Rugby World Cup marketing lessons for sports-related emails

The Rugby World Cup is, in 2015, being played on British soil. This isn’t just good news for the Australian team (who have won every single tournament held on these isles), but also for email marketers a little closer to home. With interest in the sport reaching an all-time high, brands have the opportunity to capitalise on this ever-building excitement and get on board with the global showpiece. After all, what better time will there be for rugby-loving brands than a World Cup on home soil, in the country where the game was born?

Many savvy marketers are doing exactly that – running campaigns to promote their involvement in the event and jump on all the growing excitement. But what campaigns have they been running, and what lessons can email marketers learn from these?

Retail

The Rugby World Cup is like Christmas – not just for fans, but retailers as well. Whilst we may have the Six Nations and domestic leagues to keep everything ticking over year-on-year, it’s the World Cup that really gets people opening emails, clicking through to landing pages, and whipping out their credit cards en masse.

Each of the 20 teams taking part has issued a new kit for the event (they have to, as tournament rules stipulate that no jersey can come branded with the traditional sponsor across the middle), so this opens up a huge new revenue stream for retailers. One of the most expensive of this year’s jerseys is that of the hosts themselves, as a ‘test’ England jersey could set you back an eye-watering £120.

Of course, this is great news for retailers and provides a massive potential revenue stream. Retailers such as Lovell sought to get one over on their competitors by putting together an email campaign offering a free gift with the purchase of certain jerseys. It’s perfectly reasonable, of course; if you’re parting with the lion’s share of a hundred pounds for a top, you’d expect a scarf thrown in for free. But it’s add-on email offers like these which really work.

Stealing a march on its competitors before a ball had even been kicked in anger, Lovell showed that getting in early and offering fans that little bit extra is enough to close sales. In rugby terms, it took a quick tap and go – being duly rewarded with a try.

Charity

It’s not just those looking to make a bit of extra money or turn around some sales that can capitalise on the Rugby World Cup, though. Charities, official bodies and other public services are also in a good position to get on board.

A recent example of this came from Give Blood, who used the strapline ‘Bleed for England’ to encourage more rugby fans to sign up as donors. The high-profile campaign has attracted equally high-profile support, with Jonny Wilkinson, Martin Johnson, Ben Kay, Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard all signing up to be involved.Bleed for England

The campaign’s aim is to recruit 100,000 new donors in the run up to, and throughout, the Rugby World Cup. Before the tournament even started, almost a third of the target had been reached.

This is, of course, a big money campaign than many brands couldn’t quite replicate, but that needn’t mean it can’t be done on a smaller scale. In fact, Give Blood’s campaign mirrors a grass-roots movement started in 2004 by German football team FC Union Berlin. Its fans created ‘Bluten Fur Union’ (‘Bleed for Union’) in a bid to raise enough funds to help secure the club’s license for fourth-division football. As blood donors in Germany would be paid for their offering, fans would give blood and then pass on their fee to the club. It proved successful and saved the team, which has since gone on to significantly bigger and better things, all with the help of a passionately loyal fanbase.

Both Give Blood and FC Union Berlin showed that the right kind of creative idea, regardless of budget, can capture attention and be a huge success. It’s just a case of finding that zeitgeist idea…

Fun

Marketing campaigns needn’t be quite as serious as that of Give Blood, of course. This is, after all, “just a game”, so companies certainly have licence to be a touch more jovial in their approach.

This sense of fun is something inherently related to Aardman Studios, the home of iconic (not to mention Oscar-winning) plasticine friends, Wallace and Gromit. Another of the studio’s famous exports is Shaun the Sheep, who has his own children’s TV show and countless items of memorabilia.Bleating the competition

To encourage more youngsters to get involved with the sport – whilst also having a bit of fun – Aardman partnered with the Rugby World Cup to get their iconic sheep swapping his more natural fleece for a branded one more typically seen at touchlines and in the stands.

The World Cup-emblazoned sheep is set to teach children about the character building game of rugby. It should also act as a way of bringing families together, as sports-mad parents engage their children with the event, thanks to Shaun and co.

Whilst we’re not all Oscar-winning production houses with iconic characters ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, many companies have mascots or ways of appropriating a big sporting event into their branding (just beware of copyright issues, of course). Whether it’s a company’s bear taking up a second row-berth, or a mascot making the line out calls, there is opportunity to here to engage with people – especially when it comes to encouraging fans and brand ambassadors to follow suit.

By getting fans to copy a mascot or maybe even fill out their team, brands can get people actively involved, rather than just reading an email and moving on.

What can email marketers take from these examples?

Lovell’s campaign shows that being the first off the mark with your emails can be crucial. Inboxes get so swamped these days that holding off your send for any reason – be it design issues or poor A/B testing techniques – can damage your chances of success. So what can email marketers learn from this? Plan way ahead. Big events like the Rugby World Cup are common knowledge for a very long time before they take place, giving you plenty of time to come up with a great offer that will separate your emails from your competitors. Think about what you can do that they can’t, and build your email campaign around this.

In Give Blood’s case? It’s all about creativity over budget, and finding ways to inspire your audience to act upon your CTA. Not all charities – or brands in general for that matter – have the ability to advertise on television or in print journalism, so email is a truly effective tool for reaching a mass audience. First of all, make sure you’re proud of the email you’re sending; then, craft your emails so they spark emotion.

And what about Shaun the Sheep? Well, many brands use familiar voices to speak to their audience, and this builds engagement after the initial contact. Take Innocent Smoothies as an example; in every newsletter the fun company sends out they have a section outlining the recent goings on in ‘fruit towers’. It’s always odd, quirky, and entertaining, and this keeps people opening their emails moving forward. Once you’ve got your audience’s attention, you need to get interaction – and the way the Rugby World Cup partnered with Aardman Studios is a great example of this.

So whatever the approach, big sporting events provide a great opportunity for brands to get a little creative – and they don’t come much bigger than the Rugby World Cup.

Becky Hesilrige
Becky Hesilrige
Becky is the Content Marketing Manager at Pure360. She studied Sociology and conducted her dissertation on online communication and relationships. Follow Becky on Twitter @beckyhesilrige
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