Big money for Telecom ad gaffe

By Michael Dickison

Former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, who was to front the campaign, first asked if it had the backing of the All Blacks. Photo / Supplied
Former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, who was to front the campaign, first asked if it had the backing of the All Blacks. Photo / Supplied

The defunct "Abstain for the Game" campaign probably cost Telecom hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop, say industry insiders.

The campaign, fronted by former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick, was to run during the Rugby World Cup urging All Blacks supporters to abstain from sex.

At least two television advertisements were produced, posters were to be put in bus shelters and black rubber "pledge bands" were to be distributed among the willing.

Telecom cancelled the promotion yesterday after a strong reaction from the public.

The campaign was created by ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which refused to comment yesterday. But a spokeswoman for a rival advertising agency said the cost of developing the campaign would certainly have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It would have been done by a creative team... who obviously thought it was a good idea, but sometimes advertising people get a bit too close to the project."

Brand strategist Jill Brinsdon, from Radiation, said the thinking would have been to create "noise and talk".

"They've used a 'challenger' idea, where you think 'We've got nothing to lose. Let's do something controversial'. Challenger brands might be quirky or tongue-in-cheek. The thing is, Telecom's brand isn't that. We want them to be one of the big, solid, faithful, trustworthy brands."

The message still had to align with the brand, she said.

Backing the All Blacks was perfect for Telecom - dictating sexual behaviour to fans was wrong. She said it had further damaged the brand, which was hurt by the XT mobile network debacle.

"It would have been pitched by a slick Auckland agency saying it's so funny and will go viral and because Sean Fitzpatrick is doing it everyone will realise it's funny," she said.

"In truth it's not funny."

A marketing research firm said the cost of testing the idea in front of a target audience would have been negligible compared to producing and placing the television ads.

Staff working on branding at Vodafone suggested that Fitzpatrick's appearance fees would have bumped up the cost to at least $150,000.

Other companies have been quick to capitalise on the controversy surrounding the campaign with their own ads. M&C Saatchi put out a "clarification" to distance itself from the creators of Abstain for the Game.

"M&C Saatchi is not Saatchi & Saatchi," it said.

"We are an agency that would never ask New Zealanders to abstain from sex during rugby, or any other time for that matter."

Durex condoms has also produced a print ad based on the campaign, with the slogan: "Why abstain?"

Fitzpatrick, who was to front the campaign, spoke to the Herald from South Africa yesterday morning before the campaign was cancelled.

"If it had been launched as it was meant to be, it might have been a bit different. It caught a lot of people by surprise ...

"I'm having a bit of a laugh," Fitzpatrick said. "It was never intended to offend anyone."

The first thing he had done when approached about the campaign was to ask whether the All Blacks were behind it, Fitzpatrick said.

Asked if he would be abstaining for the two-month tournament, Fitzpatrick said: "I will be supporting the All Blacks. The All Blacks make how many sacrifices? There's a few small ways for us to support it."

He declined to be any more specific and also declined to reveal how much he had been paid to front the campaign.

BACKTRACK

Wednesday:

"We've tried to take a way that is fun and is absolutely tongue-in-cheek and is absolutely based on what, we think, is Kiwi humour ... So this is something which I don't think is prudish or is precious but is one which is a good laugh." - Kieren Cooney, Telecom director of marketing

Thursday:

"We designed the 'Abstain' campaign with the best of intentions, and attempted to strike a humorous tone in order to rally even more support behind the All Blacks, but we got it wrong. We caused offence to some people, and for that we apologise." - Alan Gourdie, Telecom retail chief executive

- NZ Herald

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