Mark Bogaerts, responsible at Heineken for organizing major international events such as the Rugby World Cup, tells us how they planned the sponsorship activation for two years
Heineken has earned recognition as one of the brands with the greatest impact on the sports world thanks to its sponsorship of the UEFA Champions League and its commitment to the biggest rugby tournaments. Its large investment in sports marketing has different objectives in the two championships: in the case of the football, recruiting new followers to their brand; in the rugby, maintaining the loyalty of their faithful followers.
Heineken’s slogan “Open Your World” perfectly reflects what this beer company, headquartered in the Netherlands and operating in 70 countries worldwide, asks its audience: to be receptive to the new experiences that Heineken offers them and that money cannot buy. Having the perfect allies (ambassadors that make their brand known to the world) and gaining control of the digital environment is the key to Heineken’s public getting access to levels of exclusivity that only big brands can guarantee.
LOYALTY AGAINST WARENESS-RAISING IN ORDER TO ACTIVATE ITS RWC SPONSORSHIP
Heineken has been committed to the Rugby World Cup since 1995. This year marks 20 years of sponsorship and the brewing company has spared no resources to surprise its fans again. “The Rugby World Cup works for us because, although rugby is not one of the most popular sports in the world, when the RWC is celebrated there are more than two million people in the stadiums and the TV audience reaches billions of viewers around the world. And people are very loyal to their sponsors; in this regard, the World Cup is unique,” says Hans Erik Tuijt, director of Heineken sponsorship activation.
Marc Bogaerts, responsible for the organization and production of large international events such as the Olympic Games, the UEFA Champions League, the Tour de France and the Rugby World Cup, explains in this interview the development process of the activation of the Heineken sponsorship in the Rugby World Cup, one of the competitions with the most impact worldwide.
How can you continue to surprise fans after 20 years doing it so successfully?
It isn’t a question of doing it once again, but of doing it each time, or better said always, because we aren’t just sponsors of the Rugby World Cup but also of the Champions Cup, previously known as the Heineken Cup. The fans are used to Heineken being in the rugby world and, as with football, it’s a natural combination. We’re there for the fans inside the stadium, outside the stadium, for those who watch rugby at home or in the pub; we try to remain relevant for them. And that we manage to do by controlling the digital environment. The success of the activation of the Champions League with the #sharethesofa and then with the #championthematch served as inspiration for us to create a similar idea with rugby. That’s how the Rugby Show came about, to activate the Heineken Cup, and now the #itsyourcall, for the Rugby World Cup. It’s about creating fun and interesting content for the fans. They can participate in the debate and ask our rugby legends questions online. So the digital world is the nucleus of our campaign, although at Heineken we never activate only one channel. It’s always a 360º campaign that includes TV adverts, billboards and print advertising, on the one hand, and retail and wholesale sales (pubs, restaurants, etc) on the other, and public relations activities, events, hospitality and packaging.
What is the main difference between sponsoring the Rugby World Cup and the UEFA Champions League, which you are also very committed to?
A smaller audience, but generally more revenue; more beer consumption of our target public; beer is sold in rugby stadiums, but not at the Champions League matches. Rugby is present in fewer markets but they are all important markets for Heineken. In addition, the Rugby World Cup is a competition which takes place every four years for six weeks, while the Champions League is played each season over nine months.
How did the “It’s your call” campaign come about?
We have exclusive rights in and around the stadiums during the tour, which finishes with the coin toss to start the game. We think that our public has faith in their future and trusts the coin to decide what the next step is. The coin toss in rugby takes place in the access tunnel to the stadium. The winner of our prize is there at the time and, what’s more, is given the coin after the toss, a prize that is priceless.
The involvement of key ambassadors in the campaign will help you to reach a much larger audience…
Of course! We have true legends from the past participating in our digital show, known as the ‘Heineken Rugby Studio’, and performing in our hospitality area. I’m talking about rugby figures such as former England captain Will Carling, former Wales captain Scott Quinnell, or Jonah Lomu who was the hero of New Zealand.
How long did you take to plan the marketing campaign of the Rugby World Cup and with what results would you be satisfied?
It took two years to work on the strategy. We have specific targets in all elements of the campaign, but in general we’ll be happy if sales forecasts are met or exceeded; if we are not only the most recognized sponsor, but also the most relevant for providing the best content; if our own and pay channels are perceived positively and are appreciated, and people understand our campaign; if our fans are attracted to our online and offline campaign; if we give the winners and guests to our hospitality area a unique experience; if we don’t have any incidents; and if with our sponsorship we are able to offer the best Rugby World Cup in history.
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