All Blacks sponsor Telecom has scrapped the contentious "Backing Black" abstinence campaign amid international ridicule.
The campaign called on All Black fans to abstain from sex during the Rugby World Cup. Those who sign up were to be offered black rubber rings to show their support.
It was to have been fronted by former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick, with coach Graham Henry having earlier been considered to front the campaign.
The telco's chief executive Alan Gourdie, in a leaked email to staff, said it would not be proceeding with the campaign.
"It's been a torrid 24 hours in the glare of public spotlight, as well as in that of our own team's views and opinions. Nothing like a full and frank exchange of views!"
Before the campgain kicked off, it became obvious to all that Telecom misjudged public opinion, he said.
"This is a reminder that New Zealanders' passion for the All Blacks should never be taken lightly.
"All of us here at Telecom are as passionate as anybody. What the Telecom team thinks is very, very important to me and even if our people were split 50:50 for and against, that's still half of our workmates who weren't happy with it.
"That's not enough for me, and I give you all my personal apology for the angst or embarrassment this has caused."
Gourdie said Telecom was still an avid supporter of the All Blacks and it would continue to support for the team.
"You'll probably see us return to a more traditional game plan of black jersey-wearing, silver fern flag-waving, and cheering from the stands," he said.
SAATCHI'S KEVIN ROBERTS DEFENDS CAMPAIGN
The news comes as Global Saatchi & Saatchi boss Kevin Roberts defended the ads.
The high-profile advertising company was responsible for the concept and delivery of the campaign.
US-based Roberts - a Telecom board member and former New Zealand Rugby Union board member - also confirmed his support for Backing Black.
"The campaign is tongue-in-cheek, fun, and a light-hearted way to get rugby people, and all New Zealanders, talking about the RWC and letting them share their support for the AB's in an authentic NZ way," Roberts said in an email.
"It's not rocket science . . . it is entertaining, provocative, and good natured. I think it will appeal to true rugby loving heartland supporters."
Roberts added in the email: "Do your duty and ... Abstain For the Game!"
One telco staffer today said: "I too am disgusted at this ridiculous ad, already in my call centre some staff have had to field calls from angry customers who want to disconnect all services".
"I just wish the marketing [department] had run a poll with the staff to see what they thought before rolling the campaign out - everyone would have been against it.
"Makes me want to work elsewhere, everyone is so embarrassed about it."
The All Blacks distanced themselves from the campaign as they prepared for Sunday's Tri-Nations test against the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.
Assistant coach Steve Hansen was quizzed about the promotional gimmick at a press briefing and simply responded: "Please, let's not go there."
But All Black fans were more outspoken, flooding Backing Black's official Facebook site with messages of disgust.
Some threatened to cancel their Telecom land-line and cellphone accounts in protest.
Wrote Chad Preece: "Go ABs. Goodbye Telecom. Might I suggest that your marketing department stops hanging out with their counterparts at Nike and Adidas."
Bob Smith opined: "Maybe Telecom used the same dorks that designed their amazing logo to come up with this campaign."
Brent Allan: "Well you got your publicity, but a fair amount would be disapproving. Telecom, you are an embarrassment to the country!!"
And Ahmad Rini wrote: "I'm getting mixed messages from the All Blacks sponsors. First Adidas told us to go f*** ourselves. Now we are being told not to?"
The campaign was intended to galvanise support behind the men in black as they chase their first World Cup title in 24 years.
BILLBOARDS, TV, PROMISE RINGS
It is understood Backing Black's call for sexual abstinence was to be launched nationwide on Sunday with simultaneous TV commercials to be broadcast at about 8.40pm.
A source said the advertising campaign would be "bright and bold" including posters, billboards and adverts emblazoned onto buses.
During the campaign's planning stage one idea considered was placing posters at men's urinals urging men to "Think of your Mum in a bikini ... Abstain for the All Blacks".
Advertising executives also considered placing cold showers outside popular bars to show that publicans were committed to hosing down anyone tempted to break their vow of chastity.
And now, overseas voices have also joined the chorus.
" Oh dear. The Kiwis are so fearful of another failed World Cup they have bizarrely decided that a national sex ban will somehow get them there," Australia's Daily Telegraph said.
"Spooked by failed World Cup after failed World Cup", former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick has become the frontman, the paper said.
"What a baaaaaaaa-d campaign."
In the Washington Post, Matt Brooks wrote New Zealanders "have a bit of an inferiority complex".
"And who wouldn't when you're a small island nation nearly falling off the bottom of the globe that rarely gets mentioned outside of a sentence that also includes England or Australia?"
"Nevertheless, the Kiwis are a proud people who are conscious of their global image."
So when announcements encouraging fans to abstain from sex to exert their energy cheering for the home team, "it's no wonder some citizens objected", he said.
The campaign also made headlines in The Telegraph, the Jakarta Globe, and other American and Australian publications.
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