The Rugby World Cup 2011 Post Mortem
Over a month on from the Rugby World Cup Final and the post mortems are just about complete. Global TV audiences of 4 billion have been reported, social media round-ups published, teams of the tournament have been selected by all and sundry, and the New Zealand Herald has discovered some other sports to write about. Only England seems relentlessly stuck in review and recrimination mode, with new personnel and processes being announced on a weekly basis. While the RFU sifts through the carnage of dwarf-throwing, ferry jumping, ball-swapping and under-performing, here’s a slightly lighter examination of the brand marketing activity that surrounded the world’s third biggest sporting event.

In the previous Synopsis, Synergy’s new head of content, Colin Burgess, outlined the key ingredients for successful content that will illicit the deepest audience engagement: authority, authenticity – and the holy grail of all marketing – making it memorable. Applying those criteria to sponsor content during the Rugby World Cup goes a long way to explaining why activity might or might not have resonated with rugby fans.

Authority first. This is largely determined by the content’s provenance – it needs to be produced and delivered by a trusted and credible source. Some brands activating around the Rugby World Cup have a natural advantage in the authority stakes for various reasons:

1) Their inherent role in the game and on the pitch (the likes of adidas, Nike and Gilbert)

2) Through their long-standing presence as a rugby sponsor (see O2, Guinness and Heineken)

3) By their connection with the host nation (for example Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand)

Throwing in a few brand ambassadors is another well-trodden path to creating or supplementing a brand’s natural authority and giving the content a credibility boost. A great example of this, and fantastic use of owned media, came from Air New Zealand, who painted their fleet black and produced a safety video featuring members of the All Blacks team. Nearly 1m online views for a 4 minute safety video. Job well done.

On to authenticity and content that connects through personal or social relevance. To get the kitemark of rugby authenticity, sponsors adopted a variety of techniques:

1) Showing an understanding and empathy for the particular humour, culture and spirit of rugby fans

2) Playing on the history and heritage of the game and previous tournaments

3) Tapping into events as they happen in the tournament to become part of the narrative of the Rugby World Cup

Below are Synergy's nominations for the brands that most successfully delivered authentic content during the World Cup, embodying those three techniques.  But in keeping with rugby’s community spirit, please add your own nominations for the best brand content around the 2011 Rugby World Cup in the comments section below:

O2, with a tradition of giving free pies and pints to customers at Twickenham, adapted their customer proposition to fit early morning rugby viewing. Ashton donning an apron, Jonny making tea (after numerous practice sessions, no doubt), and Jonno with the control (no comment...). Relevant content from a long-standing rugby sponsor. If only it had been Guinness not Greene King in the breakfast packs...

Steinlager proved that an ambush marketer can still exhibit authority (what is more relevant to All Blacks supporters than beer, and a Kiwi brand at that?), authenticity (connecting through the collective anguish of New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup chokes) and a brilliant creative idea (reviving the Steinlager white can)...
Wilkinson Sword showed their quick thinking and wit by creating a pre-Final advert encouraging Lievremont to shave his ridiculous moustache.

It was precisely the fact that these campaigns came from a place of authority and authenticity that made them the most memorable.

But, all in all, the Rugby World Cup will not go down in the Sponsorship Hall of Fame as a high-water mark of sponsorship activity.  So what was missing from sports marketing activity and particularly content around Rugby World Cup 2011? The answer is 'just about everything' from the 4th Era of Sponsorship: interactivity, genuine collaboration and contribution from fans within brand campaigns (beyond the standard encouragement to tweet a hashtag...), exciting use of mobile, and memorable, game-changing innovation.

Let’s hope brands were keeping their powder dry for 2012, and the unprecedented marketing spend we are going to see around the Olympic Games.  And let’s also hope that by Rugby World Cup 2015, we’ll be seeing more innovative, truly engaging and memorable content than this:

Wilkinson Sword showed their quick thinking and wit by creating a pre-Final advert encouraging Lievremont to shave his ridiculous moustache.

It was precisely the fact that these campaigns came from a place of authority and authenticity that made them the most memorable.

But, all in all, the Rugby World Cup will not go down in the Sponsorship Hall of Fame as a high-water mark of sponsorship activity.  So what was missing from sports marketing activity and particularly content around Rugby World Cup 2011? The answer is 'just about everything' from the 4th Era of Sponsorship: interactivity, genuine collaboration and contribution from fans within brand campaigns (beyond the standard encouragement to tweet a hashtag...), exciting use of mobile, and memorable, game-changing innovation.

Let’s hope brands were keeping their powder dry for 2012, and the unprecedented marketing spend we are going to see around the Olympic Games.  And let’s also hope that by Rugby World Cup 2015, we’ll be seeing more innovative, truly engaging and memorable content than this: