The Press, September 2011
Big hits, intimidation, name calling and raw aggression – yes it’s the marketing battle around the Rugby World Cup (RWC) kicking off this Friday night. And the rugby will probably be fun too.

The favourites in the ‘marketing cup’ are of course the family of sponsors central to the tournament. According to the RWC website there are the worldwide partners like Emirates, Heineken and Mastercard, who have paid top dollar to get preeminent positions in the sponsorship family. Then is the next tier of ‘official sponsors’ such as Brancott Estate (the old Montana), Microsoft and Blackberry.

At the lowest level are those inescapable “official” suppliers. Official ball supplier (Gilbert), official non-alcoholic beverage supplier (Coca-Cola) and that much coveted spot of ‘official supplier to the rugby world cup of accounting and tax advisory services’ in KPMG.

These sponsors get heavyweight protection for their investments. In 2007 the government enacted the Major Events Management Act (MEMA), designed to make it harder for other companies to ‘ambush’ official sponsors of major events.

Ambush marketing is of course a tradition at major sporting events, the ploys to grab some reflected glory off a major event like the RWC ranging from the blatant to the subtle. Kulula pushed the line at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, promoting themselves as the “Unofficial Airline of You Know What.”

Closer to home marketers have also been testing boundaries. Lion, with their Steinlager brand, has resurrected the famous white can, and with advertising headlines like “We’re thirsty too,” and “Everyone likes a comeback” clearly alluded to the All Blacks pursuit of the William Webb Ellis Trophy, without using the RWC brand name.

Marketing that associates your company’s brand with major events when you are not an official sponsor, or is on display in the vicinity of the event, is subject to serious sanctions under the MEMA. Fines of up to $150,000 can be imposed on transgressors.

And the authorities are taking it seriously.  According to media reports the Ministry of Economic Development has a crack squad of 12 patrolling Eden Park, and the local councils around the country scanning their towns and cities looking for non-permitted marketing.

Such protection of sponsorship investment is sensible in terms of retaining the confidence of the large corporations that help make these events possible. Although it does get a bit silly when any commercial association with the RWC name is prohibited, to the extent your local pub isn’t allowed to use these hallowed terms when promoting a viewing of RWC games during the tournament.

Then there are those who have taken the opposite stance, completely disassociating themselves from the event that is set to dominate our national consciousness. TV FOUR’S
‘Home of NOT Rugby’ campaign is clever positioning for those few non-rugby heads left.

Equally smart is Sky TV ‘match fit’ campaign, which has been the outstanding effort of the pre-RWC advertising, helping position them as ‘the’ broadcaster for tournament amongst the four TV stations showing it.

There have been other good marketing campaigns from RWC sponsors like Coca Cola and ANZ, but unfortunately there have been plenty of knock-ons when it comes to RWC marketing.

Misunderstanding, or underestimating, the customer’s view is at heart of almost any marketing blunder. It is certainly the case with Telecom’s spectacularly ill-considered abstinence campaign.

The only explanation is that Saatchi got the Tui beer brief mixed up with the Telecom one. While abstain for the team would have worked brilliantly for the ‘lads’ that Tui targets, it was less logical for a punter like myself keen to involve my rugby-mad 12 year-old son. As a teenager would say ‘Epic fail’.

Early marketing cup favourites were Adidas, but they have managed to sabotage their chances with “jerseygate”. Treating their customers like morons, assuming we wouldn’t work out that they were selling jerseys for half the price online, was not smart marketing. This was exacerbated by a slow and arrogant response to the growing furore.

Contrast that to Heineken, who made an embarrassing stumble with their “This is the game” advertising which celebrated rugby’s history and tradition. The only problem being their historical footage was actually an early game of rugby league, with the delicious irony that images of players who at the time were shunned for wanting to play for money, were now being used to promote the highly professionalised game of Rugby Union.

To their credit Heineken apologised quickly for what was a genuine error and have been working to fix the advertisement.

Of course the biggest brand opportunity in the RWC is ‘brand New Zealand’. The opportunity for our ‘stadium of four million’ is to deliver on the expectations for the event. With 85,000 visitors and four billion (supposedly) television viewers, New Zealand is on display.

Our 6000 RWC volunteers, the venues, hotels, restaurants, shops, our ‘on the street friendliness’ will all contribute to whether brand New Zealand is strengthened or diminished over the Cup. Martin Snedden and his team have done a great job in getting the stadium ready, it’s now up to us all to deliver on the promise.

Of course, the All Blacks actually winning the Webb Ellis trophy would do more for their brand than all the marketing dollars in the world. Good luck boys, we are right behind you!

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