Sonny Bill Williams - branding superhero

23 November 2015
Sonny Bill Williams - branding 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. 

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 advertisement that we can’t get enough of because he commands attention, turns games on their heads, generates millions of advertising dollars 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 Sonny Bill Williams Brand
To illustrate my point let’s have a look at the brand anatomy of the Sonny Bill Williams.

When people ask ‘what is brand?’ 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

Managing my expectations
Sonny Bill Williams and his team (like them or loath them) recognise the power of a strong brand and whether 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 Sonny Bill Williams 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.