Gilbert stands out in Rugby World Cup ad showdown

Sports equipment brand hits sweet spot with consumers during Japanese tournament with nostalgic campaign, according to exclusive research.


Like a plucky local team that wins international gold in a sports movie, the ad that has most resonated with viewers during the Rugby World Cup is a nostalgia-rich spot for ball manufacturer Gilbert.

The brand may not be widely known, but it has managed to make the most of its close association with rugby to score with viewers. Ratings from market research agency System1, exclusive to Marketing Week, show Gilbert’s ad outperforming those from brands such as ITV, Land Rover, O2 and Guinness during the tournament in Japan (20 September – 2 November).

Gilbert’s ad, which follows a young rugby fan’s obsession with saving for a Gilbert ball before becoming a player, delivered a maximum 5-star performance.

Ad name Brand Decimal star Spike
Rugby Memories Gilbert Rugby 5 1.45
Rise for the Rugby World Cup ITV 3.7 0.92
It’s What Makes Rugby, Rugby Land Rover 3.5 0.91
Be Their Armour O2 3 1.09
Rule 22: Stay onside Emirates 2.9 0.94
Liberty Fields Guinness 2.8 0.88
The Delay Heineken 2.6 1.17
Martin Johnson meets Dave Rogers Canon 2.5 1.39
Coverage sponsored by 1.5 1.15
Japan Slam Teaser Paddy Power 1.4 0.92

Fewer than 1% of ads achieve a 5-star rating under the System1 Ad Ratings methodology, which rates three as a strong score, four as excellent and five as exceptional. The company uses a database of emotional responses, applied in this case to a panel of 1,500 consumers, to measure the strength of their reactions to ad campaigns.

The rating system is designed to predict long-term brand growth, measuring the potential for creative quality to act as an amplifier for investment. A 5-star rating predicts market share growth of more than 3%.

“Who makes rugby balls? If you didn’t know before, you will after watching manufacturer Gilbert’s heart-warming 5-star promo video for the Rugby World Cup. Its story of a little boy dreaming of his own Gilbert ball finds a clever way to keep the brand name central without it getting in the way of the narrative,” says System1 head of marketing, Tom Ewing.

“From an advertising perspective, it’s great to see a small brand dedicated to the game outscore the bigger names and their high-budget campaigns. It’s proof that you don’t have to be a giant to use emotional, brand-building advertising well.”

Rugby World Cup: How brands are engaging a new wave of fans

Not all advertisers have fared so well during the tournament, with Ewing saying that the Rugby World Cup presents a challenge to bigger advertisers. Despite large numbers of keen fans, the sport is less well understood than football among a broad audience, leading most advertisers to focus on either elements of the game or on the Japanese location of the tournament in their creative approach.

Although it boasted strong production values O2’s ‘Be Their Armour’ ad scored only three points out of a possible five. “The O2 ad is dramatic with strong visuals and exciting music – but its story is unclear and it relies on an emotional connection to the game and team which not all viewers will share,” says Ewing.

ITV’s Japan-themed ‘RISE’ campaign also scored 3 stars, while Land Rover managed 3.5 stars for the ‘It’s what makes rugby, rugby’ script.

But some big names saw their efforts misfire, according to System1. A Guinness ad that focused on Japanese women’s rugby was felt to lack relevance, scoring just 2 stars. Heineken scored the same for ‘The Delay,’ the plot of which focused on rugby being hard to follow.

Meanwhile Paddy Power’s laddish trip to Japan ad plot scored just 1 star, mostly due to a burst of sudden violence that failed to impress viewers.

“The lesson might be that for sporting events that aren’t the World Cup or Olympics, there’s a level beyond which the public just doesn’t care much. Unless, as with Gilbert, you turn the event into a universal story which only happens to be about rugby,” says Ewing.



There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Mark Slater 9 Oct 2019

    Whilst it might have threatened the branding – I’d have loved to have seen Gilbert do a RWC 2019 ball using the Japanese kanji spelling of the Gilbert name

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