Advertisements began as purely informational, attracting people to purchase goods because of their qualities. When advertisers began to use images and slogans, advertisements tried to appeal to people’s aspirations and to associate products with people’s dreams.
From the 1920s, following international trends, women were offered clothes or soaps that promised to make them more alluring. Men were attracted to buy cigarettes with collectable cards picturing beautiful women, or were enticed towards certain makes of car because a lovely lady sprawled over the bonnet.
Images of romantic couples or happy families were reasonably common in newspaper advertisements of the mid-20th century.
Television, being a visual medium, continued to use sexuality as an important attraction. Macleans toothpaste was said to ‘give your mouth sex appeal’. Toyota Starlet cars were promoted with the phrase ‘She’s a lady’, alongside an appropriate image. Hertz car rentals promised to ‘be good to you’, and showed images of beautiful women.
The conventional idealised family of suburban dad, mum and a couple of kids was frequently pictured in the first television commercials, often advertising suburban goods like lawn mowers or furniture. In an ad for Windolene cleaner the Jones family cleaned their windows in a mock-military operation. Women were frequently portrayed as mums or housewives, whose pride was in having their washing ‘Persil white’.
Over time, New Zealand society became culturally more diverse and with a greater range of family types. This was sometimes reflected in advertising, though the stereotypical family, with traditional gender roles, remained the dominant image. The most advanced advertisement for its time was one for Gregg’s coffee in 1970, with the slogan ‘different faces, many races’. A quarter of a century later non-white faces began to appear more in ads.
One advertising campaign that challenged the image of the traditional family was a series of commercials for Fernleaf butter (later Anchor). Beginning in the late 1980s, they featured a family in which the daughter, Sam, lived with her recently separated dad. The series played like a mini soap opera, and continued over a number of years.
You are a New Zealander
The most popular of the Bank of New Zealand 1990 ads appealed to ideas of national identity. It showed a summer bach – ‘it’s nothing very flash … You grew up here, summer holidays, learnt to play scrabble and to fish and now you bring your kids and they read the Biggles books … Who are you – you are a New Zealander.’
Advertisements also reflected the country’s search for a national identity. From the late 19th century some New Zealand products had exploited this sentiment in their names and brands. For example, there were various products named after kiwi and tūī (native birds), and the association between drinking beer and New Zealand’s skill in playing rugby was commonly used in newspaper advertisements.
However, early television commercials often used overseas models. The voice-overs sounded ‘proper English’ and sometimes the English associations were used to sell goods. For example, New Zealand-made raincoats were labelled ‘Burberry of London by Skellerup’.
From the 1980s the New Zealand accent and strong New Zealand archetypes began to appear in advertising. In 1985 Toyota used Kiwi icon Barry Crump to drive over terrifyingly rough roads and even cliffs in a Hilux, appealing to the image of the old-fashioned rough-and-ready Kiwi bloke. A decade later Toyota won notoriety with another ad featuring the previously unacceptable word ‘bugger’.
On a more serious note, the 1990 Commonwealth Games advertisement featured a scene of a New Zealand soldier on the Western Front. Large billboard beer advertisements in the early 2000s saw a battle between Speight’s ‘Southern man’ and Tui’s laconic ‘Yeah right’ dialogues.
Best and worst
From the mid-1980s one of the highest-rating shows on New Zealand television was the Fair Go programme’s annual ad awards. It announced which commercials the audience loved, and which they hated. The programme also featured spoofs on some of the favourite advertisements, and showcased ads created by school students.
Much of the nationalist advertising had a strong nostalgic element, with a distinctive ‘Kiwiana’ tone. Well-known examples included Bank of New Zealand advertisements in 1990.
New Zealand’s playful antagonism towards foreigners was also exploited. In the 1980s deep-seated feelings of rivalry with Australians were shamelessly used in an advertisement for Nilverm sheep drench. It featured an outback kid bowling underarm (a reference to a famous incident in a one-day cricket match between Australia and New Zealand). In the 2000s a visiting American banker rings up his boss, Goldstein, to comment on the wonders of ASB bank.
In 2007 a New Zealand Insurance ad showed a variety of national icons – from the racehorse Phar Lap and the rugby player Christian Cullen, to pavlova and rock musicians – being stolen by other countries. Such ads were clearly produced only for a New Zealand audience – but, paradoxically, many of them were produced for overseas-owned companies.
How far such advertisements changed attitudes or merely reflected them is unclear. But they certainly reflected an awakening New Zealand nationalism and an advertising industry that was confident enough to be both locally relevant and entertaining.