RFU Sponsor O2 Calls On Fans To Be Inspired By Samurai Culture During Japan 2019

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England Rugby main partner O2 launched its Rugby World Cup campaign a few days ahead of kick off with a campaign that champions Japanese culture and calls upon England fans to be the team’s samurai armour ahead of tournament.

This call-to-arms style approach aims to build buzz and boost support by exploring the host nation’s rich traditions and heritage. The multimillion pound campaign, which was eight months in the making, also seeks to drive brand awareness, engagement and loyalty.

The campaign was spearheaded by a hero commercial which sees the squad immersed in Japanese culture as the English knights appear as samurai warriors with the traditional armour modified to reflect the England rugby shirt.

The spot starts with mysterious riders arriving at small forest settlement to rouse its inhabitants into action – a metaphor for O2’s support for the team – by forging rose-bearing armour.

The video, which stars England captain Owen Farrell, plus teammates Maro Itoje, Jonny May, Ben Youngs, Courtney Lawes and Elliot Daly, is set to Claire Wyndham’s ‘My Love Will Never Die.’

The commercial launched in the UK on 18 September across O2’s social channels and the ad debuted on air on ITV on 22 September during England’s first match against Tonga.


The campaign idea emerged from the fact that the O2 logo on the team’s shirt sits next to the England red rose and this is the symbol that now sits at the centre of O2′s ongoing ‘Wear The Rose’ marketing campaign which has evolved in to ‘Be Their Armour’.

 “The England rugby shirt with the O2 in the middle of it – that’s a platform for us. It’s something we leverage to drive brand awareness, brand engagement and loyalty,” said Nina Bibby, O2′s chief marketing officer. “What better way to unite people than behind the symbol that represents the very heart of England?”

“We went to extra detail to make sure everything respected Japanese culture,” added Gareth Griffiths O2′s head of sponsorship who explained that O2 worked with the School of Oriental and African Studies to ensure it didn’t fall into stereotyping traps and also involved England coach Eddie Jones (who is half Japanese) from the outset.

 “Respect was at the start of everything did.”

 The hero film is supported by an online branded content series with Ugo Monye featuring six episodes illustrating the power and influence of rugby in Japan (from grassroots to the elite game).

Each episode explores one key characteristic of what it means to be an international rugby player through the lens of the five elements of the Bushido code – which is linked to Samurai culture – respect, integrity, duty, loyalty and courage.

The content campaign, called ‘Travel Fan in Japan’, sees former England and Lions player Monye link up with Made in Chelsea star Jamie Laing to travel around the country (from Tokyo to Yokohama, Sapporo, Osaka and Kobe) sampling Japanese culture taking on Sumo wrestlers, playing O2 touch rugby with Japanese school kids and visiting a female samurai warrior.


O2’s Head of Sponsorship Gareth Griffiths told Sport Industry Group that Eddie Jones was a big influence in the brand’s decision to highlight Japan’s Bushido values ahead of this tournament.

“I think he loves the fact that we’re using the Bushido values,” he said. “He’s used it previously himself when he was coaching Japan so he was very familiar with it all and liked the direction that we shared and the insight behind the campaign, what we wanted to do.”


Leveraging Japanese culture without offering up creative clichés and cultural appropriation is a fine line to walk. 

O2 has been the shirt sponsor of England Rugby for 24 years: making it one of the longest running shirt sponsorships in world sport.

 O2 first unveiled its ‘Wear The Rose’ call-to-action big idea at the previous 2015 Rugby World Cup hosted in England through a campaign that included a ‘fan created video’, ‘store and logo work’, a ‘national washing line’ and even ‘defeat response work’).

While the core campaign message hasn’t changed much since 2015, there has been a shift in emphasis from fewer traditional and physical activations and more activity taking place online with more weight behind digital and content-led activation strands due to changing media consumption, new technology and, well, the distance between England and Japan.

 To break down the time difference barrier, the campaign plays into the energy and excitement the tournament creates as O2 seek to create excitement and interest around Japan.









Rugby Football Union / England Rugby







This case study originally appeared on Activative: which offers clients creative and strategic intelligence to fuel game-changing sports and sponsorship marketing. www.activative.co.uk

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