Rugby union is gearing up for a busy few years, beginning with the British and Irish Lions’ imminent summer tour of New Zealand, and culminating in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. Asia represents uncharted territory for the competition, and the continent’s first international rugby union tournament will provide new and exciting marketing opportunities for partners and sponsors.
At the forefront of all this will be Land Rover which, in addition to partnering the Lions for the sixth time, has recently agreed to sponsor the Rugby World Cup for a third successive tournament in Japan. With an eventful time ahead, SportsPro spoke to Land Rover’s head of global marketing, Mark Cameron, to find out more about the car giant’s upcoming campaigns, and the potential to expand within the sports industry in the future.
How important is sports sponsorship to Land Rover’s overall global marketing strategy?
Very important. It’s something that we are very strategic about. We know through the data and the research that we do what our customers are interested in and what our target customer is interested in. What we’ve tried to be over the last few years is really consistent by trying not to spread over loads of different sports and not be known well in any.
Today’s a good example in terms of over 20 years in rugby union around the world and building a relationship with fans right from the grassroots level, where kids are playing rugby on Saturday and Sunday mornings, through to World Cups, Lions tours and that sort of thing.
I think customers are very savvy and know how fans and sponsorship work these days, but I think if you’re in things for the long term rather than just the opportunistic brand-slapping, and you generally do try adding to the sport, you try and bring something to the fans through the extra content you produce: opportunities to go to matches on tours, join us in hospitality, through to the mascots getting the chance to hold the captain’s hand like we did for the last World Cup. I think all that adds up to building deeper relationships with customers which you can do in other ways in marketing, but I think the power of sport and the passion people have for sport – if you pick the right one – can give you much more than traditional marketing in some ways.
Alongside rugby, sailing and equestrian is the real heart for Land Rover and that’s what we’ve been promoting over the last few years to really bring our presence consistently into those sports.
You’ve just launched your agreement with Rugby World Cup, and this is the third time that you’ll be the official vehicle.
That’s right. It was a two-year deal initially for 2011 and 2015, and now we’ve just signed for 2019.
From left: Bryan Habana, James Haskell, Jamie Heaslip, Shane Williams, Mark Cameron, and Jonny Wilkinson.
What are you going to do differently for 2019, and can you go into any more detail about your partnership with both the organisation and the tournament?
It’s a little bit early to get into specifics of the campaign, because today’s obviously the start of that journey. Clearly we’re going to be wanting to build in a relevancy for our vehicles and our vehicle plans over the next two and a half years, but more importantly, it’s not decided yet, but we want to keep going as we had been with the ‘We Deal In Real’ idea. Whether it will be the same campaign execution and wording is yet to be decided, but this whole thing about being the genuine partner in all levels of the sport and trying to make the Rugby World Cup the pinnacle of it, accessible to all people that work in the sport from the very low levels through to the senior international players. I think we wouldn’t want to give up territory in that thing we’d started.
We definitely want to make it as international as possible. We sell to over 170 countries and to develop a campaign that all of our markets around the world can leverage and make local is really important as well. Clearly it will have to be socially and digitally led, and very interactive. So it’s too early to get into any more details but that’s kind of the direction in which we want to head.
We will work closely with World Rugby and the other sponsors that have been announced now as well to collectively make it a fantastic event in Japan. Yes, it is important in Japan, but it’s really significant in the Asia region for rugby. When I look at Japan itself, which is quite a small car market for an imported brand – I think ten or 15 per cent of the total market is imports and the rest is Japanese local brands – it’s not a big volume market, but it’s an important market from Land Rover’s point of view in terms of our market share that we get.
Also, China is an important market. Rugby growth in China is a key strategic target for World Rugby, things are happening there and there’s certainly more money going into it – I think university college rugby is growing. I see the opportunity commercially for Land Rover for the 2019 World Cup Asia-wide as opposed to just a Japanese opportunity.
This is the sixth time that Land Rover has been the principal partner and official vehicle partner of the British & Irish Lions. What commercial activations do you have planned with the players and in New Zealand?
Yes. We’ve got a day with the players during the tour itself where we’re going to be doing a drive out, sort of a fun off-roading adventure. Obviously this will be an opportunity for the media to come and see what the players are up to on their sort of down day during the tour. We’ve got a number of guests that we’re hosting from across the world – people from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, so it’s going to be captivating I think.
You have the title sponsorship of Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup team, do you take a different approach when supporting sailing or do the same values ring true?
Sailing is a bit different for us because one of the things we are really keen to do where there’s an opportunity is to bring something of our own technology and innovation to a property. It’s quite difficult to do that in rugby because the sport itself is what it is, it doesn’t need any outside technology that a car manufacturer can easily bring – we do things like the Trophy Tour Vehicles to add a bit of fun and accessibility around it.
That’s what’s different about the America’s Cup, and that’s why we partnered with Ben at title level and also as an innovation partner because we wanted to help the project and for Britain to win cups through the know-how of learning our sector.
If you look at these foiling catamarans that are doing 90 km/h, only one or two per cent of the boat is actually in the water at those speeds because they’re foiling above it. So it’s much more about aerodynamics control systems, electrical systems, how the boat itself is controlled by Ben when he’s at the helm, and what we can lend in terms of our know-how. Our engineers and designers involvement in the whole project is a much deeper level than just adding cash and branding to the boat, which gives us an added opportunity versus rugby as a sport for example.
That’s really how we’ve led with much more to come in terms of communication as we get to Bermuda in two or three weeks’ time, as you’ll see through the America’s Cup story unfolding, but as I said it’s very much a technology innovation platform.
Land Rover will also sponsor Ben Ainslie's entry at this year's 35th America's Cup.
Are there any sports that Land Rover would be interested to partner with in the future?
We’re always looking at how trends are moving and internationally at how geography changes and how the markets become more or less important. We’ve got to make sure it’s relevant.
One of the areas we also know a lot of our customers have a lot of passion for is winter sports. Winter sports is an area where a lot of affluent people go and enjoy their time skiing and exploring, etc, so that’s a possible area. But really importantly – quite an obvious thing to say, maybe, certainly in the area of sports sponsorship – is if you don’t do it correctly in terms of being data-driven, because you get a change of senior management, or a change of personal view and it’s all there to be shot at, but if you build your strategy around what the data’s telling you and where the trends are going and what your customers are interested in – whether that be in China or North America or Europe – we need to build a portfolio of rights that reflect the passions and interests as those trends change. Fortunately when we did this analysis four years ago it kind of reconfirmed some of the things we’d already been doing, and it opened up new opportunities like sailing.
I would say that, maybe in the next two to three years, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other trends emerging and we start investing in the rights of other areas, but at the moment what we are doing is still very relevant to our customers and there’s no immediate plans to change that.
What do you think is unique about Land Rover’s commercial work within the sports industry?
It’s interesting, actually, because after reflecting this morning on the last Rugby World Cup as an example, pretty much the whole of the ‘We Deal In Real’ campaign and certainly all the TV items that we did and a lot of the films that we produced in digital and social didn’t feature any of our products. I think the consumer is very savvy and aware if you are trying to shoehorn messages and products into something that doesn’t necessarily naturally fit. So I think that’s the bravery of the campaign to say actually, we are Land Rover, people know who we are, they know what we produce, actually we want the values of what we’re interested in to shine through rather than a blunt view of what the product is itself. I think that’s quite standout because the temptation is always to put the car up.
I think the other thing I’d point to is – it’s not unique in the sense that everyone’s looking at this – but to really make the campaigns for the audience to engage in, rather than it just be one-way communication. So this whole recruitment of mascots to take part by flying around the world with their parents to be part of a World Cup with the teams I think is quite exciting, and just to make it accessible as a campaign rather than just one-way.