BMW’s SBW PR disaster spreads

Sonny Bill Williams in his BMW with the missus in the back seat where she belongs

Sonny Bill Williams in his BMW with the missus in the back seat where she belongs

Back at the end of October we wrote about BMW appointing known supporter of Islamic terrorism, Sonny Bill Williams, as their brand ambassador.

Many people posted on their Facebook page and now the issue has spread to the LGBT community, who are upset that SBW associated with known anti-gay Islami activists and to the wider motoring community.

Of more concern to BMW, probably, is that SBW is now in conflict with his All Black sponsors, Ford.

The core issue is BMW New Zealand having recently announced it has named the rugby and rugby league icon as a brand ambassador.

The deal provisions the player, presently recuperating from injury, with one of the brand’s more elite products, the $161,000 xDrive 50i, the flagship of the X5 sports utility range.

That arrangement has since been criticised by BMW owners – whose concerns have ranged from how Williams dresses and is perceived to act in public to his religious and perceived political choices – and an on-line commentator, a reaction that the brand now admits it was unprepared for.  

Did they not realise that a brand ambassador would have his social media connections picked apart? Especially since their ambassador is a proselytising Muslim who associates with people on terror lists or who are aggressive anti-semites.

However, there’s also a fresh spin with a potential clash of brand associations.

Ford New Zealand has also now entered the fray, with suggestion Williams also benefits from getting free use of one of their cars, as part of a support for the All Blacks organised with the New Zealand Rugby Union.

There is some supposition this might present a contractual clash, though Ford has not outright asserted this, with a spokesman saying yesterday he personally did not know the full details of this particular association.

However, Tom Clancy went on to say that, as far as he was aware, Williams also has a Ford New Zealand-provisioned Territory, also a sports utility but at a starting price almost one third that of the Munich machine.

“The All Blacks drive Fords and I believe he is driving a Ford Territory.”

Would the Ford association with the NZRU preclude any involved player having any association with another car brand?

“I believe there would be a conflict … but I don’t know the details of that association.

BMW, though, is obfuscating about the backlash they have received.

BMW New Zealand spokesman Paul Sherley, meanwhile, says the ambassadorship – which is supposed to see Williams promoting BMW lifestyle at sports and social events – is now subject to fresh in-house discussion and, until that has been reconciled, the player has been benched from making social engagement for the company for now.

For now?

He said BMW New Zealand had been taken by surprise when owners, within hours of Williams’ association was announced on October 25, took to the brand’s Facebook page to express criticism.

When MotoringNetwork checked yesterday, it appeared those comments – and all reference to the ambassadorship – had been removed.

Well-known blogger Cameron Slater, better known as ‘Whale Oil’, also weighed in.

MotoringNetwork asked Sherley for comment about how BMW felt about the customer complaint and about Slater’s comment, whether it knew if Williams also benefitted from Ford’s association – which Clancy enforces is with the NZRU, and not individual players – and if it was aware that a previous similar role involving a BMW that Williams had enjoyed in 2007 while playing league in Australia had ended with his car being suddenly pulled by its car dealer provider.

Sherley said BMW determined to ask Williams to become its third brand ambassador, alongside Jeff Wilson – who represented NZ in rugby and cricket – and Michelin star chef Josh Emmett, also known as a Master Chef TV show judge, solely on the strength of his sports pedigree.

I can understand Josh Emmett and to a lesser extent Jeff Wilson but not SBW. He already lost such a sponsorship once before because of his poor behaviour. I’m sorry, but to try and separate SBW’s political and religious views out and give him a sponsorship deal “solely on the strength of his sports pedigree” is laughable.

“Sonny Bill’s appointment, for us, has been made in reference to his sporting performance and his athletic abilities. It’s his personal business what his off-field, um, beliefs and interests are.

“We have appointed him for his sporting prowess.”

What rubbish. When the media attacked me everything was on the table. When the SJBs come for me everything is on the table. When Donald Trump stands for president, everything is on the table. BMW is just dissembling. Are they saying that if someone shags goats and posts the videos to Youtube in their spare time then that would be OK by them to consider them a brand ambassador because of their sporting prowess?

He said the marque’s Mount Wellington headquarters had seen, and taken note of, mainly owner feedback about the association.

“Yes, of course. We do, obviously, listen and take note of what our owners and customers are saying and this feedback has certainly been taken into consideration in regard to what we potentially will do with him in the future and the ongoing nature of the relationship.”

So is the ambassadorship being reviewed?

“It will continue but, as I say, we are just looking at the best ways to utilise his services during the time he is an ambassador for us.”

Asked if the disquiet created a challenge for BMW here to use Williams as it had wanted to, Sherley replied: “Not at the moment … I don’t have all the full details on hand insofar as how he will be utilised and what he does with and for us is a discussion point still.

“Obviously the customer and ownership feedback will be taken into consideration when we do come to the events or opportunities where we would potentially utilise ambassadors in the future.”

I have received many copies of BMW’s response to the issue from owners and concerned citizens. The responses are pro-forma corporate weasel words that show that BMW are basically hoping the issue will quietly slide away.

I don’t think BMW have thought this through properly.

 

– GayExpress, Motoring Network

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