Alarm bells should have given Telecom bosses tinnitus ahead of the launch last week of the no-sex, Abstain for the Game campaign.
- Backing Black, the Telecom-backed, All Blacks supporters network, launched a campaign whereby fans could pledge support by promising to abstain from sex for the duration for the Rugby World Cup.
- In return they would get a pledge band (rubber ring) to signify their commitment.
While justification for World Cup abstinence wasn’t forthcoming, one can only assume participants were supposed to be developing empathy for the All Blacks in a World Cup love lockdown.
However, surely that was based on a false premise. There’s never been any suggestion the national team would be called on to abstain. (And was the unfortunate connection that rubber rings have with farmers docking their sheep ever considered?!)
It’s more likely that they’ll be asked to lay off the alcohol, but with the World Cup being sponsored by Heineken, a temperance campaign would be a definite no-no.
It seems that even before the public weighed in with their universal distain for abstinence the rot was setting in.
Telecom had originally wanted a senior All Black or Coach Graham Henry to front things. They reportedly all had better things to do, and possibly knew to take part may well be endorsement suicide. It was left to ex-All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick to take one for the team.
A video showing a very wooden Fitzy driving about in a fist-shaped golf cart was the final nail in the coffin for the campaign.
The New Zealand public and the world media attacked.
Telecom pulled Abstain for the Game and has been back-peddling ever since, saying the tongue-in-cheek campaign was misunderstood and blaming the seeming failure on media for leaks. It also admitted surveys showed staff were split 50/50 over the campaign.
So is there a lesson?
While rugby is a religion in New Zealand, are faith-based abstinence programmes with promise keeper rings best left to fundamentalist Christians? Are Kiwis to prudish to mix sex and rugby? No. The real lessons are much simpler:
- A campaign should have a clearly defined focus
- Listen to your staff
- If people are quickly distancing themselves, be nimble enough to accurately judge the mood
- If you have to make a tactical withdrawal, take it on the chin.