A new initiative by Dentsu on behalf of Mitsubishi Estate Group, a real estate development division of the conglomerate, aims to change the way Japanese people typically perceive rugby.
Mitsubishi Estate is a sponsor of the Rugby World Cup 2019, alongside Canon, NEC, Toto, Secom and Lipovitan. Kenta Isobe, a copywriter who is working on the project, said Mitsubishi wants people to see rugby as an “intellectual” game as well as a physical one.
To achieve this, Dentsu will roll out up to 15 experiential pieces of work in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district between now and the start of the tournament. Mitsubishi Estate developed and manages the area, which includes the Marunouchi Building, a well-known shopping and dining centre.
The first effort, which Campaign attended, features an installation on the main floor of the building designed to represent the strategy of rugby gameplay. It comprises 240 transparent posters showing the exact movements of players second-by-second during a match between Japan and South Africa. The mapping is based on data taken from footage of the game, and is also shown in video format alongside footage of the game itself.
Separately, daily seminars presented in a theatre at Marunouchi Building to online registrants draw a connection between rugby and the world of business. Dubbed ‘Rug Biz Show', the lectures are delivered by rugby-playing luminaries such as Genichi Tamatsuka, former CEO of the convenience store chain Lawson, and focus on how a background in the sport has helped shape business strategy.
The seminars are supported by a ‘textbook’ in the shape of a rugby ball in which a range of high-profile people discuss what rugby means to them, parallels between the sport and commerce, and lessons learnt from it.
Isobe said most people see rugby as “too physical” and fail to appreciate the brainpower required to play it well. His colleague Yusuke Koyanagi, an art director, went further and said the average person thinks of rugby players as "kinniku baka" (meatheads).
Isobe said that the physical installation was deliberately complex to stimulate people’s curiosity, while the footage of the match itself makes it understandable. He said he hoped that rugby would one day become as popular as baseball and football.
The Rugby World Cup is the world’s third-largest sporting event and will take place across 12 cities from 20 September until 2 November 2019.
Campaign’s view: The Japanese perception of rugby is forgivable—'rugger buggers' are an unsavoury reality, even if they do coexist with 'gentlemen'. But with such a major sporting event on the horizon, it would certainly be a shame if no one paid attention to it. It's rare to see a sponsor take such an active role in helping a sport. The concept is original, scaleable and a good way to build awareness of Mitsubishi Estate's involvement in the tournament. The challenge will be to ensure rugby is presented as exciting as well as respectable. In the forthcoming work, a touch of humour would not go amiss.