Are We Overinvested in All Blacks Brand Culture?

I’m not qualified at all to comment on the detail of the All Blacks embarrassing departure from the World Cup. In fact I don’t even follow the game very closely. What I do know is that as a nation we are far too psychologically invested in the fortunes of fifteen sportsmen.

The NZRFU marketing machine has to accept full responsibility for putting the team on such a high pedestal, in order to feather its nest with huge sums in sponsorship. In fact I’m surprised the team members have time to attend regular practice sessions given the demands to appear in a wide variety of TV commercials promoting airlines, credit cards, sportswear, food and beverages and even underpants. As an “iconic” brand the All Blacks have over-promised and under-delivered. It all looks rather like marketing hype gone mad.

But what concerns me most is that so much of our national self-esteem hangs on the All Blacks performance. New Zealand has so much more to offer than rugby, hakas and bubbling hot mud pools, but we cannot seem to move beyond these cliches. It’s cringeful at times. 

If our emerging technology companies could secure even a tenth of the media coverage and financial backing that the ABs get, imagine how beneficial this would be to the economy. What if our brightest science researchers could get proper long term funding sponsorship and didn’t have to head overseas to make a living.Then we really would have something to celebrate. We need some new heroes.

11 thoughts on “Are We Overinvested in All Blacks Brand Culture?

  1. Agreed there and as you say its about “investment” and “marketing” which equals “money”.

    And now half the team is off to collect more cash in Europe which is great for them but rugby like football is just a business these days. So when it comes to representing your country it can be hard to make the transition.

    The All Blacks brand is a money making machine and the loss to France is a major hit to the bottom line. The problem is that money can go to ones head and clearly it shows in that all the underdog teams have been stepping up and bashing the mollycoddled celebrity teams.

    But i agree its time that Kiwis had some point of reference other than the ABs. It’s almost become pathological.

  2. One issue is that Sports stars make very accessable heroes. They tend to look good, be a bit extroverted, and do stuff that looks good on TV and is at least vaguely comprehensible to the average punter.

    The smartest people in tech and academia, on the other hand, tend to be quite introverted, don’t care about their appearance, and do stuff that only their peers can really get a grip on and has very little media appeal whatsoever.

  3. Hi Seth. I hope we aren’t so shallow as a nation, but you raise a good point. I know there are some young hotties to be found in the world of academic research. The image of the unkempt and socially awkward scientist is a bit of a cliche.

    I think research heroes and cool entrepreneurs are very marketable, especially in the context of them being job makers and creators of wealth. Perhaps the NZRFU marketers could find themselves a new marketing niche that actually generates a net economic return to the country?

    It says a lot about our national psyche that we don’t celebrate business and academic success loudly enough. This needs to change.

  4. Mind you compare this to cricket in India which is at an even higher level in the national psyche. If we believe sport to be war without guns then its easy to see how people become jingoistic about their teams.

  5. Excellent post. I don’t know how I missed it, so thanks for pointing it out to me, Paul.

    It seems to me that researchers, scientists, and geeks of all stripes are very marketable these days, especially those of an entrepreneurial bent. Microsoft, Apple, Google…. all headed by people who became famous and, to a degree, cool, through the technological success. And NZ has its own examples, dating all the way back to Ernest Rutherford, and all the way up to Peter Jackson. Maybe it’s a bit odd to include Peter Jackson, but I’m not sure we’ve progressed to the point where Kiwis can start celebrating artistic success unless it comes with geek and business success, too, as well as the approval of Hollywood. But maybe I’m just saying this because I live and work in China, where the most popular kids in your average high school class are the best students, not the best athletes or best drinkers.

    It’s times like the rugby world cup I’m glad for the relative isolation from my native culture. But then again, here I am in Beijing counting down to the Olympics…

  6. It’s highly appropriate to include PJ. He’s a great example of someone who is both artistic and entrepreneurial and has risen above the prevailing culture that promotes gladiator worship.

    One of the reasons he did so well was that he was successfully able to make the connection across to the old money in Hollywood and then leverage both his talent and their investment. We certainly need economic role models like him.

  7. Wangbo, it amuses me when people here moan about Chinese kids being so good academically or musically because “that’s all they do”. It’s as if a strong work ethic is only admired on the sports field or pub!

    Johnny Wilkinson and Dan Carter kick hundreds of balls a week. Hard work is generally the only root to success whether on the pitch or in the classroom.

  8. Rugby is a zero sum game. Somebody wins, and somebody always loses. Whereas in technology, science and commerce – synergy and “everybody wins” is a common outcome. It bewilders me why an entire nation would tie it’s sense of self-worth into a field where they are as likely to come up losers as winners.

    If you asked a typical New Zealander to name three New Zealand Nobel Prize winners, they probably couldn’t. But they could probably name three rugby players. This sends completely the wrong message.

    In the USA and Britain, geeks are sexy. The tech world now abounds with rock stars like Kevin Rose, Cory Doctorow and Wil Harris.

    As Bill Gates once said in a visit to a school – “Don’t hassle the geek in the corner. One day he’s going to be your boss.”

    Chris Harrod
    Technical Writer

  9. Rugby is so deeply rooted in the national psyche that we are unwilling to try things that are untested.Time is associated with plausability.Rugby is
    not just a sport, it is related to our conception of ourselves.When the All
    Blacks lose we are nationally mortified because it is so deeply engrained
    as the pinnacle of success.No other role models will get a look in as a result of nationalistic fervour that emanates from putting everthing into the
    same basket.Rugby is our signature.It is our statement of our being.New
    Zealand desperately needs role models that are not in a state of confidence fluctuation that affects completely how we feel about ourselves.

  10. Hi Pete. You are quite correct in asserting that rugby is viewed as more than just sport. The fact that this thread has received the most comments of any on my blog is testament to this.

    If being an All Black is the “pinnacle of success” then it seems like we need some new aspirational goals. The reality is that most of the population will never play the game and very few will ever reach the “pinnacle”.

    On the other hand, if we had upheld writers, entrepreneurs, physicists and artists as our role models – now that opens up a plethora of aspirational opportunities.

  11. I cannot agree more. For most countries, from an economic perspective, sport is an add on to other sectors, and a loss is taken as such. The main issue I see is that an inordinate amount of time is taken up by watching the game. A visiting US social psychologist recently showed (unfortunately can’t remember his name) how detrimental the over preoccupation with sport is on national economic performance, as it detracts from people reading, learning and developmental time. All this detracts from the real issues facing society and using our collective energies for something constructive, both personally and nationally. Sport should be relegated back to where it belongs, as a “sport” in the true sense of the word, thus liberating the nation to get on with real life issues!

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