O2 pushing digital in biggest England Rugby campaign despite uncertain future

Despite O2’s future being uncertain after it became the target for takeover by Three, the brand will not back down from pushing its biggest campaign for England Rugby this year in the lead up to the World Cup as it strives to be a “digital telco” by engaging with consumers through new channels.

The brand is pushing a move into digital engagement with the launch of a series of holographic projections of branded England Rugby shirts onto landmark statues across the country with the help of innovation agency CURB Media in attempt to get fans behind the team ahead of Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations match against Italy.

It has also announced that it will give away 20,000 rose corsages at the game on Saturday to encourage fans to “Wear the Rose” in the latest addition to its campaign, which kicked off last week to mark the start of the RBS 6 Nations and is the largest effort for the brand in its 20 years as principal sponsor of English Rugby.

An ad, which looks to show the power of support through four different storylines, was pushed last week on the brand’s YouTube channel as well as video-on-demand services, with plans for the campaign to spread to TV, print, digital out of home, radio and social channels throughout the year in an effort to get the country behind the team.

The campaign is an effort for the brand to push digital engagement, with a cross-country tour of what it calls the “world’s first ever virtual reality sports experience” allowing people to feel what it’s like to train with the England team using Oculus Rift technology.

Tweets using #WearTheRose that show support of the team will be displayed on digital billboards across the country, including at Waterloo Station and at the West Fan Village at Twickenham, while O2 customers who show their support via social and on match days will have the chance to win prizes.

The brand will also release content on its campaign website from England coaches, players and special guests.

The campaign is a move from the brand’s last Rugby World Cup campaign in 2011, which saw it deliver pies and pints to people’s homes on game days to get them up early and show support for England.

Gareth Griffiths, head of sports sponsorship at O2, told Marketing Week that developments in technology, specifically in mobile and online, have hugely impacted how the brand activates its sponsorships and designs its marketing campaigns, citing Instagram as one of its main channels which didn’t exist in 2011.

“Our strategy has changed from awareness to awareness and engagement,” he says. “We’ve gone from pies and pints to digital and technology.

“While it’s still important to have our association with sport and music, we’ve seen over the last couple of years that our sponsorships are working well in the digital space.”

WTR_landscapeThe campaign is tapping the symbol of the rose, which is sewn onto England Rugby shirts, as it looks to demonstrate what England’s head coach Stuart Lancaster calls the “extra power of support”, claiming that having fans behind the team gives players “that extra 10%, which in a game of small margins can be so important”.

Griffiths says that the benefit of the England Rugby sponsorship for O2 is all about performance.

“If England is performing well on the pitch then our sponsorship is doing well,” he says. “The campaign is rooted in the power of support. If the nations and the fans get behind the team, we see a significant improvement in performance.”

He adds that so far the feedback for the campaign, which will continue throughout 2015 to build momentum leading up to the World Cup, has been far more positive than the brand expected.

“We saw a fantastic launch to the campaign last week and it really picked up on social through the hash tag #WearTheRose,” he said. “In terms of both time and investment, this is the most significant campaign we’ve done since we’ve been with England Rugby, and we’ve been working on it for over a year.”

Meanwhile, Three, owned by Hutchison Whampoa, is in exclusive negotiations to purchase O2 from owner Telefonica, with observers predicting the brand would become Three if the takeover is closed.

The unclear future of the brand calls into question future sponsorship deals, such as its Rugby partnership and its sponsorship the O2 and O2 Academy music venues.

However, Griffiths says it’s too early to say what would happen to the sponsorships if the deal goes through.

“We haven’t done the deal yet, so who knows,” he says. “We’ll have to wait and see.

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