Sonny Bill Williams: brand superhero

I take my hat off to Sonny Bill Williams and Francois Botha. Their fight was compelling viewing. It had everything I’ve come to expect from boxing.

We had a contender vs an over-the-hill pretender, media hype about an over-hyped boxer, failed drug tests and a comical world boxing title. But the best part was watching SBW hang on for dear life as he took a battering, then just when you thought Sonny was done, he was saved by the divine intervention of the referee who ended the contest two rounds early. Converting to Islam may have been Sonny’s smartest move yet.

Sir Bob Jones, expectations and a sporting freak

“He just seems to be an idiot adrift on a float of publicity.” Sorry Sir Bob Jones, you and I will have to disagree. To save you further pain and frustration maybe you need to readjust your expectations and view SBW for what he is; an immensely physically talented individual and, most importantly, a branding freak.

 From the moment he walked out on his five-year rugby league contract in 2008 SBW has become a walking, talking commodity that we can’t get enough of because he commands attention, turns games on their heads, generates millions of dollars in advertising and has as many followers as he has detractors.

Basically Sonny Bill Williams is the Son of God, sent down to save us from sporting boredom and Sir Bob (Pontius Pilate) Jones doesn’t like it.

The anatomy of the SBW brand

To illustrate my point let’s have a look at the anatomy of the Sonny Bill Williams brand.

When we build brands at Marque, we start by defining the brand attributes.

The first step in creating a strong brand is knowing what it stands for, what it looks like and how it is distinguished from the competition, e.g.:

·     Vision and Mission – what you want. What your ambition is for the future. How you will achieve it

·     Values – what the brand believes in and stands for

·     Behaviours – how the brand behaves and will be delivered

·     Relationships and benefits – how the brand relates to customers and the benefits for both the brand and audience

·     Personality – the characteristics that help differentiate the brand

·     Value proposition – what the brand offers, its point of difference and why this matters

·     Essence – the single, organising and energising idea for the brand

Here’s my take on the anatomy of SBW's brand. In all seriousness I've got a lot of time for Sonny.

 sonny bill williams idealog

A strong brand is one that holds a mirror up to the consumer and either makes us love it or hate it. A strong brand will never sit in the middle of these two emotions. To do so would render it invisible.

Managing my expectations

SBW and his team (like them or loathe them) recognise the power of a strong brand and whether this is manufactured or not, have used the boxing ring to create wonderful sporting theatre.

Did I care if he won or lost? Hell yes – the boy’s a Kiwi after all. Do I care how he manages his career and the brands that invest in him (only signing 12 months at a time)? Yes I do. But that’s because I feel he’s putting himself before the best interests of the team. However the kid has a living to make and I can’t really begrudge him that.

I don’t have a deep history of boxing (unlike Sir Bob), however, for me boxing is a heady mix of Ali, the Roy Jones Jr controversy, Raging Bull, Tyson vs Holyfield’s Ear, Ibeabuchi vs Tua and dirty Don King.

 Boxing is a poetic, brutal blend of human tragedy and triumph, where many careers have risen and sadly fallen on the whims of an audience desperate for entertainment at any cost.

Has boxing descended into a farce at the hands of SBW and his crew? For a sport so obviously riddled with controversy and dubious practices Sonny needs to float like a butterfly if he is to avoid being sucked into the quagmire that is professional boxing.

Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners