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Brand Experience

A word from our sponsors

Josh Burt September 2011

Corporate affiliations with sports teams to engender greater brand loyalty is nothing new. In the past they have been a proven strategy to not only to amplify brand perception through association, but get the formula right and commercially the rewards can be enormous. Just think of the global exposure and merchandise successful teams such as Manchester United push through as a fanatical fan base look to support their team with their voice and wallet.

So the notion of ‘sponsorship’ has never simply been an outreach of generous corporate support, there is always an expectation of a profitable return. Perceptually the equation is pretty simple – fans love their team, so will in turn love the sponsor brands that support them and we will all live happily ever after right? Well as Adidas and Telecom, two of the All Blacks principal sponsors recently found out, there is no right-of-passage to winning the hearts and minds of their fans through mere association alone. 

In fact, the significant sponsorship fee to support such a powerful brand will not buy the rights to such fan loyalty, moreover the investment allows the opportunity to access and engage with their audiences. As a consequence, it is often the manner in which organisations leverage their affiliation with that beloved sports team which will determine a successful sponsorship outcome.

Getting it spectacularly wrong

It may sound obvious that the way in which organisations leverage their brand must be geared towards the values that the sponsorship asset embodies and delivered in a manner that connects with their audience. But with arguably one of New Zealand’s most potent global brands, it is surprising how two sizeable organisations got it so spectacularly wrong.

In recent years Adidas have been able to capture the very spirit of New Zealanders deep seeded emotion with the All Blacks in an almost sacred manner with much of their campaign advertising. But the well-published events surrounding inequitable pricing of the Adidas sponsored All Blacks jersey in which they looked to profiteer from exploiting New Zealanders ‘right’ to ‘their’ brand was never going to wash well. Like a school yard bully stealing lunch money, no New Zealander was going to accept the ‘standard commercial practise and international pricing policy’ line that Adidas touted.

The reality is, just like a player does not own an All Blacks jersey, neither does a sponsor. Regardless of the giant sporting brand that buys the right to have their brand sit alongside the silver fern, any suggestion of exploiting that privilege at the expense of restricting New Zealanders ability to support ‘their’ team was never going to be accepted without a fight. Despite the national outcry, the unmoved reaction of Adidas has seen the domestic boycotting of their product and the negative PR generated will impact not only their commercial return over the RWC, but also those of their retail distributors.

Abstain! Really?

It was no surprise to see Telecom ‘abstain’ from its attempted campaign to leverage their association with the All Blacks. Making a mockery of the Wallabies is one thing, but to ridicule the sanctity of our national pride in the form of the All Blacks is another. The very notion of abstinence over what will be a stressful period for New Zealanders is a ridiculous concept in itself! For the wealth of resources Telecom has at their disposal, it is untenable how this ‘abstain for the game’ campaign managed to even fly as an idea within their hierarchy without someone sensing that it would polarise the majority of New Zealanders. That failed campaign of epic proportions will be costly for Telecom on many levels, none more so than the missed opportunity to positively associate themselves with the All Blacks in a RWC campaign hosted on home soil.

Sponsorship is a difficult field to measure in terms of ROI and an increasingly expensive one which organisations struggle with. Leveraging mutual values associated with an organisations brand and that of the sponsorship asset must be the focus. Just like the game itself, losers in this field will not be tolerated.


Donna 12 September 2011 at 5:40pm

Nicely said... if I was from either aforementioned business I would feel most chagrined and rather sheepish too. It's hard to figure out what they were thinking or for that matter where their agencies heads were in this mix.
Makes you wonder about Heineken’s last minute announcement of the price of a beer at the games. Were they being super smart leaving this until the day before the opening match, or did they just get lucky? And, I wonder - was the price point - a pretty reasonable $7.50 – what they had originally planned or have the brand and finance teams being battling it out in the boardroom ever since the Adidas debacle? We will never know.

What do you think?