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Current as of 19/09/14 07:40PM NZST

Telecom sorry, ditches ABs no-sex plan

By Michael Dickison, Herald online staff

Telecom says adverts are tame, but many embarrassed by 'abstain for game' idea. Photo / Supplied
Telecom says adverts are tame, but many embarrassed by 'abstain for game' idea. Photo / Supplied

Telecom has ditched a controversial campaign asking All Black supporters to abstain from sex during the Rugby World Cup.

The "Abstain for the Game" campaign was roundly criticised after details were revealed by the New Zealand Herald yesterday.

In leaked email circulated this morning to stakeholders, Telecom's head of retail Alan Gourdie said the campaign would be dropped after a "torrid 24 hours in the glare of public spotlight".

"...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," the email read.

In a statement issued by Telecom, Mr Gourdie continues: "No excuses. We caused offence to some people, and for that we apologise.

"Full credit to the opposition. We listened to your views, and we have acted quickly to change our game plan."

In the television ads, former All Black Sean Fitzpatrick drives a pink bumper car in the shape of a fist - with a black rubber "pledge band" on a finger.

Prime Minister John Key yesterday said the campaign was "living proof that not every advertising dollar is worth the money it's spent on".

When asked if he would be abstaining from sex, he said: "In good taste, I'll leave that out."

News of the campaign, revealed in the Herald yesterday morning, immediately made it across the Tasman as Fox Sports tweeted it as "breaking news".

Comments on the broadcaster's website hinged on jokes about sheep, with the Aussies unsure how far the call for abstinence extended.

Major newspapers as far afield as Winnipeg, Canada, and major news wires all picked up on the plight of All Black fans.

The Young Women's Christian Association quickly put out a press release saying it would be better to give out black condoms to promote safe sex.

Calls to the New Zealand Rugby Union, Fitzpatrick and a public relations firm for Saatchi & Saatchi, the advertising agency behind the campaign, went unreturned yesterday as the Herald was inundated with letters from readers. Most called the campaign an embarrassment to the country.

On Facebook, a "Banging for Black" campaign sprung up in competition to Telecom's official All Blacks fan page, BackingBlack.

But Telecom retorted with a Facebook message from Fitzpatrick: "You may have heard that I am asking New Zealanders, on behalf of BackingBlack, to do their duty for the All Blacks and Abstain for the Game. That's right, I am asking you to show your support for the boys."

Telecom representatives fronted on Radio Sport to defend the campaign, and late in the afternoon, Telecom released a sample clip to media.

In it, Fitzpatrick speaks to the camera over a grand overture.

"Thank you, you have taken the first step toward supporting the All Blacks in the great battle of 2011," the former All Black says.

Commercial Approvals Bureau general manager Rob Hoar said the ads had been given a rating of "general except children", allowing them to air at all times except children's shows.

"The ads are very tame, and they wouldn't be of much interest to small children anyway," Mr Hoar said.

"They can pretty much run wherever they want. You're not missing much. It's Sean Fitzpatrick effectively talking to the camera most of the time. There's nothing in the content which is sexual or provocative other than the idea itself - which is probably not something that mums want to be discussing with their 10-year-old children."

One ad featured Fitzpatrick pulling a Trojan horse, and Mr Hoar said he was "not entirely sure" what it was about.

Telecom spokesman Mark Watts denied rumours that chief executive Paul Reynolds and All Black coach Graham Henry had been reluctant about the campaign.

Reynolds had never shown any reluctance - "not to my knowledge" - and Telecom was "emphatic that [reports about Henry] absolutely got it wrong", Mr Watts said.

"Ted Henry was shown the campaign material and admired it. But he didn't need any distractions from the small task of actually winning the Webb Ellis Cup."

The campaign was tongue-in-cheek, humorous and "all about doing the right thing off the field ... all will be revealed in the proper way", he said.

NZRU chief executive Steve Tew told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint the union had approved the campaign and it was "incredibly aware" of the importance of the All Blacks to New Zealand's reputation internationally.

"We work very hard to maintain it at a very high level," Mr Tew said.

But All Black great Brian Lochore said the campaign was crass, disgusting and degrading to New Zealanders.

THE SCRIPT: HOW FITZY SEDUCES THE NATION

"Thank you, you've taken the first step towards supporting the All Blacks in the great battle of 2011. It is New Zealanders like you that make me proud to call myself a Kiwi. Selflessly stepping into the bedchambers of this great country.

"Throwing aside your natural instincts and lacy lingerie, standing proudly in your flannelette pyjamas and whispering, 'I love you, New Zealand.'

"It's people like you who are prepared to lie down and do absolutely nothing for six long weeks that'll help this beautiful country of ours fulfil its destiny.

"Go forth - wearing your pledge band with pride, averting your temptation and shouting from the rooftop: 'Abstain for the game."'

- NZ Herald

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