Sponsors ended up in the rough
A visit from former US President Barack Obama dominated the news cycle in the past week but there are doubts the big sums Air New Zealand, Westpac and MasterCard paid to bring him here got them the value they might have hoped for.
With friend and golfing buddy Sir John Key in the limelight leading the hospitality effort for New Zealand, it was his brand and probably his role as ANZ chairman that captured a lot more reflected glory than the two financial service sponsors.
But Air New Zealand might have most reason for disgruntlement, with the visit coming in the same week a flamethrower was applied to it by Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones.
On the face of it the visit will have seemed a good idea. Obama is popular and widely admired, particularly when compared to the man who followed him into the Oval office, Donald Trump.
And no doubt Air NZ thought the publicity it could wring from Obama playing at exclusive private golf courses with stunning scenery would lure well-heeled tourists.
But their game plan was spoiled somewhat by the populist Jones, who launched an attack on the airline for closing regional routes like Kaitaia in 2015 and now Kapiti Coast. It did not help the airline that news also leaked out last week that it was closing its engineering workshop in Hamilton.
Jones went too far when he called for the resignation of the airline’s chairman, forcing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to rebuke him.
That won’t worry the New Zealand First MP. He knows there are a lot of people who agree with him and his actions could also help to show his party is not just a loyal foot soldier in the coalition government. Look for Jones to adopt the attack dog role more and more.
Obama’s visit produced a fawning response in some quarters, such as National Party leader Simon Bridges releasing a picture of him — wait for it — speaking on the phone to Obama. A media pack even perched on a road side overlooking a golf hole in an effort to get an action pic of the former president.
There is something sad about a comparatively young man like Obama reduced to speaking to private audiences. It really is a waste of his considerable talents.