As the dust settles on the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Alex Burmaster of sports marketing platform caytoo picks out his favourite sponsor activations which highlight sponsorship best practice.

Rugby’s first-ever World Cup hosted in Asia was hailed as the “most impactful and ground-breaking RWC in history”. The six-week extravaganza broke various records across attendances, audiences, fan participation, legacy and CSR programmes and reached an estimated worldwide broadcast audience of 400 million.

Thus, it was a great one to be involved in as a sponsor. But how did the tournament’s six worldwide partners stand out from an activation perspective?

Reinforce positioning: Emirates

Emirates was the official sponsor of referees, who took to the field in their resplendent red “Emirates Fly Better kit”. However, the airline looked beyond just logo/branding, taking the partnership a step further by using elite referee Nigel Owens as the face of the ad campaign, including fronting an ‘etiquette guide’ for watching the tournament.

This was a smart link with its “fly better” motto: by associating themselves itself with, and encouraging, etiquette it reinforces itself as an airline of a better and higher class. A nice additional touch saw Emirates provide live screenings of matches on flights wherever possible.

Reinforce capability: DHL

A good sponsorship should show off and build confidence/trust in a brand’s core competency and DHL – along with Heineken – probably led the way in integrating its core offering with the event. DHL handed logistics and team freight for all 20 participating nations, as well as delivering all match tickets internationally. (Although, Land Rover, as the official automotive provider, delivered the trophy to the final in its new Defender 90 model and a fleet of its vehicles were provided to facilitate the tournament.)

DHL also reinforced its logistics credentials via social, content and CSR activations. For example, it provided videos of the best moments – with a DHL twist – featuring visual analysis pinpointing players’ trajectory and speed. It also backed a charity-supporting ‘Race to Rugby World Cup’ cycling journey made by two men across the globe to reach the tournament on time.

Be useful: Heineken

One of sponsorship’s best executions is being useful to the fans, and Heineken achieved this on a couple of fronts. Its “Universal Language of Rugby” campaign enabled fans to engage with the tournament, explaining the game’s rules as well as updating fans with weekly highlights, facts and quizzes. The brand also provided a ‘bar finder’ feature on the RWC app, thus, being genuinely helpful for a major part of fans’ overall trip experience.

Heineken also took this mantra to positive extremes in South Africa by sponsoring the country’s state broadcaster (SABC) to enable the final to be shown on terrestrial TV and radio, instead of just on pay TV which is beyond the reach of most of the country’s population.

Provide experiences: Land Rover

Experiences were a big theme among many sponsors and Land Rover made a big play on “sharing experiences and its passion for rugby with fans globally”. Activations here included competitions and opportunities to become match mascots – the brand providing two per game – as well as sending ambassadors (high-profile former rugby legends) to surprise rugby clubs and fans.

Notably, this included surprising ‘the smallest club in the world’, Racal Decca RFC, where the ambassadors provided support at a match, and to the two mascots who missed out on a match cancelled due to the typhoon that hit Japan during the tournament. The lucky two were told they would be mascots at the final instead – also delivering terrific PR.

Be creative: Mastercard and Société Générale

Probably our favourite – and certainly the most unique – was Mastercard partnering with a Japanese university professor to design the man-of-the-match trophies. This involved a computer programme monitoring commentary from the official World Cup feed to identify the highlights. These words were then laser etched in real-time onto the back of the trophy.

This use of creativity and technology was all about going the extra mile and doing something memorable or, you guessed it, ‘priceless’. Although in complete contrast to the DHL example in terms of highlighting the product, it was a great reinforcement of the brand identity and helped position Mastercard as a modern, innovative brand for the future.

On a much more ‘practical’ level, Mastercard’s sponsorship of the man of the match contributed to the brand achieving the most media mentions of the six partners – along with a competition partnership with Talksport radio in the UK.

French banking, finance and insurance giant Société Générale also fits into the ‘be creative’ – and fairly unique – bucket simply through an activation which one wouldn’t necessarily associate with such a ‘dry’ sector. The brand created a Japanese manga-style story that developed throughout the tournament called ‘Omikuji Rugby’; this centred on a girl called Chizu and the French rugby team. The story was promoted throughout SG’s digital channels and is a good example of a brand harnessing a sponsorship vehicle to help reach new audiences – in this case, likely to be younger people within their home market.