Superheroes or villains?
New Zealand Rugby is defending a new advertisement featuring the All Blacks after an anti-violence charity called it “excessively violent”.
In the three-minute video, made for the All Blacks’ main sponsor, insurer AIG, a group of players arrive in downtown Tokyo at the famous Shibuya Crossing and promptly start tackling unaware bystanders.
A young woman gets flattened by Jerome Kaino, Liam Squire drops his shoulder into a cyclist and Scott Barrett takes out a young couple. An entire pack also manages to stop dead a car in traffic.
Thankfully, there is a twist - the players are superheroes simply saving people from the perils of Japan’s capital city. The young woman was about to be hit by a tanker, the cyclist was about to crash into a car door, and falling debris was about to squash the couple.
AIG said the ad would “boost the All Blacks’ profile in Japan in preparation of a more prominent involvement in the Japanese rugby market leading into 2019”.
The response on social media has been mostly positive.
“Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. The All Blacks may be one of the coolest sports franchises in the world. What a great ad,” said Clemens Rettich on Twitter.
“Must admit I was a bit worried about ABs tackling random people in the street but it had a wonderful ending. Cool add with a difference,” said Mike Fooy on Facebook.
The anti-violence and anti-domestic abuse charity Shine has a different take.
Its general manager, Jane Drumm, said the ad made her feel “really uncomfortable watching huge All Blacks tackling smaller Japanese people and throwing them forcefully to the ground”.
“I was disturbed that the ABs thought this was a great way to promote rugby to a different culture. I would imagine that many viewers will find this advertisement confusing and shocking.”
She said there was an aspect of cultural imperialism in the ad, whereby Japanese people need the All Blacks to save them.
Drumm said some of Shine’s staff members, including two who work with students in high schools and another who runs an anti-violence programme for men - had also watched the ad and had similar responses:
“In a snapshot - I would not want my children to watch it. It promotes violence and has tenuous links to sport. There’s no positive role modelling as far as I can see. It glamorises violence. Bad ad.”
“Excessively violent. It’s not even clear that the ABs are 'saving' people and promotes the idea that rugby = violence. Buckling the baby in is good.”
“Madness… the money spent on that and I don’t even get it. I was pretty stunned to see the first tackle and then the rest were too much.”
In a statement, New Zealand Rugby defended the ad.
“New Zealand Rugby and AIG have received overwhelmingly positive feedback for the new #TackleTheRisk campaign, which depicts All Blacks saving people from everyday hazards on the streets of Tokyo,” it said.
“When viewed in context it is clear that the ad is about people’s safety.”
A senior marketing lecturer at Auckland University’s Business School, Dr Bodo Lang, said he didn’t think there was anything inappropriate in the ad.
“I think viewers would be slightly mystified for the first 30 or 40 seconds. It's obviously an attempt at humour, and while it's not quite slapstick, it is heading in that direction,” he said.
But as an attempt at viral marketing, Dr Lang said he thought the ad “missed the mark”.
“I think it's also a little obvious what the twist is. Plus, from a marketing perspective, the connection between the ad and insurance is a little tenuous.”
AIG said the ad’s concept was “helping customers to understand and mitigate risk”.