England’s failure to make it past the group stages of the Rugby World Cup might have earned them a place in the record books for being the only host nation to manage this ignoble feat, but for those brands that backed the national side the egg on the face is only slightly less embarrassing.
While England sponsors such as O2, which launched a massive campaign that included changing the fascia on its stores to that of the England rose, and Marriott have played down the significance of the rugby team’s complete capitulation, this is probably the only public strategy that they could take.
In reality, the failure is not just a national embarrassment and humiliation but a thwarted opportunity for brands that will have committed a significant proportion of their marketing budget to associate themselves with.
In a statement O2 said that it was “here for the ups and downs” but given how much it must spent on its animated TV campaign that sought to inspire fans to make England’s players “giants”, it will have been shocked to discover that they were just minnows. Beats and Lucozade, which invested less, will also be disappointed and therefore forced to reassess their respective communications plans.
The sorry charade just shows the inherent risks in betting the farm on the progress of a single team (and one that Brains and Famous Grouse have also risked with their support of the Welsh and Scottish teams respectively) rather than explicitly embracing rugby as an entity – something that the tournament sponsors are rather more insulated from.
Given the expense, it’s likely that brands will learn from England’s 2015 Rugby World Cup debacle and be rather more cautious – or smarter – in their support at future events. By shifting the focus of marketing activity away from precarious national sides and into the genre of the sport as a whole is one way that they can minimize their risks. Equally, by making ads that are personal to the consumer (as discussed before) rather than wrapped in the flag of a fallible national team might provide a better solution.