Mark Irving : Why the All Blacks brand is being forced to evolve

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Sarah Mitchell, (11)of Waikanae, videos All Blacks first five-eighths Dan Carter as he signs autographs after their training session in Wellington earlier this month. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Sarah Mitchell, (11)of Waikanae, videos All Blacks first five-eighths Dan Carter as he signs autographs after their training session in Wellington earlier this month. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mark Irving, advertising company director on why he believes the All Black "brand" is being forced to evolve.

It's been interesting of late watching recent TV ads featuring well-known All Blacks selling almost as equally well-known products.

Nothing unusual in this but what I do find interesting is that in one instance we're seeing three ABs, like a group of naughty school boys distracting Graham Henry by loudly sucking on their breakfast drink. Another for a deodorant spray has the men in black talking about the pain of losing.

What would Buck Shelford, the great undefeated All Black Captain or Colin Meads think of these young upstarts? It shows me time has moved on, society has changed and that it's about doing some ads and making some money.

But it also shows through advertising that the All Blacks are indeed mere mortals who have a sense of humour and who can quite happily act like kids in front of arguably New Zealand's most famous ex school principal. And in fact they're not the immortal, godlike characters that many in this country have built them up to be. It's not just ads making the All Black "brand" a bit more accessible.

It looks like the players are literally reaching out to the fans in the lead up to next years World Cup, if the last few months is anything to go by.

A simple "gidday" and handshake goes a long way to restoring the All Black's brand.

It's the ultimate form of advertising. (Just as a note, I generally dislike calling the ABs or any other sporting team a brand, but in the professional era, like it or not, this is what they have become).

But if we're honest, the men in black really did have some work to do, winning back the hearts and minds of the demanding New Zealand public, if some of the opinions expressed on talkback radio and in the papers are anything to go by.

Comments such as aloof, one dimensional, unsmiling and impossible to gain access to are not the positive comments we want to hear about our number one sporting team. Especially compared to other sportspeople from less prominent codes, who are only too willing to speak to the media. Added to this is the rise of football and the All Whites after their magnificent performance in South Africa.

There's also the undeniable 'soccer Mum factor' where parents are trying to steer their young sons away from rugby and the possibilities of getting seriously injured and later being involved in the after match rugby culture. No doubt the NZRU has been aware of all this and have been tinkering with the All Black brand to suit these changing and challenging times.

The New Zealand Rugby Union can no longer count on unanimous support across the country as there are more and more pursuits competing for our entertainment dollar.

We're nowhere at the level of the Australian sporting market with four big winter codes competing for attention but with the continuing rise of football, netball and league, rugby administrators can no longer be complacent about the status of New Zealand's national game.

So I'm generally pleased that the All Black brand seems to be evolving. I believe it has to change with the times. My suggestion now is a campaign to raise the status of club rugby the length and breadth of the country and to elevate the Ranfurly Shield back to where it once was.

A move in this direction would in my opinion help lift New Zealand rugby and the All Black brand even higher.

Mark Irving is the Director of Range Advertising and Communications.

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