Telecom NZ’s RWC ‘Abstain For The Game’ Campaign Axed


All Blacks sponsor Telecom New Zealand has pulled the ‘Abstain for the game’ campaign after an avalanche of public complaints and media criticism.


Part of the official sponsor’s ‘Backing Black’ initiative, the objective was to galvanise support behind the home team as it chased rugby glory on home soil. The idea was simple, abstain from sex during the tournament (which lasts almost two months) to show your support for the home team.


The campaign was cancelled before all the elements were rolled out. But it was fronted by All Black legend Sean Fitzpatrick and was spearheaded by TV spots and online video. There were also press and outdoor executions and a digital hub.


Other rumoured elements of the campaign included plans to give participants black rubber finger rings. During the planning stage, it has been reported that ideas included posters being placed at eye level in men’s urinals in bars and restaurants urging men who are urinating to “think of your Mum in a bikini… abstain for the All Blacks” and placing cold showers outside popular bars to show that publicans were committed to hosing down anyone tempted to break their vow of chastity.


The campaign certainly made its mark, generating headlines around the world. The campaign received criticism from unlikely parties, with the Young Women’s Christian Association suggesting handouts of black condoms would be more effective that the ‘Abstain’ campaign.


Even Prime Minister John Key joined the chorus of criticism saying the campaign was “living proof” that not all advertisement money was wisely spent.


Agency Saatchi & Saatchi says the campaign aimed to be a tongue-in-cheek, fun, and a light-hearted way to get rugby people, and all New Zealanders, talking about the Rugby World Cup and letting them share their support for the All Blacks in an authentic New Zealand way


“It’s not rocket science . . . it is entertaining, provocative, and good natured. I think it will appeal to true rugby loving heartland supporters,” comments Saatchi global chief executive and New Zealand Telecom board member Kevin Roberts


Nevertheless, despite Saatchi’s defence of its work, the campaign was cancelled and the telecom company’s retail head Alan Gourdie sent an apologetic email to staff.


“It’s been a torrid 24 hours in the glare of public spotlight, as well as in that of our own team’s views and opinions. Nothing like a full and frank exchange of views! But even before the full campaign was properly kicked off, it’s pretty obvious to all that we misjudged public opinion. So you may or may not be surprised to hear that following the strong reaction yesterday, we won’t be proceeding with the ‘Abstain’ campaign. I would like to give a personal apology for any embarrassment the campaign has caused,” said Gourdie.




When an official sponsor campaign misfires in this way, it opens up opportunities for ambush advertisers to leverage the sponsorship space with easy guerrilla criticisms and responses.


After all, the media love a story about big businesses wasting money on daft stunts and offensive advertising (especially when it involves sex). So this can further amplify ambush work.

In this case, brands ranging from Moa Beer to Hell Pizza all responded with their own ‘pro-sex’ responses. Thus the sponsor created a free environment for non sponsors to leverage their investment.


Individuals also got creative in their anti-campaign responses: mock ‘Rooting for the Wallabies’ Vodafone ads went viral in support of the Australian team and a Facebook group called ‘Banging for Black also appeared within a few days.











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