Fans Take Vodafone Rugby Ad From Try To Triumph


Connections You Can Always Rely On


Vodafone’s Rugby World Cup ad for Ireland has an unusual star: an Englishman. But not any Englishman – Ireland’s Rugby Union team coach Andy Farrell, who’s led his men to the World Cup in Paris and (as I write this) to a commanding position in Pool B with a hard-fought win over South Africa.

The grit, teamwork and brotherhood needed to pull results like that off is the subject of the ad from agency Folk Wunderman Thompson. It shows an imagined scene from Farrell’s boyhood in Wigan, with the young lad giving a motivational speech to a bunch of bored-looking kids – before the ad cuts to Farrell forty years on, inspiring his Irish team with similar words. The players head for the pitch, fired up, as the ad ends.

It’s an ad aiming to uplift and inspire the audience just as Farrell does the team, and it uses a lot of techniques designed to stir the emotions and get the “broad-beam attention” of the right-brain. First among those is the ad’s deep evocation of a time and place. Not many viewers will have personal memories of 1980s Wigan but the ad makes excellent use of markers of the time – a washed-out colour palette, a Rubik’s Cube toy, and distinctive cars and haircuts of the era to create a powerful impression of the early 80s.

Ads with a strong sense of place and time are very good at attracting right-brain attention. So are ads with a lot of human betweenness and communication, which Vodafone certainly delivers. The whole ad is communication – between Farrell and his father; between the boy Farrell and his teammates; and finally between the coach Farrell and the Ireland team. The director makes sure to let us see every expression on every face, creating a powerful emotional spectacle.

The ad scores 3.7-Stars on Test Your Ad, which is a good score for any commercial and strong for a sports-themed ad. Sports ads tend to face headwinds from a wider audience as a large chunk of the viewing population simply don’t have an interest in any given sport. That’s an issue, but it’s also true that sports-themed ads are usually made and shown around specific sporting events, like the Rugby World Cup.

So sport-themed ads are worth taking a second look at with a sample of actual sports fans – since sports fans are the ones who are far more likely to see them. That’s one reason we partnered with FUSE earlier this year to create The Sport Dividend, a report exploring the gap in reception between fans and non-fans when it comes to sporting ads.

What we found in that report is that many sports-themed ads for big events do indeed unlock a ‘sports dividend’, where their effectiveness among fans is much greater than among non-fans. It’s still important for sports ads to appeal as widely as possible – particularly as a successful even will attract more and more casual viewers. But the core fan audience matter a lot, and The Sport Dividend quantifies that.

In this case, Vodafone’s touching ad did well among the wider public. Among fans, though, it’s a blockbuster. For our fans sample it hit a 5.9-Star score, the maximum possible, and also did exceptionally well on short-term Spike Rating. For those with no interest in Rugby or the Ireland side, it was still a good, touching ad about a boy and the man he becomes. For those who’ve followed Farrell and the Irish side, it was a heartwarming, inspiring masterpiece. The Sport Dividend in action.

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