Rugby has a deep and rich relationship with music. Whether it be Welsh hymns, the All Blacks’ intimidating haka or England fans belting out Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, a game of international test rugby is nothing without the accompanying chorus of 60,000-plus fans hitting the high note.
And it’s evident from watching the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup that the organisers in Japan are doing a great job of bringing the sound of the country into the tournament, introducing cultural elements of the host nation into the games themselves.
From the rumble of the taiko traditional drums to the World Cup anthem World in Union delivered by a choir in the opening ceremony, from the already popular half-time and full-time gong to the raucous chants of Freddie Mercury’s "day-oh", it’s clear that the host nation and World Rugby recognise the power of music to rouse and connect with their audience.
Some of the most touching moments of the tournament so far have been intrinsically linked to sound: Japanese fans singing along to all the national anthems, arriving at matches with printed lyric sheets for many of the country’s songs and the highly emotional moment of silence held before Japan’s impressive victory over Scotland in honour of the victims of last weekend’s Typhoon Hagibis.
The media is picking up on the sounds of the tournament too, with the BBC's widely listened-to Rugby Union Weekly using it as something of an audio signature in its latest podcasts and numerous radio DJs and other reporters captivated by these notes.
So, the tournament is using sound in a powerful way, but what about the official partners, sponsors and associated brands? We’ve seen many of the same brands targeting the prized media space on ITV for every game and a host of beautifully crafted Rugby World Cup ads [including Heineken, pictured above], and yet none that I’ve seen has capitalised on the idea of an "anthem" or coined the same musical traits that we see play such a powerful role in sport.
There's a plethora of well-thought-through, relevant and engaging activations to amplify brand partnerships across the tournament: grassroots campaigns bringing brand ambassadors to junior rugby teams, amazing never-before-seen camera angles direct from the pitch and Player of the Game trophies featuring moments from the match etched in real time on to the award. But it would have also been great to see a brand try to capture the sounds of the tournament in their communications.
Earlier this year, Lucozade did a brilliant job of cutting through the noise around the football Women’s World Cup by re-recording the prized cultural and sporting estate of Three Lions with the England Lionesses. Mastercard has made a big play in the sonic branding space this year and recently announced it will be releasing its own music single. As a commercial partner of the Rugby World Cup, its logo can be seen everywhere, but can its brand sound be heard? It feels like a big opportunity to create some real cultural brand equity has potentially been missed.
Music and sport have great synergies in the values they both share – togetherness, teamwork, passion, integrity and, most of all, community. Tournaments such as the Rugby World Cup speak to audiences across generations, geographies and genders, and crowd reactions to the sounds of this tournament are a great reminder of music’s power. All of this provides fertile ground for brands that want to deliver real, meaningful impact in the experience economy.
With several major global sporting events in the calendar over the next year, including the Six Nations and Euro 2020, brands with no sound strategy may risk seeing their campaigns fall on deaf ears.
Max De Lucia is founder and client director at DLMDD