Kiwi Advertising: How an Honest Approach Results in Super Sharp Creative
The population of New Zealand is just short of 4.5 million people. It’s one of the most remote major states in the entire world, set around 2,000 miles away from its closest neighbour Australia.
And yet the Kiwi ad industry has a knack for producing work that resonates with both global audiences and global ad juries. Alongside powerful, serious work for associations like the New Zealand Transport Agency (see below), a common thread that runs through Kiwi creativity is an instantly recognisable comedic quirk. And then there are the likes of Taika Waititi and Flight of the Concords flying that flag outside of the ad industry.
While chatting to New Zealand adlanders, it’s immediately apparent how important comedy is in everyday Kiwi life. According to Y&R Wellington managing director Tim Ellis, “You’re not far out of nappies before it becomes incredibly obvious that the better you are at telling a story and entertaining others, the further you’ll go in NZ”.
That deeply embedded humour in is also notably unique reckons George Mackenzie, managing director at Auckland-based production company Robber’s Dog. “People want to be entertained and our sense of humour is challenging, often self-deprecating and mischievously dark, at times,” he comments.
George also adds that, while he believes there is definitely a certain quirk to Kiwi advertising, it isn’t something that the industry consciously attempts to portray. More so it’s to do with the country’s relative youthfulness and lack of pre-existing processes and etiquettes. “We’re like a teenager,” he muses. “Comedy is a huge part of our culture… I think, in New Zealand, people feel that comedy is a good trade for a brand message. As consumers we are not a nation that likes to be sold to.”
It’s that cheeky frankness that helped propel Y&R New Zealand to the top at this year’s ANDY awards. Their ‘McWhopper Proposal’ in which their client Burger King jokingly offered an olive branch to main rivals McDonald’s took the GRANDY at this year’s awards.
The importance of comedy within both Kiwi life and advertising is something that’s particularly visible within spots like ‘Blazed’ or the more recent ‘Hello’, for the New Zealand Transport Agency, which tackle equally serious issues with a wit and hilarious awkwardness that seamlessly traverses borders.
But amidst all the comedy, Corey Chalmers, joint ECD at Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand (who once secretly plumbed a man’s entire house with beer for his client TUI), stresses that it’s important to note the honesty underlying it all. “We keep it simple, honest, and we’re a country that doesn’t tolerate bullshit. Advertising at its best is about simplicity, human trust, and more recently about joy – which is how we love to live, and are lucky enough to be able to do.”
Just about everyone interviewed for this article thinks that business practices in New Zealand play a big part in creating high quality, innovative work with a wry sense of humour – ultimately there are far fewer hurdles to vault when creating advertising in New Zealand. Clients are more laid back, relationships are closer and decisions are quicker.
“It has to be said that New Zealand has a perfect environment for creativity,” comments Colenso BBDO Auckland ECD, Steve Cochran. “A can-do attitude that means there are fewer barriers to trying stuff. Less legislation and controls, less research, less layers of approval within organisations.”
Steve also mentions the lack of money in New Zealand compared with other markets. “Less money often means you have to get on and just do it rather than spend expensive time naval gazing and second-guessing your approach. It also means thinking creatively about how to achieve something because you can’t afford to simply buy it.”
George Mackenzie of Robber’s Dog points out that brands and agencies in New Zealand don’t have the endless departments to satisfy that can scupper an idea within other markets. “The importance placed on hierarchy and chains of approval in marketing and advertising has really dropped away,” he believes. “The distance between the final decision makers and production is smaller. I think that allows for and results in creative, challenging work.”
And, ultimately, with less people in the way better things can happen faster and without needless complication, as Y&R’s Tim Ellis aptly concludes.
“Tucked down here in the South Pacific means we have our own independence and with that comes a willingness to ‘just get shit done’. We don’t over think stuff too much.”