When brands enter the scrum

Taking a look at advertisers who are tackling the Rugby World Cup.

par Mark Tungate , Adforum

Image: Apple/Jacob Stutton


While rugby can’t equal the global popularity of football (or “soccer”, if you’re reading in the US), the Rugby World Cup remains a valuable property. The last tournament, held in Japan in 2019, was the most watched rugby event in history, attracting more than 857 million viewers, a leap of 26% from the previous tournament in the UK, according to World Rugby, which runs the event.

For this year’s edition, which began on September 8 in France, organisers are hoping to build on that growth. Broadcasters around the world are showing all 48 matches live, including NBC in the United States, TSN in Canada, ITV in the UK and Bein Sports in several Asian markets. US-based IMG, which owns the rights to the Rugby World Cup brand, says the event covers 200 TV territories.

Needless to say, advertisers have leapt into the scrum. One of them is Guinness, which with UK agency AMV.BBDO has been strongly associated with the sport for years. Its latest campaign features Irish viewers who refuse to suggest that their national team might win…



In the run-up to the event, scientists using an algorithm predicted that New Zealand was likely to win. So much for algorithms! ITV – which we mentioned earlier – warned from the start that it wasn’t going to be so easy…




A similar theme was picked up by Kiwi betting site TAB in a trio of amusing, lightning-fast spots with excellent pre-roll potential.







Elsewhere, Apple and TBWA’s Media Arts Lab continued the “shot on iPhone” campaign with superb images of French rugby stars (Cyril Baille, Antoine Dupont, Gaël Fikou, Julien Marchand, Charles Ollivon and Cameron Woki) photographed by Jacob Stutton and plastered on giant billboards.

Stutton told French specialist website Lense that the stills were shot in a studio using powerful lights to “freeze” the action, while a scaled-down synthetic pitch allowed the players to move safely. “I wanted to make the players iconic and powerful.”

As for the phone itself: “The main advantage of shooting with an iPhone is its size and lightness. These two points allow you to position it quickly and with minimal equipment wherever you want. This was especially notable when capturing video clips.”




In the UK, telecom operator O2 and the agency VCCP took an entirely different tack, commissioning an original artwork – depicting England players and fans in heroic poses – in the Romantic style, which they cheekily unveiled at the Louvre. (The painting is by Canadian artist Vincent McIndoe.)




A social media follow up, the “heroic filter”, allowed fans to strike noble poses for selfies in the style of the painting. As the icing on the cake, O2 customers travelling to France are guaranteed free roaming – because O2 is the only major UK mobile network that offers EU roaming as standard.




The event’s official sponsors have tended to play it safe with solid, unpretentious work. But this Land Rover Defender spot from Accenture Song has stylish direction from Scott Carthy and a gently uplifting twist at the end.




The “Embrace the Impossible” slogan brings to mind “Impossible is Nothing” from Adidas. And Adidas, official kit supplier to the French team, are present here too. The film from France’s We Are Young Agency is a kinetic and joyful voyage around the world, democratizing rugby to such an extent that we almost feel we’re watching a soccer ad.




Meanwhile, sponsor TotalEnergies came up with a film that would have been totally unremarkable – had not Greenpeace followed up with some dramatic remarks of its own.






How about a bit of nice storytelling with a nostalgic touch? Here are Vodafone and Folk Wunderman Thompson for the Irish national team.




Australians are renowned for many things, including their sense of humour. The latter attribute is on display in a pair of films featuring “Wallabies” coach Eddie Jones (as well as iconic player Mark Ella in a cameo as a barbershop customer).






Returning to the host nation, Publicis Conseil and their client Renault opened the tournament with a typically classy film. It admits that, although the French pioneered several sports, they can’t claim to have created rugby. That would be the English, at Rugby School by William Webb Ellis, in the 19th century. In fact, the film celebrates the sport’s bicentenary.