O2 Head of Sponsorship Gareth Griffiths on 'Be Their Armour' campaign

18 Sep 2019

By: Sport Industry Group

O2's new England Rugby ad campaign entitled ‘Be Their Armour’ will air on TV on Sunday 22nd September, when England face Tonga to kick off their Rugby World Cup 2019 campaign.

The brand is an official team sponsor of the RFU and England Rugby, and has been for 24 years, making it one of the longest-serving shirt sponsors in sport. Now, it is using its position as both an official partner as well as a visible mass-market brand to drum up support for the team as they prepare for the tournament ahead.

The campaign is meant to be a rallying call to the nation to get behind the team, but it also builds on previous campaigns that O2 has undertaken as a sponsor of the England Rugby team and will include the #WearTheRose strapline, which has been in effect since 2014 and will see a second World Cup.

Speaking to Sport Industry Group, Gareth Griffiths, Head of Sponsorship, O2, said: “We always evaluate our ‘call to arms’ and it’s quite rare for us to stick with something as long as this. We’re a fast-moving business and telecoms, our industry, is very fast-paced, but Wear The Rose has become so powerful as a call to arms it cuts straight through and it just continues to work.” 

Keeping the strapline fresh was something that Griffiths and O2 were keen to do this time around, and have built upon that phrase with the addition of another.

“With ‘be their armour’, it’s evolving what the power of support is,” he said. “It’s about the fans, and if the fans really get behind the team they can make them feel like they’re invincible, they’re going into battle but they’ve got the whole of the country behind them and that’s what this is about.”

One feature of recent World Cups, across multiple sports, has been the buy-in from the public that has elevated England teams to successful campaigns. The England victory in the 2019 Cricket World Cup followed significant national moments in both men’s and women’s football and netball World Cups. Now it’s rugby’s turn, and O2 are hoping to play their part in creating a similar feeling this autumn, though Griffiths says their job is to do that in order to generate support for the team, and not necessarily the tournament.

“They’re cultural moments,” he said. “We’re not a tournament partner, we’re a team partner, so we’re about supporting the team. This is a huge cultural moment and we love a big competition in this country. We love getting behind the team, so it’s this cultural moment and undoubtedly come this weekend that’ll just get bigger and bigger. It’s our opportunity, as a mass consumer brand, to be involved in that, and that’s really exciting”.

O2’s Wear the Rose rallying call has a secondary benefit, too: a call to action for England fans to proudly put on the shirt - and one which has the O2 logo emblazoned on the front. But it does have a significance beyond the branding, as the company looks to show the players the levels of support back home.

“It’s not a corporate call to arms, it’s getting the country behind the team,” said Griffiths. “We want the country wearing the shirts and Eddie Jones likes that, he likes to see a sea of white when England play.”

Jones and the players have had some input into the ad themselves, and the nods to the Japanese Bushido tradition have been well received by the England Head Coach, who uses those values himself to galvanise the players behind something tangible. O2’s aim is to do the same for the fans.

“He’s our Head Coach, so he doesn’t influence creative, but he has to be happy with the direction [the ad] is going in,” said Griffiths. “We’ve met him a few times and taken him through it and we wouldn’t do anything without his blessing: it’s very important that we work collaboratively with him. 

“He’s seen it and he likes it. I think he loves the fact that we’re using the Bushido values. 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.”

After 24 years of partnering with the RFU, England Rugby remains a central project for O2 in terms of sponsorship. Having dabbled with football sponsorship in the past, rugby is the only sports property they’ve kept. 

“We only have three partnerships,” says Griffiths. “The O2 Arena, with AEG; a partnership with Live Nation which gives us 20 O2 Academy venues; and one sports sponsorship with England Rugby.

“The reason we keep renewing is because we know from our insight and data that our customers love rugby. It’s a mass consumer sport and we align with the values in which it’s played. There’s an element of country to country rivalry with it, but it’s not as tribal as, say, football. If you go and watch a rugby match down the local rugby club, or you go and watch a Premiership game or a match at Twickenham you’ll see rival fans sitting together. It’s very inclusive for everybody. 

“And then at the elite level - men or women - the respect that’s shown towards officials and the rules is notorious, and we love that. So it aligns as a sport with O2 and that’s one of the main reasons we’ve kept our sponsorship with it for so long.

“But being a sports team partner is a rollercoaster. That’s one of the reasons we love it so much, but also one of the reasons why we only have one! But that’s what sport’s all about, success, failure - it’s all part of being a fan. And believe it or not, if the team don’t do so well, they need our support even more so as a partner that’s when we come into our own.”