The Player23 Campaign

SA vs NZ in the 2006 Tri-Nations. Photo courtesy of Hamish McConnochie

It is probably an understatement to assert that there are few things that South African men love more than their power tools, and there are even fewer things that all South Africans are more fanatical about than Rugby; and there is nothing that instils more pride than a national replica rugby jersey. The sport is thoroughly ingrained in our national culture and supporters are intensely loyal to their favourite teams; and whereas playing away from home is always a difficult task for a visiting team, playing in front of a South African crowd is enormously intimidating. This latter sentiment is probably yet another understatement: playing in front of a local crowd is beyond intimidating, it’s more like taking on a team of several thousand, all bent on your defeat…

It was with this fact in mind that the Player23 campaign was conceived. Vodacom, a major sponsor of South African Rugby (and official telecommunications provider to the Springbok team) challenged Rugby fans to show just how deep their loyalty runs. The object of the campaign was not to provide the public with educational toys, but rather to entice Rugby fanatics to get into the spirit of the game, show their support for their favourite local team by dressing up for games, and participate in online activities.

A central idea informing the general concept of the campaign is that supporters play an integral role in the success of a team. In accordance with this, the usual rugby star – fan relationship is inverted; this is to say that instead of a fan pledging his time and allegiance to his team, the team rather idolises their number one fan. In the above-the-line (mass media) advertising campaign, South Africa’s most popular rugby players follow their number one fan (and hence 23rd member of the team), aptly named “Jan”, as he embarks on his daily activities. The adverts were a hit, and the sight of famous Springboks hunting for Jan’s used ice-cream stick was as funny as it was, ultimately, unlikely.

Whereas the mass media (TV, radio, print) side of the Player23 campaign was directed at generating awareness, participation was essentially conducted over digital and mobile formats. The online digital component of the campaign was great fun and really well designed by the Cape Town based company ClickThinking.

The webpage contained several features that a fan would find useful including log fixtures, news items, results and a competition (the prize was a Ford Bantam bakkie). Fans could download a desktop application programme that included a game wherein the PC user would “kick” place kicks and points were awarded if goal posts were reached and bisected by the virtual rugby ball (following real-life rugby rules). The downloaded app also allowed fans to upload photos and videos of themselves at games/before games/after games, contact other fans, receive tweets and partake in an online forum discussing issues surrounding South African and world rugby. Essentially, the site created a social media platform centred on, but not exclusive to, South African rugby and offered features that fans would enjoy.

Fans flocked to the site (many enticed by the chance to win the Bantam, and many who were enticed by the possibility of seeing a photo of themselves, taken by an appointed photographer at local games, uploaded into cyberspace) and the number of users grew to about fifty thousand people. This number points to how many “fanatical” fans there are in South Africa, eager to engage with other fans and generally indulge their passion… And having passion is what being a fan is fundamentally about.