Heineken using loyalty not awareness KPIs to shape Rugby World Cup sponsorship

Heineken is prioritising brand loyalty not awareness for its sponsorship of the Rugby World Cup (RWC) as it looks to exploit what some industry observers predict will be the biggest tournament to date to target already engaged fans of the beer.

The brewer is relying on emotional association rather than the mere exposure effect to maximise value beyond brand visibility and website traffic. It is a departure from Heineken’s awareness-driven approach for other sponsorships such as the UEFA Champions League, as it looks to build advocacy and sales from an audience that will be bombarded with brand messages come kick-off time in September.

It allows for a more audience-focused approach that ensures the tournament and not the brand is the focus with Heineken crafting digital utilities, to enhance the experience; before, during and after games.

Specific campaign plans are being kept under wraps for now but the brewer teased that it would form its “biggest marketing” platform for the year in countries where rugby is popular. Digital will be at the centre of the effort, blending mobile and social to carve a memorable yet useful presence around matches.

The tactic has been used for the brewer’s Champions League marketing, which recruited former stars such as Hernan Crespo and Owen Hargeaves to share insights into matches that fans would not usually get from TV punditry. Heineken plans to adapt the concept for the RWC after finding it one of the most potent ways of cutting though brand clutter during key games.

Tim Ellerton, global sponsorship manager at Heineken, said the loyalty focus stems from its long-running ties to the event, which date back to 1995, as well rugby fans showing more affinity to sponsors in general. Half of rugby fans (49 per cent) are more likely to choose the products of an official partner over rival brands, marginally more than tennis fans (46 per cent) and football supporters (45 per cent), according to Repucom.

“The challenge today is not how to reach a wide audience, because digital media has made this possible, but how you amplify sponsorship deals to enhance the brand image,” said Ellerton

“Rugby is a really strong marketing tool for us largely because a lot of rugby fans are already loyal Heineken consumers. We’re already talking to a captive audience who actually like our brand and our products. Something like the Champions League is used more for awareness building and as a recruitment tool whereas the RWC is much more of a loyalty driver. It impacts a fewer number of markets than say our James Bond campaign or Champions League activations will but in those markets such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia it will be one of the biggest marketing assets that we work from.”

The strategy is underpinned by the brewer’s maturing relationship with tournament chiefs the International Rugby Board (IRB). Indeed, stronger collaboration between the two will see Heineken develop a bar finder tool for the official tournament app so that users can find their nearest pub or club selling Heineken beer.

Ellerton added: “We’re planning a big TV and experiential activities to support our sponsorship of what will be [one of] the biggest marketing asset we have this year. Rugby is one of the top four sports in the world and the upcoming World promises to be the biggest yet if you look at the ticket sales.”

It is a belief shared by fellow sponsor Coca-Cola, which has boasted its own activations will be the biggest ever in its 20-year association with the event. The drinks maker will be hoping to ride the wave of popularity the sport is gaining in markets such as Japan and Africa to spark a sales windfall in the latter part of the year, when it has traditionally not had a key communications platform between the summer and festive period.

The RWC is on the cusp of becoming a global marketing platform for advertisers with more than 200 countries agreeing to screen the matches in the event’s widest-ever broadcast plan. There will also be a TV push into Central Asia and North Africa, areas where the IRB wants to develop the sport.

It is not just sponsors that are set to benefit from the increased exposure with both Guinness and AIG understood to be prepping global activations to latch their brands onto the event.

Jon Stainer, managing director of Repucom UK and Ireland, said: “Rugby consumers, especially when compared to other sports, have a strong affinity toward brands so I can see why loyalty is a priority for sponsors going into the tournament. This might be the first RWC that really puts the sport on the map from a commercial point of view. It’s been building since the Australian tournament in 2003 but now we’re starting to see it really stretch beyond the home nations in terms of profile.”

Rugby’s growing profile has seen its commercial value swell. Sponsorship revenue has risen by 50 per cent since the last World Cup, pushing RWC chiefs to get tougher on ambush marketers for fear of denting the value of the brand. Tournament organisers have secured all the outdoor media sites close to host venues to prevent ambush marketers from reaching spectators.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.