Welsh people don't often get much to cheer about. And yet we do - often. It's a small country, but a noisy one.
When it comes to football, there has been precious little to shout about since 1958, when a certain Pelé put a hole in our hopes in the knockout stage. Prior to that, the team's campaign had been consistent, though far from glorious. Three low-scoring draws resulted in a play-off against Hungary, fresh from thrashing Mexico 4-0 just two days earlier. A narrow victory saw us through, but not for long.
In 2014, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) came across the border to speak to Designroom Sport, a South-London creative agency. With the opportunity of upcoming qualifiers for a far-off European championship in 2016, the FAW needed to create excitement and drive engagement with fans. The agency was tasked with building an integrated campaign and a new positioning to lead all communications around a simple message.
The message's origin was created long before, in 1951, when the FAW asked for a redesign of their badge. The result was the addition of a motto: Gorau Cwarae Cyd Chwarae, or 'Team Play is the Best Play.' But it was time for a new interpretation: the altogether more streamlined, 'Together. Stronger.'
'The campaign had to be born out of a genuine connection to the Welsh Team,' said Ian Davis, FAW's Commercial and Marketing director. This meant the whole team, with the initial shots taking in the entire squad including Under 21s, Disability, and Women's teams, alongside a couple of fans.
A year on from the May launch, the campaign had generated compelling effectiveness metrics.
- Facebook followers increased 467%,
- Twitter followers increased 120%,
- tournament ticket sales increased 360%
Critically, a new relationship had formed between the team and their fans - fans who had endured near-constant disappointment on the international stage.
Moreover, the message achieved something more than just 'buy-in': it became a culture among the squad, sprayed across the team's hotels and training grounds. The connection and message brought the team together; Wales were more than the sum of their parts. On the 20th October, 2015, Wales qualified for their first international tournament since the summer of '58.
We've done it!!!!! #euro2016 #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/i3yfGe7QtN— Gareth Bale (@GarethBale11) October 10, 2015
When a message becomes a philosophy, no briefing is needed. The players took on the message themselves, tagging #TogetherStronger after each update. Fans used the tag when discussing matches. And then Rhys:
Tonight, Wales face Portugal; Bale faces Ronaldo.
This shouldn't be happening.
As one pundit put described them, Wales are 'a Dog & Duck Sunday league side,' up against the big boys. Whatever happens, these guys are heroes whether they win or lose. Communication between players and fans has been constant: supporters feel they stand with the team, and the team feels the nation behind them. It is rare that a brand's communication can be so simple, and can mean so much to so many people; but as the team have lived it, so have the fans.