The All Blacks are at the centre of a new public relations controversy - this time over a supposedly humorous and edgy Telecom-led ad campaign to have fans abstain from sex during the World Cup.

The NZ Rugby Union is understood to have been irritated by the campaign, although it issued a supportive statement last night.

"Abstain for the All Blacks" - to start late next week - will be driven by the Telecom-sponsored official All Blacks' fan site, BackingBlack. It asks supporters to avoid sex during the World Cup to support the team.

The campaign will be fronted by former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, and participants will receive black rubber finger-rings to show they have signed up for the World Cup next month.


Organisers hope the rings will galvanise fans in the way Sir Peter Blake's red socks did for New Zealand's successful America's Cup yachting campaigns.

But a marketing person familiar with the campaign said Telecom's advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, considered it "edgy" and expected it to be controversial.

He told the Herald: "I think this thing is a bloody embarrassment. The rest of the world will take the piss out of us. This will be much better sport than the rugby. It's inexplicable."

The campaign will run in various media. Posters bearing the slogan, "Touch, pause and don't engage" will be placed in bus shelters.

Originally, the plan also included signs above urinals in bars and restaurants, urging men to "think of your mum in a bikini - Abstain for the All Blacks" but they were cut from the campaign.

The BackingBlack campaign was founded by Telecom and is endorsed by the NZRU as the official fan club for the All Blacks.

Telecom director of marketing Kieren Cooney said the new campaign was intended as "tongue-in-cheek".

"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."

Mr Cooney said the NZRU had been involved with Abstain for the All Blacks from its conception.

A source said the NZRU was not happy with the original campaign and asked for changes.

"It has been involved from the top down with BackingBlack and this campaign itself ... we have been dealing with it on a weekly, if not daily basis," said Mr Cooney.

Later last night the NZRU's commercial manager, Paul Dalton, issued a statement: "Telecom and BackingBlack are great supporters of the All Blacks, and put a lot of energy and creativity into getting fans involved.

"Our partners manage their own creative ideas but we are in the loop on their latest campaigns, and as with other BackingBlack activity we expect this to be entertaining and get people talking."

Asked if the All Blacks themselves would abstain from sex for the cup, Mr Dalton said: "Last time we checked, the All Blacks' match preparations aren't built around sponsors' advertising campaigns, so let's not confuse the two.

"This is all about Telecom doing something fun with, and for, the fans and should be very obvious to everyone that it is not to be taken too seriously."

Mr Cooney said the concept for Abstain for the All Blacks came from members of the BackingBlack fanclub.

"It's tongue-in-cheek, and what we think is really Kiwi humour to get the nation rallying behind the All Blacks."

Auckland University senior marketing lecturer Tom Agee asked if the campaign was a practical joke when he was told about it.

"I'm gobsmacked ... The idea behind the campaign is to get some attention and to get some talk, but I can't believe anybody would participate in that."

Asked if the All Blacks needed more controversy after the row over the price of adidas jerseys, Mr Cooney said: "I can't really see the parallel with adidas. First of all, we're not looking to sell anything directly from this - what we're doing is really trying to galvanise support for the All Blacks."

What do you think of the new BackingBlack campaign?