State of the Nation: New Zealand is ready to return to pioneering creative roots
In the first of a new series of articles that aim to provide insights into the unique individual markets that make up the APAC region, Colenso BBDO's chief strategic officer Rob Campbell shares his thoughts on the New Zealand market and his hopes for the trends that help shape the market in 2023.
There are only three reasons you’d choose to express your views about the future in an internationally respected title like The Drum: you’re naive, brave or an egomaniac.
OK, so you do have the comfort of being able to tell people they have to wait 20 years before they can categorically say you’re wrong, but it’s still an act of self-sabotage … especially as you don’t always need decades to be judged.
Over the past couple of years, I read so many thought pieces from people declaring the new rules of the ‘new normal’ that either never materialised or didn’t last that it borders on being laughable. What made it even more amusing is in 93.71% of cases, they expressed their thoughts with a level of confidence even a mediocre white man would find hard to summon. (That’s for you, Chelsea)
Sure, I appreciate part of my job is to understand where the energy of culture is heading, but I absolutely hate playing the prediction lottery … so instead, I’m going to write about what I hope to see.
For People, Not About People
One thing that drives me nuts is the one-size-fits-all communication strategy that exists here. I appreciate there are only 5 million people here. I know some talk of ‘the team of 5 million’. But as our recent book - Dream Small - highlighted … neither of these points means everyone in NZ lives, loves, thinks, wants, needs, believes, or aspires to the same thing, so we shouldn’t be communicating as if they do. It’s blinkered, disrespectful and nowhere as effective as it could be.
Stop The Stereotypes
While this is not unique to NZ, it would be amazing if we stopped the lazy stereotypes. The reinforcement of collective behaviours, attitudes or aspirations based purely on heritage, geography or age. It’s not just insulting; it’s alienating and says far more about the people making the work than the people it is supposed to represent.
The industry loves to talk about diversity and inclusion, but we don’t seem to realise the work we put out into the world acts as a barrier to the talent we need to have a future in it.
You Can’t Be Different Doing The Same As Everyone Else
I appreciate marketing is expensive. I appreciate it needs to work hard for companies. I appreciate we want to minimise making mistakes. But following the same ‘optimised’ process as everyone else isn’t going to help anyone stand out, let alone move forward.
We’re in danger of valuing the process more than what the process is designed to deliver … fetishizing the assets of a brand rather than adding value to what the brand is and can become. Once upon a time, my wife – a designer – was asked to create a logo that communicated dynamism, innovation and change. She looked at the client and said, “a logo can’t do that, you need to do things that do that”. As usual, she was right.
Get Back To Believing In Pioneering
NZ is rightfully proud of its pioneering spirit. It did countless things that made other nations progress out of jealousy and fear of being left behind. But right now, that spirit feels in limited supply. Not because of impending economic armageddon. Not because of pandemic pressures. But because somewhere along the line, complicity became more valued than competition.
Some will say I am (to use my vernacular) talking “a load of bollocks”, but some also claim ‘tall poppy’ no longer exists. And while I see a bunch of people and companies who live up to the spirit that helped build this land, the thing few want to admit is it’s in spite of how the nation behaves rather than because of it.
The good news is when we travelled the country to hear what youth culture wanted to do and change – their ideas, ambitions and hopes were infectious. If we can help them feel welcomed rather than tolerated, we not only unlock their potential, we help the potential of NZ as a whole.
Creativity Can Do What Logic Can’t
One of the reasons I wanted to move to NZ is because of the ideas it has made. A legacy of beautiful, creative ridiculousness. I still remember being at Wieden’s and seeing the Levi’s ‘ass cam’ work (just as we launched ‘Go Forth’). I was so pissed NZ had managed to capture the World’s imagination with a Go Pro, whereas we’d spent a fortune on a [albeit beautiful] film backed by a multi-million dollar media buy. And don’t even get me started on how jealous I was when I saw Brewtroleum …
While awards aren’t everything, the past few years have been tough for NZ at international shows. There are a bunch of reasons for it - some self-inflicted, some flaws of the system – but I do hope we remember the power of creativity rather than fall for short-term convenience.
Over the past few years, I’ve heard the word ‘packaging’ increasingly being used in relation to the creative process. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate there are many roles and expressions of creativity – not to mention many disciplines that enable it to thrive – but it’s probably worth remembering a creative idea isn’t packaging … it’s the fucking present.
Reading this back and I realise I sound like a whining bastard. It’s probably a fair evaluation of who I am, to be honest. But it’s important to me to reiterate I love this country and this industry. There are some amazing people, companies and work created here. But we can be more. We need to be more. Because while futurists like to talk about what will happen, they tend to forget one thing: it doesn’t happen on its own. I really hope 2023 is a stellar year for the industry here. What happens next is up to us.