Against all odds and predictions, the Springboks won the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan on 2 November 2019. “Captain Fantastic” Siya Kolisi and our boys in green and gold were bringing the Webb Ellis Cup home for the third time – and South Africa erupted in celebration!
Amid all the jubilation that engulfed the country that sunny Saturday afternoon, the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA) and Bombela (its concessionaire) realised that the Boks’ triumphant homecoming would be an ideal opportunity to tap into the national zeitgeist while simultaneously building brand goodwill and equity, and promoting the Gautrain as a lifestyle enhancer.
It was decided on the spot to offer free Gautrain rides to OR Tambo International Airport to supporters wearing Springbok regalia on the day of the Boks’ return. Moments after the final whistle was blown, the GMA briefed Flow, its social and digital media agency, to act with speed and immediately put out the word on all the Gautrain’s social media channels. But they didn’t have any extra digital budget for this tactical opportunity – whatever Flow did would have to be within the regular monthly retainer …
While the GMA and Bombela sorted out the logistics, Flow set about creating social media posts and other digital collateral for Gautrain stations to promote the free service. Critical to this process was uploading terms and conditions to the MyGautrain microsite that Flow had developed, to ensure that people knew the cut-off time for the last train leaving from the airport, that they couldn’t bring luggage with them, and so on.
Patriotism was running high and the campaign soon caught fire, with impressive organic coverage not just on the Gautrain’s social media channels, but also news of the free Gautrain rides spreading to mainstream online platforms such as News24, TimesLive, IOL, EWN and The Citizen. #Bokmania was taking hold!
On the Tuesday, the GMA and Bombela threw open the gates to thousands of excited South African rugby lovers and patriots from all walks of life, decked out in their Springbok regalia. The gees was high on the trains as total strangers became instant friends and joined in on impromptu (and, it must be admitted, often tuneless) renditions of Shosholoza and Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.
A social media team from Flow was on the ground, at the platforms and stations, on the trains and at the airport, to cover the Springboks’ homecoming live. They captured all the raucous celebrations, music and colour in their photos, videos and posts as the excitement mounted.
One of the Boks’ flights was delayed, and there was some anxiety because the cut-off time for trains leaving the airport was 9.04pm (to extend this or add more trains would have had massive cost implications, which would ultimately have hurt the taxpayer).
But eventually our champions arrived, to much joy and ululation, and #SpringboksHomecoming, #Bokke and #SpringbokChampions were trending as a slightly shellshocked Siya, Rassie, Faf and the rest of the team greeted the throng of noisy, adoring supporters.
Then it was back on the Gautrain for hundreds of fans (and our live coverage team), exhausted but ecstatic at having had the chance to welcome home their heroes.
Over the few hours of the Boks’ homecoming alone, our organic tweets earned almost 300 000 impressions, with 499 retweets, 722 link clicks, 1 400 likes and 100 comments. This was supported by Facebook and Instagram live coverage, which also fared well. There was a massive spike in positive sentiment towards the Gautrain, with a succession of favourable and grateful comments from commuters. The #Bokmania campaign was a resounding success!
We were thrilled to have played a role in building national pride with our viral campaign to offer free Gautrain rides to Bok fans, riding the wave of patriotic sentiment as South Africa basked in the heady glow of being world champions. It was an honour to have contributed to this seminal social cohesion moment in our nation’s sporting history, in our own small way.
Because of time constraints, a decision was taken to run this campaign mainly on the Gautrain’s social media platforms, in the belief that Gautrain followers would take note and spread the word, and that national media outlets would come on board to give free editorial coverage to the free-rides promotion.
Therefore, the main thrust was for Flow to create content and artwork for social media posts promoting the offer, and to direct readers to the www.mygautrain.co.za microsite for details of the offer, as well as terms and conditions. Artwork was also produced for the Gautrain’s digital screens and other touchpoints.
This strategy proved to be correct, with the #BokJersey promotion going viral on several online media platforms, in addition to the Gautrain’s own channels.
The prongs of the strategy were celebratory, informational and participatory – the latter coming to fruition in our live coverage of fans riding the Gautrain to the airport to welcome home the best rugby team in the world.
The aim was to encourage participation and take-up of the service, build brand awareness and encourage positive engagement with Gautrain on social media during the campaign, all of which were achieved with aplomb.
The content requirements were mainly confined to creating social media posts in the run-up to the free service, and during the live coverage of the event, drumming up excitement while showing fans celebrating in their Bok gear.
Here is an example of one of the posts that went up, with a link to the microsite entry (now disabled as the promotion has ended):
Halala to the @Springboks! Let's give our boys a heroes' welcome home today. Wear your #Bokke gear & ride the Gautrain for free (minus luggage) to OR Tambo from 1.30pm to 3.30pm & back from 6pm to 8pm! Ts&Cs: https://t.co/phaVXWoDk3 #RWC2019Champions #StrongerTogether #Springboks pic.twitter.com/cozX1lCzh4— Gautrain (@TheGautrain) November 5, 2019
These posts were created by Flow's content and social media specialists, who also wrote an entry for the MyGautrain microsite to house the details of the promotion and the terms and conditions of the free service.
Flow writers and editors were also on hand remotely during the live coverage to edit and curate posts, including communicating on social media the fact that the last train would leave the airport at 9.04pm (the original offer had stated that there would be free rides back from the airport between 6pm and 8pm, but this had to be extended when the Boks’ plane was delayed).
It was important for the social media communications to be clear and unambiguous, while reflecting the celebratory mood on the ground, to ensure everyone who took advantage of the offer was familiar with the terms of the service and was kept up to speed with when the trains were departing.
It was also important for them to get first-hand video coverage of the Boks arriving, rather than relying on generic footage from news outlets, and to get this up on the social platforms as quickly as possible, to tap into and further fuel the enthusiasm of the elated fans.
Creativity and innovation
The decision to tap into the national spirit and run with the free Gautrain rides for Springbok fans in itself showed creativity and innovation, in an excellent display of progressive on-the-spot thinking by a government agency.
Flow had to sidestep rights issues (there was no budget to purchase copyrighted Springbok images) to come up with #BokJersey campaign artwork that was sufficiently striking while not infringing on any copyright. This in itself displayed agile thinking and creativity.
Finally, quick thinking and adaptation were required by the team doing the live coverage on the day of the Boks’ arrival, as flight times changed and the messaging had to be constantly refreshed and communicated in a compelling, clear and accessible way to avoid any possible fallout.
The social media team at the airport found the cell networks very congested, and pivoted quickly to take very short videos that didn’t use much data, sending them via WhatsApp to the team back at the office to edit and upload as quickly as possible, to keep the #BoksJersey campaign relevant and trending.
Coverage and reach
The initial announcement post on social media for the free rides on Saturday 2 November 2019 met with a highly favourable response, followed by the informational posts about the free rides on the Monday and peaking with the promotional and live coverage posts on the Tuesday – the day of the Boks’ return.
From 2 to 5 November 2020, the posts about the Springboks (purely organic, with no paid boosting) delivered the following coverage:
- Total impressions for campaign – 342 800
- 295 000 impressions on 5 November 2019 alone
- 722 link clicks, 499 retweets, 1 400 likes and 100 replies on 5 November 2019
- #SpringboksArrival trended at number one
- Other hashtags such as #Bokke and #SpringbokChampions also trended
- Total impressions – 129 700
- Viral impressions – 11 700
- Viral amplification up 500%
- 494 reactions (likes, comments, shares) – up 238%
- 1 900 total clicks (links, photos, video plays, website clicks) – up 28%
Furthermore, free coverage of the Gautrain #BokJersey offer was also received in media outlets such as News24, SABC News, IOL, TimesLive, The Citizen, The South African, Talk Radio 702, Power 987, Good Things Guy, Traveller24, Getaway, Jacaranda FM and several other national, regional and community titles.
The impressive social media reach and engagement figures listed above, and the consistently positive and warm sentiment on the day of the free service, provide tangible results for what was a purely organic campaign with no media budget behind it.
A total of 425 free trips to the airport were recorded on the day. The exact ridership and take-up of the promotion on the day cannot be ascertained, as gates at certain stations were opened for anyone wearing Springbok gear to enter the Gautrain system, making accurate biometric measurement difficult, but estimates run into several thousands.
Our social media team reported full trains going by at Marlboro Station, for instance, unable to stop because they were so packed. Instead of grumbling, passengers on the platforms cheered the trains on!
It can be said with certainty that hundreds of fans and families – parents with their excited children – hopped on the train to the airport, introducing many kids to the thrill of riding on Mzansi’s high-speed bullet train for the first time, building the commuters of the future.
This tactic – associating the Gautrain with fun, excitement and African pride by tapping into the Boks’ victory – certainly served to enhance the brand’s reputation, evidenced by the warm comments and engagement on social media. It also ties in with our strategic imperative of promoting the Gautrain as a lifestyle choice – a conduit to good times with family and friends – and not just as a professional service to get people to and from work and meetings.
Overall, this very low-budget campaign reached its objectives of building the Gautrain brand, and cementing its positioning among the rugby-loving public as a desirable and family-friendly public transport alternative to get to and from lifestyle and sporting events.