Rugby World Cup 2015 Digital Engagement

The Rugby World Cup 2015 kicked off 10 days ago and has already thrown up some very entertaining moments, most notably Japan upsetting all the odds and defeating one of the tournament favourites South Africa in spectacular fashion.

However, many people in the UK seem unaware the RWC has started and perhaps this highlights the gulf in interest between Football and Rugby Union in this country. I can’t help but feel that if the UK were hosting the FIFA Football World Cup that you’d have to be on another planet not to have been exposed to flags, car decorations, banners, pubs and bars up and down the country full of hopeful fans and mainstream media hype talking up England’s chances of finally ending our 54 year wait for glory.

This is reflected by search engine Google merely adding a special rugby logo on the first day of the tournament, in selected countries. Previous national and international events have been afforded significant and valuable space on Google’s search results, with rugby seemingly not justifying this generosity. Perhaps Google decided that the RWC was not a big enough event to justify any over elaborate activity given that only 12% of the population have a team competing in the tournament.

Google Rugby

Contrastingly, Bing have dedicated lots of their search page to the RWC, interactively detailing results, fixtures, Bing predicted results and current standings.

The RWC is incredibly visible on social media platforms including regular and engaging content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Vine and Sound Cloud. Twitter have even introduced RWC hashtag emojis in a big to enhance social interaction.

Rugby World Cup Twitter

Most RWC partners have embraced their association with the event activating various campaigns before and during the event. With an estimated 10 million people in the UK following the RWC who wouldn’t normally interact with the sport, it is commercial suicide not to engage with these big event fans with this trend undoubtedly replicated internationally.

Several non RWC partners have recognised the huge potential to advertise to a vast global audience, none more so than Guinness. Recent research in Australia has Guinness at No. 6 of the brands associated with the RWC 2015. To an unattached fan, Guinness appears every bit a RWC sponsor due to 2 very powerful, brave and expertly activated adverts showcasing rugby ethics including strength of character, integrity, courage, empathy and resilience.

The most successful of these videos was watched by over half a million people and ranked 13th on YouTube of most viewed Rugby World Cup 2015 content, highlighted Gareth Thomas’ personal struggle to tell him team and the world that he is gay.

The 2nd video (below) tells Ashwin Willemse’s story from shanty town gang warfare to springbok legend. Having followed Guinness’ marketing closely I have little doubt there will be more to come, perhaps during the RWC final, watch this space…

An average of 84,000 pints of Guinness are sold during England internationals at Twickenham, equivalent to 1 pint per person, while record sales of over 100,000 were recorded in November 2014 during a tightly contested clash with the All Blacks. Guinness clearly have an incredibly longstanding legacy and synergy with Rugby partnering the 6 Nations, title sponsoring English rugby union’s top tier for 5 years (still partnering), title sponsoring the Pro12 and the Diageo owned drink was available during the recent RWC warm up games.

However, Heineken, the worldwide drinks partner of RWC2015 in a deal reported to be in the region of £20m, have prevented Guinness being served during the event with fans being offered their equivalent Murphy’s Stout, along with John Smiths, Strongbow and Bulmers. Not content with this domination of drinks available within the 13 stadia used, Heineken have imposed a 500 metre exclusivity region around the grounds preventing any outlets selling Guinness with the exception of pubs.

This has come as quite a shock to many who expected Guinness to provide comfort through the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies England’s performances. Also, the absence of the MatchPint campaign which offered users a 2nd pint of Guinness for free when they checked in to selected participating outlets using an online or app platform may have done little to temper this sense of loss as shown below on Twitter.

RWC Guinness Twitter Reactions

In complete fairness to Heineken, they too have a strong legacy with Rugby, having partnered the Rugby World Cup 1995 and a 16 year sponsorship of Europe’s elite club rugby competition, formerly the Heineken Cup.

However, in some quarters Heineken are being held reasonable for the rise from £4 to £5 per pint, not including the £1 fee for the plastic cup to drink it from. This is unlikely to sit well with customers expecting their usual version of the black stuff. Others have criticised corporate sponsorship dictating what consumers can drink.

Others have pointed out that this is not the first time an alcoholic brand has been involved in a dispute during a major tournament that has led to desperate measures. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup thousands of Dutch fans were ordered to remove orange overalls that displayed the logo of official partner Budweiser’s rival Bavaria Brewery. Some fans were reportedly made to watch the game in their underwear following strict enforcement of this corporate exclusively. This was again faced with a backlash as people felt they were entitled to wear what they liked having not been a restriction they were made aware of prior.

Guinness aren’t the only non-partner of the RWC to benefit from this huge event with England’s shirt sponsor 02’s “wear the rose” and “make them giants” campaigns being well activated and received. Marketing agencies were also challenged to create ambush marketing campaigns which included Jewson’s “Bring the giants to the game”, Lucozade’s “Strictly home nations”, Mini’s “Mini Moments” and my personal favourite Foster’s “Ref Links” allowing fans to provide alternative commentary to what the referee is actually communicating to the players and other officials.

O2 =Make Them Giants

Another initiative involved the use of zebra crossings to provide Guinness some additional exposure around stadiums to remind people what they were missing out on.

Guinness Zebra Crossing

With the above in mind I believe Guinness will be the real winner of the digital marketing war and will reap the rewards up and down the countries, just not in RWC venues or the surrounding 500 metres.

Darren Parsons
Darren is a member of Digital Clarity’s account management team. He has a wide interest and vast experience in sport sponsorship and marketing having worked in the industry for 9 years. Darren keeps up to date with market trends and enjoys facilitating the strategies companies use to digitally enhance their profile and visibility via various platforms.