new zealand


the meet



What does New Zealand mean to them, up there? Sheep? Scenery? New thinking from the UK suggests that New Zealand has a rare opportunity to mean something very special in the northern hemisphere. Are we up to it? Jake Pearce lays down his own 2011 challenge for selling Brand New Zealand


the late 1980s I was working in London as a marketing executive for the world’s biggest brands in the fastestgrowing markets in Europe. I was young and on the up, the economy was hot, hot, hot and I can honestly say that

I thought about New Zealand, well … never. But I remember seeing a billboard that made me giggle: ‘What do you call a sophisticated Australian? A New Zealander.’ Now that I live here, I realise the billboard was for Steinlager, and

it turns out to be more prescient than I first thought. A powerful piece of trend analysis by world-leading semioticians Malcolm Evans and Stephen Seth confirms that Brand New Zealand is potentially much more interesting than the usual list of green fields and happy sheep. The work, conducted for a multinational with a Kiwi liquor brand, suggests New Zealand could occupy an enviable space. I think this identity is best described by two words: ‘raw sophistication’. Which is not to say those words must be plastered on all things Kiwi; but there’s an essence of New Zealand that’s both raw and sophisticated and it’s a story we’re failing to tell. Malcolm’s speciality is foresight semiotics—the study of signs and symbols to understand cultural trends, which in turn provide opportunities for new categories and products. He pioneered its application in business; his company, Space Doctors, provides trend and brand analysis on categories to Procter & Gamble, Wrigleys and SAB Miller. The work not only helps predict new categories, it also assists companies to get their communication imagery right ahead of cultural change.

Mountains, lakes, rivers ... is that it? 

idealog   january/february 2007 


I worked with Malcolm for many years in Europe and was responsible for the ‘in-country’ component of this New Zealand study. The client wanted to know what Brand New Zealand means in the UK and Europe. Is it still the Little England of the South Pacific? Australia’s colder cousin? The clean, green, ovine capital of the world? Home of … I’m yawning already … Jonah Lomu and the fearsome All Blacks? The results threw up the usual clichés, for sure. But our study of symbols and icons shows that an emerging identity is bursting through which owes as much to Fat Freddy’s Drop and Peter Jackson as it does to Sir Edmund Hillary and Colin Meads. The new identity is refreshing, unique and provides a powerful set of ideas for any marketer trying to communicate to an export market. The work also suggests that much of what we see in the likes of the ‘100% pure’ campaign and Air New Zealand advertising is a damaging, inaccurate cliché that squanders a wonderful opportunity. ‘100% pure’ is 100% wrong. You can deduce a lot from icons and symbols. Space Doctors takes imagery from advertising, packaging, films, music, books, news reports and magazine articles—pretty much anything that has a sensory expression—to identify three facets of a brand’s life cycle: the residual, the dominant and the emergent. Malcolm calls them codes, because they suggest an ‘essence’. Brand New Zealand’s residual code, for example, is a neo-colonial outpost of Britishness that exists in an uneasy alliance with Maori. That belongs to our history. What most people think about New Zealand is described by the dominant code, which is the clichés that we groan

about: the clean, green, sheepy pragmatists who punch above their weight in a lovable but harmless sort of way. It’s the image of the straight-jawed Hillary and the crispest Hawke’s Bay apple. Jolly good chaps, those Kiwis. Shame we abandoned them for the Europeans and so on. The ‘100% pure’ campaign plays to this stereotype. Its panoramic spreads of white mountains and whiter beaches reinforce the perception that we do little more than raise cattle and run up mountains for kicks. Athletes like Hamish Carter and Dan Carter are the natural products of this 100% pure New Zealand. Trouble is it’s not true, nor is it that helpful. I’m wildly proud of the Carter boys, don’t get me wrong. But there’s more to New Zealand than sport, and there’s a world that wants to hear about it. Bursting through the clichés is an emergent code of creativity, flair, professionalism, sustainability (maybe) and successful multiculturalism. There’s no better expression of this new identity than the arresting shape of a David Trubridge chair. It’s organically Pacific, reminiscent of driftwood and dune grasses. Yet it’s also a fine example of engineering and design sophistication. It’s at once Polynesian and European. Artificial and natural. Functional and aesthetic. Flash yet earthy. It’s uniquely New Zealand (although Trubridge wasn’t born in Enzed—and that’s part of the point). It’s raw sophistication at work. Other symbols come to mind: our America’s Cup challenge (mixing

Who’s the raw sophisticate?
MAlColM EvAns on ...

They’ve had their moment. Ireland is now the Celtic tiger economy, overrun by sophisticated European travellers and overseas investment but overplayed on the raw side— Riverdance (please), Guinness advertising imagery, diddly dee jigs and images of smoky country pubs. In the real Ireland, they’ve banned smoking in pubs.

People would laugh at any Australian claim to sophistication. That would be pure Dame Edna. Even the intellectuals are perceived as brash, boorish ball-scratchers: Clive James, Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer. They’ve been Pom-bashing and willy-waving for too long.

Blue Mountains, reggae—its moment has passed. Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for Bob Marley’s Greatest Hits.

This is the other best contender but it’s not visible enough. The new conservative government, which plans to extract oil in the Arctic, hasn’t helped the idea of ‘raw’. It does have an amazing number of creative illuminati going back to the 1960s, but they slide too easily into an American identity. Canada needs something like a Lord of the Rings to give ‘raw sophistication’ a chance.


pragmatism and professionalism), Peter Gordon (simple yet complex cuisine), Peter Jackson and Wellywood (commercial creativity), Fat Freddy’s Drop (happy melancholy) and dance troupe Black Grace (a Pacific appropriation of European art). The work with Space Doctors makes me think that no other country can claim this brand essence with as much credibility as New Zealand. Sure, other new-world nations have it in spades: Brazil, South Africa, Canada and Australia are strong contenders. Australia in particular has a great deal to boast about. Its arts and scientific industries are world-class and growing in importance. But remember we’re talking perceptions here. The overriding image of Australia is an outback larrikin like Steve Irwin. The new ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ tourism campaign is abrasive and uncultured—a perfect fit for the stereotype (the ‘100% pure’ campaign is the equivalent for NZ). By contrast, New Zealand can be portrayed as the sophisticated alternative down under. The Steinlager billboard was right. The opportunity is also our challenge. For one thing, we aren’t altogether pure, neither in an environmental nor a social sense. How long before we are exposed as a polluting country with a strong history of family violence? Also, the task of moving beyond the clichés requires a united and consistent effort not just from Tourism New Zealand and NZTE—and currently both organisations are singing out of tune with this. It relies on us all agreeing to buy into one big idea, especially those in the export sector. It’s estimated that 40 percent of all buying decisions are based on country of origin. The more premium the product, the higher this percentage. So what do I mean in practice? Well, if ‘raw sophistication’ is the brand essence, then you will see the expression in: Premium agricultural products: fresh and packaged with a back story about sustainability, including carbon-neutral production and humane animal practices. World-beating agricultural technology: the IP and innovation that we’ve derived from a millennium of farming will be respected worldwide. Greenest industry: New Zealand as the world leader in renewable energy generation and sustainable management. Neutral politics: we’re sought after for international diplomacy, peace keeping and pragmatic problem-solving. Left-field pursuits: from the home of bungy jumping and the All Blacks comes the next big thing in adventure sport. I’m sure you can continue the list, because we’re already doing these things and more. The best brands express what is already happening. Good branding should be obvious in hindsight. It’s time the world came to know about this incredible place called Aotearoa, the world’s most raw, yet sophisticated country. It’s time we pioneered a new breed of national brand, true to our name, New Zealand. Welcome to the new New Zealand.


january/february 2007