To re­brand or re­po­si­tion the Spring­bok brand?

Finweek English Edition - - Advertorial -

SOME OF THOSE ar­gu­ing strongly re­cently for re­tain­ing the Spring­bok as the em­blem of the South African rugby team have sug­gested that it is a “com­mer­cial” brand that con­tains sig­nif­i­cant brand value.

There are a num­ber of ways to es­tab­lish the value of a brand. Mar­ket­ing guru Kevin Lane Keller chal­lenges brand man­agers to con­sider how their cho­sen cus­tomers would re­spond to the fol­low­ing ques­tions: (1) Who are you? (brand iden­tity) (2) What are you? (brand mean­ing) (3) What do I think or feel about you? (brand re­sponses) (4) What kind of as­so­ci­a­tion and how much of a con­nec­tion would I like to have with you? (brand re­la­tion­ships).

So, how might the Spring­bok’s cus­tomers and prospec­tive cus­tomers an­swer th­ese ques­tions?

Most would agree that the Spring­bok name and em­blem en­joys wide­spread recog­ni­tion world­wide. Brand mean­ing and re­sponses re­late to the set of as­so­ci­a­tions that cus­tomers have of the brand, that in­di­cate what they feel the brand stands for, and whether they like those as­so­ci­a­tions or not. If we con­sider what mean­ing the Spring­bok has held for South Africans, we find very strong and very dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives. Some, such as Pres­i­dent FW De Klerk in 1991, ar­gued that the Spring­bok was “worn with pride by ev­ery South African re­gard­less of race and colour.” Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, when at­tempt­ing to in­flu­ence the de­ci­sion of the Na­tional Sports Coun­cil in 1995, sug­gested that there was a “real pos­si­bil­ity that if we… ac­cept the Spring­bok for rugby as our sym­bol, we will unite the coun­try as never be­fore.” Th­ese per­spec­tives talk to a set of very pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions, of­ten held and spo­ken about af­ter sig­nif­i­cant Spring­bok vic­to­ries.

As with any brand, how­ever, some cus­tomers (or in this case prospec­tive cus­tomers) may hold very neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions of the Spring­bok brand. Some, such as Sam Ram­samy in 1991 and Mluleki Ge­orge in 1995, sug­gested that the Spring­bok held “too many hurt­ful as­so­ci­a­tions” and was an “apartheid sym­bol.” This per­spec­tive sees rugby as the “gran­ite rock of apartheid” and is jus­ti­fied in part by Prime Min­is­ter John Vorster’s com­ment in 1971 that the “Spring­bok rugby team is not rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole of South Africa. It has never been that… It is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whites of South Africa.” It is a view sup­ported by Tommy Bed­ford, one of the few English speak­ing Spring­bok Cap­tains dur­ing apartheid, who sug­gested in 1989 that “for over two-and-a-half decades the pri­mary agenda of rugby ad­min­is­tra­tion was mainly to pro­mote the Afrikaner, his Church, his Party, his Gov­ern­ment and the Broeder­bond.”

The fi­nal ques­tion to con­sider when eval­u­at­ing brand value is the depth and na­ture of the re­la­tion­ships cus­tomers have with the brand. Again, if we con­sider the ev­i­dence we find some peo­ple iden­ti­fy­ing strongly with the Spring­bok brand and oth­ers very strongly against. Stel­len­bosch stu­dents protested in 1991 to re­tain the Spring­bok, while many anti-apartheid ac­tivists protested in the 1970s and 1980s un­der the ban­ner of “no nor­mal sport in an ab­nor­mal so­ci­ety.” Many have ex­pe­ri­enced the eu­pho­ria and shared ex­cite­ment af­ter World Cup vic­to­ries in 1995 and 2007, while many pas­sion­ately sup­ported any Spring­bok op­po­si­tion dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s.

Given this eval­u­a­tion, how valu­able is the Spring­bok brand? In part it de­pends on whom SA Rugby de­cides it would like its cus­tomers to be. The ev­i­dence sug­gests that, al­though there are many who have very strong and pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions and re­la­tion­ships with the Spring­bok, there are many oth­ers who have as strong neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of the name and em­blem. Can SA Rugby choose to serve the one group and ig­nore the other? Most would agree that for the game and busi­ness of rugby to grow and de­velop, it needs to ap­peal to more cus­tomers, not less.

In do­ing this SA Rugby has at least two op­tions: re­po­si­tion the ex­ist­ing Spring­bok brand or re­brand the na­tional team. Rebranding the team could in­volve the cre­ation of a new brand, a new name and em­blem, with new mean­ing and the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate fresh brand re­la­tion­ships. In the same way that Andersen Con­sult­ing was trans­formed into Ac­cen­ture, SA Rugby could cre­ate an in­spir­ing new brand for the na­tional team and de­velop a set of ac­tiv­i­ties that em­bed the brand in the hearts and minds of their cho­sen cus­tomers.

An­other op­tion is to re­po­si­tion the Spring­bok brand to di­rectly ad­dress neg­a­tive as­so­ci­a­tions and con­fer an al­ter­nate set of val­ues and mean­ing to the brand. This op­tion could see sig­nif­i­cant in­sti­tu­tional change in rugby in South Africa and the na­tional team to ac­tively demon­strate that the repo­si­tioned Spring­bok brand has clearly bro­ken with any hint of the past. In repo­si­tion­ing a brand, ac­tions of­ten speak much louder than words. Some, in­clud­ing me, would ar­gue for repo­si­tion­ing the Spring­bok brand, ac­cept­ing the sig­nif­i­cant, dif­fi­cult and lengthy process this will prob­a­bly en­tail.

Re­search sug­gests that pol­i­tics is about the ma­nip­u­la­tion of sym­bols as a pre­con­di­tion for the ex­er­cise of real power. As Max du Preez stated in 1999: “If only sport was merely about phys­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion be­tween in­di­vid­u­als and teams. But it is more about pas­sion, sym­bol­ism, na­tion­al­ism and big, big money.” In our trans­for­ma­tional so­ci­ety, as in ev­ery so­ci­ety, sport and pol­i­tics are closely linked. As we an­swer the call to de­bate the fu­ture of the Spring­bok, we should fully con­sider the depth of our ar­gu­ments, es­pe­cially those deal­ing with the busi­ness of brands.

Michael Gold­man is a Se­nior Lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria’s Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence. He teaches, re­searches and con­sults in a num­ber of mar­ket­ing-re­lated ar­eas, in­clud­ing sports mar­ket­ing and spon­sor­ship.

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