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Heineken rubbishes report which shows Guinness outgunned it at the Rugby World Cup

Heineken has claimed that the millions of pounds it pumped into sponsoring the Rugby World Cup has been worth it despite a new social media report revealing the brand was outperformed by rival Guinness.

The brewer had high hopes for its tie-up with the tournament, which includes a ban imposed on the Diageo-owned stout being sold at stadiums. It was an ambitious deal given Guinness’ deep-rooted ties to the sport, with Heineken hoping to emphasise its own ties having first sponsored the contest in 1995 as well as being one of the major sponsors of the European competition.

Looking at a new report from DigitasLBi, it appears that the beer maker's decision to become the official sponsor of the World Cup hasn’t fully paid off. The study analysed 74,052 tweets with the hashtag #RWC2015 and measured the number of times a brand was mentioned within those posts. MasterCard, another of the official sponsors, has so far been the most tweeted about brand associated with the tournament, ahead of Guinness, Coca-Cola and Heineken respectively.

The report attributes Guinness’ success over its Danish counterpart due to its “long association with rugby and sponsorship arrangements with a number of teams”. Heineken was one of six official sponsors for the tournament alongside Land Rover, Societe Generale, DHL, Emirates, Coke and MasterCard.

Heineken’s premium brands director, David Lette, remained adamant that the findings in the DigitasLBi social data study did not signify a failure. Speaking to The Drum, he added "we are delighted with the success of our RWC activation across all channels, including social media where we have chosen to focus on fan engagement through the Coin Toss and the Rugby studio”.

Heineken maintained going into the tournament that the aim of their sponsorship was to focus on brand loyalty alongside awareness. It was a big investment on Heineken’s part to exploit rugby’s growing profile, which has seen its commercial value swell and sponsorship revenue increase by 50 per cent since the last World Cup.

Lette went on to dispute the DigitasLBi report findings, saying “as far as this survey is concerned, we are not familiar with the methodology but it is at odds with objective data from sources such as Crimson Hexagon, where we are clearly winning on volume of mentions, and resulting conversion to quality impressions.”

When The Drum asked how Heineken intends to judge the success of the sponsorship, Lette answered: “Ultimately, we will judge the effectiveness of our sponsorship on the global impact on the Heineken brand”. He added that “at this point in the tournament, we have met or exceeded all key measures".

It’s worth noting that Heineken has been ranked as one of best performing sponsors in various other studies of the mareketing around the event. A report by Adobe rated Heineken the top rugby sponsor on social media, engaging 29 per cent of its Twitter following.

Off the social media field of play, Heineken will also be mindful of the potential negative impact England’s early exit from the tournament could have on beer sales. Some industry analysts have maintained that those brands that chose to back the tournament rather than teams were able to insulate themselves from having to make any major changes to strategies in the event of a team going out early. In light of this, Heineken’s loss at the hands of Guinness appears even greater.

Guinness’ decision to inject poignancy into its ad campaign for the rugby world cup has helped push its brand to the forefront of the minds of rugby fans, buoyed in no small part by the uplifting real life stories told in the ads featuring Wales legend, Gareth Thomas, and former South Africa winger, Ashwin Willemse. Heineken meanwhile adopted a more playful approach in its ads with Jonah Lomu and John Smit.

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Tony Connelly

I cover media, marketing and sponsorship news within the sports industry. This includes breaking news as well as writing feature pieces with insights from experts in the sports marketing world.

All by Tony