November 25, 2008

Paul Ford

White Out Wipe Out

Paul Ford

The greatest controversy in Kiwi cricket this week is not whether Andy Moles is the right man for the NZ coaching job, the pros and cons of Brendon McCullum batting (and under-performing) at No. 5, nor is it our team’s ability to play two good days of Test cricket but not four, nor is it which seamer to bench for Adelaide.

Nope, none of the above. In fact it’s a marketing idea, now canned, which would have seen Dunedin embracing the slogan “It’s All White Here” for the upcoming New Zealand vs West Indies Test match (December 11-15). The idea was nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan or Romper Stomper but a cricket take on a popular approach to marketing rugby here in New Zealand. Under the “Black Out” fans are encouraged to wear black if they are going along to support the All Blacks.

For the Dunedin cricket Test, the idea was a to inspire a “White Out” with everyone donning their finest lab coats, sheep suits, Playboy bunny costumes, bridal gowns, Elvis flares, stormtrooper kits, nurses’ uniforms and cream tuxedos. Harmless – and despite the axing of the official campaign, students all over the South Island should plough on regardless and embrace the idea.

By virtue of the deranged decision-making by the local government bureaucrats involved, it ironically threatened to become a sliver of accidental genius and one of the most successful marketing campaigns for Test cricket in recent years. Never before has the marketing of one match attracted so much attention outside the province of Otago.

Was this a brilliant example of “controversy marketing”? Not merely a gimmick, but a risky move with full follow-through that was undertaken to spark PR for Test cricket that money couldn’t buy? If so, it was a fortnight early: it should have been unleashed once the West Indies were here – then the controversy would have stood a better chance of translating into eyeballs.

I think some of the post-slogan reaction has been a little over the top. Speculation that the West Indies would boycott the match would not just be sad if true, but utter madness. Let’s recognise it for what it was: an ill-advised marketing tagline, devised in a cocoon in the deep south of New Zealand. That sense of perspective was adopted by the West Indies coach John Dyson when he arrived in New Zealand this week: “We've been notified of it but we're concerned with cricket. We just want to play the game.” Good man.

A little bit of wider audience-testing might not have gone astray, and would have highlighted the potential for it to be misinterpreted. However, whether through poor judgement or reckless risk-taking, that didn’t happen. To the nation’s credit, as soon as it was revealed in public, it was questioned and hammered from all sides.

The most foolish response was the initial one from the Dunedin City Council, as it continued to deny even the merest possibility of racial overtones “between the lines” of the campaign. There was no intent, but it was poor judgement to not admit there was a degree of ambivalence in the words. As Richard Boock put it succinctly in the Sunday Star-Times: “It might have even been funny had officials reacted with enough alacrity to dismiss the idea as an unfortunate gaffe when they had the chance last week.” Offence was being taken, whether the Mayor of Dunedin liked it or not, and it would have been a good time to be contrite.

On Saturday night, NZ Cricket’s new public affairs man issued yet another apology to appease the West Indies and its players with NZC CEO Justin Vaughan saying: “I appreciate that it had the potential to be misinterpreted, and I apologise to the West Indies players and officials for any offence taken – none was intended.”

The fact is that the West Indies are a hugely popular side when visiting New Zealand – some of the Beige Brigade’s best cricketing days have been on the bank watching New Zealand thump the men from the Caribbean. It would be a terrible shame for any lingering discontent from a misguided council campaign to overshadow the summer tour, but it will provide a new obsession for the media, rather than banging on about the Stanford-filled pay packets of the West Indies players. One thing is for sure, New Zealand’s cricketing administrators will be walking on eggshells when Chris Gayle, his sunglasses, and his team are here. Look out for some awkward moments – and hysterical headlines.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here

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Posted by Mako on (November 29, 2008, 6:22 GMT)

Well the mayor of Dunedin is Chinese so as an even better marketing ploy after the controversy erupted they could of turned it around and made the slogan "It's all wong here". (No offence intended).

Posted by Dileepa on (November 26, 2008, 6:19 GMT)

The correct reaction would have been for the WICB to join the campaign and support it.

Posted by Aussie Din ks on (November 26, 2008, 0:26 GMT)

"It's All White Here" this is a really silly phrase because it can mean almost anything you wish it to mean. It also smacks of racial undertones which we are supposed to be stamping out in cricket.

Posted by Alex on (November 25, 2008, 23:12 GMT)

Also to put it in a little more context. “It’s All White Here” is a play on words of Dunedin's city slogan “It’s all right here”. Hence choosing this term rather than a simple one such as "white out". Either way I agree it's harmless but very open to misinterpretation (as the south is the 'whitest' part of NZ) - and therefore not a wise choice.

Posted by JK on (November 25, 2008, 23:00 GMT)

I agree with Pranav..I think we are becoming hypersensitive in a lot of ways as a society. The funny thing is, the team we are talking about is the black caps (although they play tests in whites). It would be most sensible if the WI can let this be the minor advertising gaffe it is...From Dunedin's viewpoint, I think the slogan got more than the attention it was seeking, albeit in an unintended way!

Posted by Mahek on (November 25, 2008, 22:08 GMT)

"White Out" would have been just fine in my opinion. I don't know how it got twisted into "It's all white".

Posted by waterbuffalo on (November 25, 2008, 19:02 GMT)

To, Michael Fernando, funny you should mention Penn State, I went there, and it is very close to my heart. Yes all sorts of colours are worn in stadia across the country, the idea is okay, the phrashing is idiotic-"It's all white here", even if Pakistan or India were touring it would have been in terrible taste, leave alone the Windies. I hope somebody in the PR/Marketing Dept lost their job, because not to understand the ramification of such an insulting phrase, again, "white-out" is very different from "It's all WHITE here, and to plead ignorance , is just unacceptable in this day and age. To those that think it is PC gone mad, put your self in their shoes before you laugh it off. How would you like to see on a billboard, "No Whites here!". Having said that I hope to watch a very competitive series between two sides that I genuinely like. Good luck N. Zealand- (Vettori should bat at 5 and lose Elliot, please)

Posted by Pranav on (November 25, 2008, 16:56 GMT)

This is not the only instance of a ill advised campaign accused of being racist. I remember one ad campaign was rolled back in India for similar reasons(It's tagline was 'It's difficult to be West Indian in India' and showed scenes like a boatman abandoning a west indian in the middle of the lake)

Posted by Kjwild on (November 25, 2008, 16:04 GMT)

Folks, in the context of the political global sphere and the election of a coloured person to the helm and pinnacle of American politics, the world may seem that the topic of race as non-relevant and a thing of the past. However the rise of West Indies Cricket was born out of the craddle of race relations. These tones through syncretism have been carried though cricketing history. For those who haven't live through it, please don't point fingers, trivialise it or clearly blow it off. I think the world has matured since that era and we as great cricketing nations can look past it and let the balls and bats do the talking. Lets play some cricket. After 35 Matches the Windies have won 10 and NZ 9. Most of these victories have came in the later years. Let this series be the differentiation.

Posted by Doug on (November 25, 2008, 15:50 GMT)

Too true, the real colour of excitement is beige!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Ford
Paul Ford (aka Paul Holden) is a co-founder of the beloved Beige Brigade, the patriotic and long suffering Kiwi supporters' cult that is a bastion of things brown, tan, tongue-in-cheek and tenuously cricket-related. Paul lives in Wellington, somewhere between the Basin Reserve and Karori Park, and his favourite shot is the front-foot pull. @beigebrigade

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