Adidas Activates its New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team Sponsorship (or, The Power of Symbolism in Non-Traditional Marketing)

Marketing has grown and evolved over the past 50 years at an exponential rate.  Increased investments in sponsorships – primarily in sports – led to a paradigm shift in how marketing departments approach issues regarding brand loyalty, differentiation, and brand awareness (among others).  As companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi trade blows in their exhausting efforts to take market share from one another, they are faced with challenges involving how they will tailor their yearly budgets to their advertising and marketing needs, and benefit from allegiances with other organizations (Coca Cola and its “Coca Cola Family of Drivers” in NASCAR and Pepsi’s sponsorship of England’s FA Cup) to appeal to key target audiences.  Their advertisements do not offer insights on the actual technical peculiarities unique to each product since, except for a few minor differences, Coke and Pepsi really do taste the same.  Advertising’s greatest functions are: the ability to communicate specific traits of the product in question, reinforce product quality claims, and special sales, promotions, and the sort.  The next time you actually watch that interruptive – though still relatively useful – approach to marketing between segments of your favorite TV show, feel free to test my assertion.  It interrupts and viewers are not very tolerant.

In America, we are quite familiar with Nike’s approach to sports marketing: say hardly anything at all regarding the product’s quality itself and align the featured item with symbols of excellence.  Entertaining and sometimes even inspirational, Nike’s ads are regarded among the best in sports marketing.

Adidas also exhibits a true expertise in sports marketing.  After earning the right to outfit New Zealand’s stellar All Blacks Rugby Team, Adidas aired a series of commercials that demonstrated their appreciation and respect for Kiwi (colloquial term used for a person native to New Zealand) rugby culture and its history.  In this commercial (which aired not long after both organizations formed their relationship)…

… Adidas did exactly that.  It is not enough to make the relationship between sponsor and sponsee equallybeneficial for both parties; indeed, there must be a mutual appreciation for one another.  Here, Adidas borrowed brand equity from the New Zealand All Blacks by aligning itself with the proud history of one of the world’s greatest rugby teams.  Adidas did not interrupt the viewing experience by stating loud and clear, “Buy our jerseys!  Look, we support your favorite team!  See?  SEE???”  Rather, with elegant subtlety, you see the team captain donning an Adidas jersey in much the same fashion as those who came before him.

In Adidas’ case – after replacing Canterbury of New Zealand as the team’s official outfitter – the German company understood that it was an “outsider” and new in Kiwi sports in its official role.  Therefore, the onus was on Adidas to connect with the culture it entered and even welcome cultural assimilation.  With the following commercial…

… Adidas showed Kiwi and All Blacks Rugby fans that it understands its role as a member of the All Blacks team.

As seen on Wikipedia: "The haka is a traditional genre of Māori dance. This picture dates from ca. 1845."

Above all, Adidas featured the team’s Haka – a traditional Maori dance the All Blacks perform before every game at the center of the field.  The outfitter aligns its corporate image with the All Blacks and their unique ritual aimed at intimidating their competitors and preparing the black-shirted players for the hard battle ahead.

Today, it is not enough to set a fair price point or aggressively push the quality of your product.  It certainly helps to do so and such direct and interruptive means will always be needed in marketing.  However, today’s is not push (sell! sell! sell! and push the product onto the consumer) market anymore.  It is a pull (the consumer has unprecedented control over the market since there are so many options available, products resemble each other more and more as time goes by, and the economy continues to motivate consumers to get more value for their money) market since the consumer either wants to be a part of something larger or asks “What else does this company do for me?  Do they care about what I care about?” at one point or another.  The former consumer issue more often deals with cause-related marketing, which I will save for another article.

A sincere appreciation, understanding, and respect for symbols is a key part of sports marketing and their very subtle use in non-traditional commercials and advertisements help a sponsor or sponsee maximize their ROI (return on investment) in their efforts to borrow brand equity from each other.  Sponsors must understand not only the market they enter, but the beliefs, needs, and values endemic to the culture with whom they are forming a mutually beneficial relationship.  A sound marketing strategy aims to achieve a broad milieu of objectives, among which Adidas successfully reinforced or gained brand loyalty, increased brand awareness, and differentiated itself from competitors (Adidas surely set itself apart from Nike in New Zealand here).  In the end, it is not enough to obtain the sponsorship – you must activate it correctly, and Adidas’ ad campaign was an expertly executed tactic.

Sponsorship – sports marketing’s most efficient fuel – is rife with the power of symbols.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thanks to Chairman and cofounder of IEG, Lesa Ukman, for her lessons in sponsorships.  Professor Ukman currently teaches a course titled Sponsorships 2.0 at Northwestern University’s Masters of Sports Administration program.  She provided me with the New Zealand All Blacks/Adidas sponsorship relationship, which served as the basis of this analysis of sponsorship in sports marketing.  Also, as always, thank you for your readership and to God for the opportunity to write this article and learn from my research.

New Zealand vs. Australia

  1. Do you do sponsorships? Or part there of?

    I’m the General Secretary for the World Muay Thai Council NZ, we are currently looking for sponsorship in many ways to help get a team of fighters that will represent NZ in the World Championships held in Uzbekistan September 2011.

    Sponsorships currently seeking

    Tracksuit combo’s (Bag, polo, track pants, track jacket and shorts)

    – The tracksuits would need to be cool (weather is very hot) durable and will have the NZ logo as well as your advertising space.

    Flights and transfers

    – Auckland to Korea, transfer and one nights accommodation in Seoul. Korea to Uzbekistan and vice versa


    – One night in Korea/Seoul, 8 nights stay Tashkent, Uzbekistan, upon return one nights stay Korea/Seoul.

    In appreciation of your support, we will advertise your company on the world stage for the entire time that we are traveling, competing and congregating with other countries. Upon our return we will gift you with a framed photo of the team, officials and council members as well as a personalized thank you card from the fighters.

    If this sounds like something that you can assist us with, please let me know. We would also appreciate it if you can point us to other Companies that you may know of that will be able to assist us as well.

    For further info please feel free to contact us.


    Mary Mataio


  2. Thank you, we await your response.

    • Dear Ms. Mataio,

      Thank you for offering the site a truly rewarding opportunity. Even though we are not currently seeking sponsorships, please send any information regarding packages/a la carte items to my email (C O M S P O R T S B I Z AT G M A I L DOT C O M) for further review. I will leave your post up on the site in the event that one of my readers/subscribers would be interested in sponsoring your program as well.

      I look forward to hearing from you soon and wish you the best of luck.

      Best regards,

      Cam Suarez-Bitar.

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