O2 champions Japanese culture in England Rugby campaign

The marketing campaign taps into Japan’s unique cultural identity while heroing England’s symbol, the red rose, but the mobile giant is determined to ensure it doesn’t “fall into” easy stereotypes.

O2 is launching a multimillion pound campaign designed to rally support for the England Rugby team as the Rugby World Cup prepares to kick off in Japan this week.

The campaign was eight months in the making, according to O2’s chief marketing officer Nina Bibby who says the brand is looking to build on its #Weartherose movement, first introduced at the last Rugby World Cup.

It aims to promote its shirt sponsorship of England Rugby, which at 24 years is the longest shirt sponsorship in sport.

“The England Rugby shirt with the rose in the middle has really become a platform for us to drive brand awareness and engagement and loyalty. We are trying to galvanise the country’s support behind that team,” explains Bibby.

“We’ve been building this movement and calling on everyone to wear the rose and show their support for five years now. We wanted a really simple rallying cry to get the nation behind our home team, both men and women.”

The new campaign takes the same strapline but shifts the message. Where in 2015 O2 wanted to ‘Make them giants’, this year O2 wants fans to support the England team by “being their armour”.

Tapping into Japan’s cultural identity, the campaign, created by VCCP, features a 90-second hero film that follows mysterious horse riders who burst into a remote forest settlement to inspire its dwellers into action.

The film follows the riders and the locals, who are also England Rugby fans, as they produce the rose-bearing armour of the England team. Then, armed with their England Rugby-themed Samurai armour, the players – including captain Owen Farrell and teammates Maro Itoje, Jonny May and Courtney Lawes – are ready to face their competition.

The England Rugby shirt with the rose in the middle has really become a platform for us to drive brand awareness, and engagement and loyalty.

Nina Bibby, O2

One of the barriers O2 hopes the campaign can break down is the time difference between the UK and Japan. To do this, the campaign plays into the energy and excitement the tournament creates.

“The tournament is played on the other side of the world and it’s going to be played in the mornings, which isn’t a time we associate with [rugby], so it all feels foreign,” says Bibby.

“What we’re trying to do it create excitement and interest around Japan and around what’s going to be happening there this autumn. They’re so far away so [we had to think about] how do we create something that gets people here excited about what’s going on?”

The hero film is accompanied by a content series that features six episodes that illustrate the power and influence of rugby in Japan, ranging from grassroots all the way to the world stage.

Each episode explores a key characteristic of what it means to be an international rugby player via five elements of the Bushido code which is closely tied to Samurai culture: respect, integrity, duty, loyalty and courage.

O2 was keen not to fall into the trap of using stereotypes in its advertising. To do that, it has worked closely with England Rugby head coach Eddie Jones, who is half Japanese and previously coached Japan’s national team.

“When we were looking at where to take the creative campaign for this tournament, we were looking at the heritage in Japan and the culture,” says Gareth Griffiths, O2’s head of sponsorship

“We spent a lot of time speaking with [Eddie Jones] and building on what he thought was the right way to go about it, and we landed on the samurai and Bushido code. We share that common ground and that’s how it’s evolved into this campaign.”

The campaign will launch today (18 September) across O2’s social channels, while the film will first air on ITV on 22 September during England’s first match against Tonga.