eye-catching of campaigns, but as the Cup progressed, I came to appreciate the variety and the understated, very human humour. On the other hand, the SSE idents starring The Mill’s lovingly crafted orangutan mascot mean that I will never, ever be able to hear Paloma Faith again without seeing a large ginger primate.

All things considered, it was an experiment for lots of the brands and agencies involved – traditionally rugby just hasn’t had the same level of brand involvement as football has. The global rugby community has a fairly distinctive culture and I don’t think fans would take kindly to brands trying to dominate the event in the same way as they do with, uh, other major sporting events. They struck a reasonable balance, I think, and there are plenty of lessons for agencies and brands that are open to learning them for the next Rugby World Cup in 2019. After all, with the controversy and never-ending nonsense surrounding FIFA… the thugs' game played by gentlemen might well be a safer place for brands to be.

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LBB Editorial, Wed, 28 Oct 2015 18:27:58 GMT