Rugby World Cup final word: An undeniable success but short of ‘wow’ brand moments

As the final curtain comes down on the Rugby World Cup, we can certainly conclude that England did it their way by becoming the first ever host nation to crash out in the pool stages, after heart-wrenchingly being defeated by Australia, says Hugh Robertson, CEO and founding partner, RPM.

Paddy Power: no brand stunts during the Rugby World Cup matched the bookies' FIFA World Cup effort
Paddy Power: no brand stunts during the Rugby World Cup matched the bookies' FIFA World Cup effort
After witnessing Scotland’s cruel South African blow with my son, I wondered whether any of the sponsors felt my pain, felt my passion. Or were they all off eating prawn sandwiches in corporate hospitality?

I say ‘heart-wrenchingly’ from my standpoint as an Anglophile-Scottish rugby supporter with French grand-parentage. To bastardise Sinatra further, I’ve loved, laughed and cried throughout this tournament and most definitely had my share of losing. And now, as the dust settles I’m still finding it a little bit lacklustre.

Not the play on the pitch (excluding the Home Nations), but the brand battle pitch-side. It could have been fiercer, more exciting, more rousing. Feeling deflated after witnessing Scotland’s cruel South African blow with my son, I wondered whether any of the sponsors felt my pain, felt my passion. Or were they all off eating prawn sandwiches in corporate hospitality?  

Yes, OK, memorable brand moments, there were a few. Guinness’s hard-hitting campaign where famous former players Gareth Thomas and Ashwin Willemse shared their inspiring life struggles. Samsung’s hilariously delivered ‘School of Rugby’ fronted by the comedian Jack Whitehall. And let’s not forget Heineken and their half-naked men interrupting Tesco shoppers with the haka. (The old lady in aisle five will never forget, that’s for sure).

Uninspiring campaigns

You’ll notice that these landmark moments existed as digital content and glossy TVs ads, not in the stadiums; shoulder to shoulder with spectators.

Social media strategies could have provided an ideal way to convey this camaraderie; depicting and harnessing genuine emotion at crucial moments. But, while some brands attempted social media campaigns, most were uninspiring. It was all a little too ‘courteous’ and planned for me, far too little striking and reactive, activity.

I, for one, missed the pizzazz of Paddy Power, a brand which you can usually rely on for a well-timed, eyebrow raising subversive stunt of one kind or another. Perhaps the marketing team was still drowning their sorrows in the nearest Irish pub post Argentina hammering?  

Whatever the reason for the absence of these risk-taking brand players, it made it all the more noticeable that most team sponsors and brands seemed to toe the corporate guidelines, rather than dare to cross and disrupt them and stray from their signed off marketing plans, regardless of on-pitch performance.

I’m still left wondering what my ‘wow’ moment was off the pitch

Now that the cameras have stopped rolling, the data is being crunched and brands are announcing how successful their sponsorship strategies have been; I’m still left wondering what my ‘wow’ moment was off the pitch.  

Credit should be given to the record breaking rise of rugby itself on the world stage, the wonderful on-pitch performances from potentially ‘the best’ All Blacks team we have ever seen and the spirit and passion that has been displayed by fans

All this bodes well from a player and a brand perspective for the next world cup, set for Japan in 2019. While some dyed-in-the-wool rugby supporters have been critical of the decision to host there, I believe it’s just what the doctor ordered to give this game the shot of adrenaline.  A country that is newer to the sport, a challenger brand, approaching its growing love of the sport with freshness and enthusiasm.

Of course, Japan will do it their way. Good. Let’s just hope that brands break free of corporate shackles and bring something unique to the Asian experience too.