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by Jock Phillips

‘Buy my product and you’ll become sexy and successful’ – this is what many advertisements would have you believe. Linking products to appealing behaviours is a tried-and-true advertising method. In the 2000s New Zealand national identity and Kiwi icons are also used to get consumers to part with their money.

Colonial newspapers

The old world

Advertising gives people information about a product or service. Often this encourages people to buy, but this is not always the case. Originally advertising may have been little more than a painting on a wall. The development of printing widened the possibilities of effective advertising. From the 17th century in Europe printed handbills and newspapers became the main carriers of advertisements. Early settlers to New Zealand may well have been encouraged to migrate by short notices in UK papers. Other forms of advertising were also used, such as sandwich boards.

Newspaper notices

From the beginning of organised settlement in 1840 New Zealand newspapers combined news, discussion of public issues and advertisements. Unusually, this was different to newspapers in Britain at that time, where political debate was limited by commercial considerations. When the Otago Witness began in February 1851 it described the paper’s objectives as ‘to supply the settlement with the means of advertising, and with the news from home [Britain] and other quarters.’1

From 1861 many papers were published daily and were printed by steam-driven machinery. Their price fell to one penny. They rose in popularity and became more effective as an advertising medium.

In the 1840s advertisements were purely text-based and informational in tone. Advertisements for auctions, notices about meetings or offers of reward for lost property were all listed in one undifferentiated column. Sales of goods that had arrived by a particular ship were common.

More complex advertisements

Newspaper advertisements became more elaborate over the next half century. In the 1850s advertisements began to be classified under column headings such as ‘Auction sales’ or ‘Notices’. By the end of the century the classifications were more detailed, with headings such as ‘To let’ or ‘Wanted’. The ‘classifieds’ were usually on the front page. Inside, the news pages began to be interrupted by large advertisements, often spanning several columns.



In colonial newspapers the greatest claims were often made by medical advertisements. In 1870 Dinneford’s Magnesia claimed to cure acid stomach, headache, heartburn, gout, gravel (kidney or bladder stones), complaints of the bladder, fever, irritability of the skin and sickness of pregnancy. Grimault’s French chemists, by contrast, were more modest. They offered Indian cigarettes of Cannabis indica that, according to the packet, cured only asthma and depression, ‘especially when belladonnna, stramonium, and opium have failed to give relief’.


The appearance of advertisements changed. Bolder typography was used, with large black lettering and a profusion of capitals and exclamation marks. The first images appeared in the 1850s, usually no more than standardised engravings of a ship or a hotel. By the 1880s these had become more extravagant, with images of particular items, such as ploughs or drinks.

By then, brands had made their appearance, such as Lea and Perrins ‘celebrated Worcestershire sauce’. Increasingly, particular products became associated with a distinctive style of lettering or a trademark. Slogans also appeared – Hudson’s advertised their coffee biscuits as ‘A biscuit made to eat’, Pringle’s store was ‘The place for presents’. Personal testimonials were a common feature, especially on behalf of pills and ointments.

Although most of the advertisements in colonial newspapers were commercial in purpose, there were still public notices such as shipping notices or the results of local road board elections.

    • Otago Witness, 8 February 1851. Back

Advertising agencies, 1891–1970

First advertising agents

The advertising profession began in the United States in 1841, when Volney Palmer began buying up advertising space in newspapers at a discounted rate and on-selling it to advertisers. Agents also created the ads.

Block making


In pre-computer days an advertisement would be prepared by an agency up to two weeks before publication. It began with the copywriter typing the words. These were typeset in hot-metal type and printed out. The artist would cut out blocks of type and paste them on the drawing board along with the logos and illustrations. This would go to the block maker, who would etch a zinc plate and mount it on wood. This would then be taken to the newspaper to go through the printing press.


The first advertising agent in New Zealand was Charles Haines, who in 1891 became the Wellington-based agent selling advertising in the Wairarapa Daily. Some months later the Irish-born John Ilott became the Wellington agent for the Auckland Star group, which included the New Zealand Graphic and New Zealand Farmer. Before long he was also selling advertisements in Otago and Canterbury papers. Ilott prepared the copy and the artwork. In 1896 J. Inglis Wright began similar work in Dunedin.


In 1896 the Newspaper Proprietors Association (NPA) was formed, and the association saw the advantages in agents working for all newspapers rather than each paper having separate agents. So from 1907 the NPA began to accredit advertising agencies, and to lay down rules and fees. It was established that an accredited agency would receive a 20% commission on any ad placed, but lose 5% if the agency did not pay the newspaper within 30 days. The agency carried the financial risk. Agents could charge their clients for preparing the copy and the images.

Agencies would work out a marketing plan with a client, book spaces in the media, and then prepare the advertisements. By 1910 Ilott Advertising had Shell, the Bank of New Zealand, Edmonds, Fleming’s Creamoata and Cadbury among its clients. The agency included people like artists and copywriters alongside account executives and media buyers.

Stock images

Fifty years later, in 1960, Ilott Advertising had some 130 personnel, including 22 artists. Along with the writers in the production department, they produced work that had more complex imagery and slogans than earlier efforts. There was much copying of American advertisements, and catalogues of re-useable ‘cuts’, or block illustrations, were widely used. Creativity was not central to the culture, and few accounts changed hands.

The other two pioneer firms, Charles Haines and J. Inglis Wright, were still operating and had been joined as major firms by Goldbergs (later Dobbs, Wiggins, Goldberg), Carlton Carruthers, and Dormer Beck, which was the only Auckland agency.

Short stay, long effect


In the late 1920s the American advertising agency J. Walter Thompson briefly established an office in Wellington to honour their agreement to promote General Motors cars wherever it set up an assembly plant. The young accountant for the agency, Bill McNair, was intrigued by the agency’s consumer research project into the sale of King Oscar sardines. Inspired, McNair went to Sydney to establish a pioneering market research and polling company.


Market research

Following US practice, some agencies began to get involved in market research to assist their campaigns. In the late 1940s Laurie Enting at J. Inglis Wright established the Consumer Research Bureau as a subsidiary of the agency. Ilott Advertising soon followed this initiative.


Legislation laid down rules for advertising, such as the Medical Advertisements Act 1942, which prohibited advertisements claiming to ‘cure’ serious illnesses. The agencies themselves formed the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of New Zealand, which tried to ensure that no advertisements included misleading claims, exaggerated statements, attacks on competitors or fake testimonials. This reinforced standards also supported by the NPA.

Political advertising

Although selling goods was by far the most important role for agencies, political parties also sought their services. Ilott Advertising and Charles Haines shared the National Party’s advertising until the late 1960s, while J. Inglis Wright made many Labour Party advertisements. The industry won plaudits for its role in promoting war loans and other wartime propaganda.

International agencies

For a long time the many goods from the UK in New Zealand shops were promoted by British agencies with offices in New Zealand. Correspondingly, in the 1920s Ilott Advertising opened an agency in London to promote New Zealand goods such as Glaxo. However, from the 1950s international firms began to take holdings in local agencies such as Dobbs-Wiggins-McCann-Erickson, and some, such as Ogilvy and Mather, established their own New Zealand agencies.

Radio and other advertising methods

Until the arrival of television, newspapers were by far the most important medium for advertisements; but ads were found in other places too. There were some posters in shops or railway stations, billboards on trams and buses, free-standing hoardings along some main roads, and advertisements before cinemas began their programmes. Sunlight soap even advertised their wares on the back of New Zealand postage stamps.

Peep show


In 1922 a window display stopped the traffic in Hawera’s High Street. Fred Bone, the owner of a leading drapery store, had blacked out the shop window but left a peep hole through which female shop staff could be seen showing off the store’s latest silk stockings. The daring display created huge local interest until the police requested its removal.


In the first half of the 20th century city shops also put considerable energy into window displays.

Beginnings of radio

Radio was the only significant competitor to newspapers as an advertising medium, but it took some time before this occurred. The first stations began operation in 1922 and Charles Forrest, who ran a Wellington station, agreed to mention on air the name of the firm who supplied the station with records.

Listeners at this stage were few. In 1925, when there were under 5,000 licensed listeners, the Radio Broadcasting Corporation was set up to establish non-commercial stations in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The stations were funded by licence fees.

Other stations, called ‘B stations’, also emerged. They hoped to fund themselves through advertising, though that was illegal at the time. In 1931 government agreed that these stations could mention the sponsor before and after a programme, but there was no advertising as such.

Commercial broadcasting

During the 1930s radio receivers became common in New Zealand homes. In two acts of 1936 and 1937 a non-commercial service, the National Broadcasting Service (NBS), was set up. Then, alongside it, a National Commercial Broadcasting Service (NCBS) was established under the leadership of Colin Scrimgeour. The Labour government was concerned to retain control of commercial radio rather than let newspaper interests take control. The commercial service was permitted to broadcast advertisements.



Soap operas – family dramas that were spun out over years – were standard fare of early commercial radio. The name came from the fact that the first such programmes in the US were sponsored by soap companies.


At first advertisers were hesitant about using the new medium, and the newspapers did everything possible to dissuade them switching to radio. Initially, advertising agencies had the responsibility of choosing and importing the programmes, arranging the sponsors and recording the commercials. However, when the NCBS merged with the NBS in 1943, the broadcaster chose the programmes and then offered them to advertisers.

From the late 1930s commercial radio became more popular, especially in the 1940s and 1950s when newsprint was scarce. During the day the audience was predominantly housewives, and Maud Basham – ‘Aunt Daisy’, as she was known – was the queen of the airwaves. She promoted household products on her morning show, and later established her own advertising agency.

In the evenings quiz shows featured a fierce rivalry between ‘It’s in the bag’, sponsored by Lever Brothers, a soap manufacturer; and Jack Maybury’s show sponsored by Colgate Palmolive. However, radio remained a low-cost back-up for the press.

Private radio

In 1966, before private radio licences were issued, Radio Hauraki went to sea as a pirate radio station. The new station offered pop music and more professional and interesting advertisements. Three years later private radio licences were allowed, and in the 1970s the private radio stations began to join forces to handle advertising.

FM radio started in 1983, and restrictions on the number of advertisements were lifted. While radio was never a dominant medium for advertising, it became established as an increasingly important way to appeal to younger people. In 2007, 11.7% of advertising spending went to radio.

Television advertising

Television arrives

Television began transmission in New Zealand in 1960. Advertising was present from the start. At first, television only transmitted four nights a week, and only two nights had advertising. Later, it rose to four days a week of advertising, with a maximum of six minutes of advertising an hour. The arrival of a second channel in 1975 led to an increase to five days a week and nine minutes an hour.

These restrictions changed with the Broadcasting Act 1989, which simply stated that there could be no advertising from 6 a.m. to noon on Sundays and Anzac Day, or at any time on Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. The normal practice was for up to 14 minutes of ads for every broadcast hour.

Television followed the newspaper practice of accrediting agencies and paying a 20% commission. Local advertisements quickly dominated over those made overseas. However, through the 1960s television remained a relatively small part of the advertising business – in 1970 $35.5 million was spent on newspaper advertising, $10 million on television and $6.5 million on radio.

Fresh up


The first locally made television advertisement was created by Goldberg Advertising in early 1960 for the Apple and Pear Marketing Board. It screened in London before later being shown on New Zealand television. The final frame showed a boy sitting on an apple above the words ‘New Zealand apples give that FRESH UP flavour’.


Television advertising grows

During the 1970s television advertising took off, and in 1981 it represented almost a quarter of advertising turnover. Advertising outstripped the licence fee in terms of television income. By 1991 television advertising equalled the newspaper spend at over a third of the total. This level continued until the early 2000s. In 2007 television received 28% of advertising turnover. Newspapers, which lost classified advertisements with the rise of direct internet selling sites like Trade Me, received 35.4%, a drop from more than 40% in 2000.

As television hours and viewers increased, television advertising rose. The arrival of colour television in 1973, and a second channel two years later, brought larger audiences and more opportunity for creative advertisements. When television became a national network (previously it had been regional) it gained a competitive advantage over newspapers, which had local markets and separate sales managers. TV3 began broadcasting in 1989, and over the next decade channels proliferated, providing further opportunity and lowering advertising prices.

Television advertising was also boosted by the rise in supermarkets and consumer goods. In 1958 Tom Ah Chee opened the first supermarket at Ōtāhuhu, and during the 1960s Progressive Enterprises developed this new form of retailing. Because products were now on open shelves, branding and special deals became important ways to attract consumers to one product over another.

The spread of suburban housing and growing prosperity also opened up opportunities to sell goods like carpets, fridges, washing machines and lawn mowers.

Creative advertising

New agencies

The overseas influences and the opportunities of television brought a new creative spirit to advertising. In the US in the 1950s and 1960s advertisers began presenting the image of products rather than the benefits, which led to more sophisticated and witty advertisements.

This spirit entered New Zealand in the 1970s, partly through international ownership of advertising companies. The old firm Dobbs-Wiggins-McCann-Erikson and the newcomer Ogilvy and Mather already had international connections. Colenso, started in 1969 by five people who had been working for Charles Haines, teamed up with Clemenger in Australia and BBDO in New York. Colenso was highly successful and by the 1980s was the highest-earning agency. They became known for their popular advertisements including the Crunchie bar train hold-up commercial, the ‘Hugo’ Kentucky Fried Chicken ad with its catchy jingle, and infamous National Party advertisements in 1975 with Hanna-Barbera animations.

The London-based Saatchi & Saatchi arrived in 1985 when it took over the Campaign agency. Three years later it also took over leading local firm Mackay King. By the 1990s Saatchi & Saatchi was earning more than Colenso. Colenso eventually (in 1998) merged with HKM, another high-flying firm of the late 1980s, into the Clemenger stable.

In the 2000s another big international agency, OMD, established itself in New Zealand and quickly began to win awards for its ads.

Hot shots

These ‘hot shot’ agencies brought a new culture. They worked very long hours, and would lock themselves in a hotel to work on a campaign. They were known for their office high jinks, practical jokes and flamboyant personalities. Work was secured with competitive ‘pitches,’ and they encouraged clients to change agencies.

Success in a new medium

Tony Williams had always aspired to achieve success making feature films. He was the director of photography for the 1950s New Zealand-made film Runaway. But fame and fortune were hard to win in the New Zealand film industry. However, Williams achieved distinction in making the celebrated Crunchie commercial, the Toyota ‘bugger’ ad, and the famous ‘Dear John’ ad for BASF audio tapes, which won international awards and was the commercial of the decade for the 1980s.

Advertising firms worked closely with the local film industry, which was also emerging in the 1970s. Film-makers such as Tony Williams and Roger Donaldson turned their hands to clever advertisements. Bob Harvey of MacHarman Ayer Advertising employed graphic artists like Dick Frizzell.

Increasingly, advertising agencies moved to Auckland, following their markets. Even in the early 1970s, 44 of the 90 agencies were there. Auckland agencies concentrated on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), while Wellington firms worked for service industries like banking.

The new culture spelled the end of the old firms. In 1985 J. Inglis Wright, Charles Haines and Ilott Advertising were still among the top five (along with Colenso and Saatchi & Saatchi); but by the mid 1990s all three had been swallowed up by international firms.

Marketing and regulation

Minor advertising media

Although newspapers, television and radio have been the main media for advertisements since 1970, there was a range of other outlets.

  • Glossy magazines comprised about 11% of the advertising expenditure in 2007. They allowed advertising to target niche markets – women’s magazines like New Idea or Next advertised perfume and cosmetics; middle-class lifestyle magazines like North and South featured ads for wine.
  • Cinema advertisements, originally silent slides, became more complex, and were sometimes elaborate short films. They made up 0.4% of 2007 expenditure.
  • Billboards on city buildings or roadside hoardings made up 3.3% of the advertising spend in 2007.
  • Buses and bus stops frequently feature advertisements.

New media

New media include:

  • the shirts of sportsmen and women, especially following the professionalisation of sports such as rugby football in 1995, and the involvement of New Zealand teams such as the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team in Australian professional competitions
  • free postcards, which sit in racks in coffee shops
  • banners on websites – spending in the interactive category, which includes internet advertising, rose from 0.4% in 2003 to 5.8% in 2007.


Since the 1970s a major development was the emergence of a marketing approach to selling goods. The first courses in marketing in universities and polytechnics began in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Marketing Institute was established in 1984.

Marketing virus


Viral and guerrilla marketing, which use social networks and word of mouth, are methods of advertising that became popular in the 2000s. One energy drink manufacturer paid an attractive young woman to walk around Wellington sipping their product, with the aim that people seeing her would want to drink it too.


Marketers believed that consumers had to be encouraged to buy through mechanisms other than just advertisements. The way a product was packaged or the events that it sponsored were all part of the brand image and raised awareness. Such spending was often up to half of the total promotional budget. It also included sales promotions, competitions, giveaways and exhibitions.

The use of computers and databases from the 1980s made direct marketing possible – targeting individuals with personalised appeals by letter or, increasingly, email. The Privacy Act 1993 imposed restrictions on direct marketing, and there was growing hostility to unrequested ‘spam’ and ‘junk mail’. In 2007 the addressed mail advertising spend had fallen to 1.5% of the total.

Marketers increasingly used research in their work. Research was of two kinds: qualitative research, usually based on interviewing; and numerical data analysis of sales, which was greatly aided by the arrival of scanning technology in shops.

Behavioural advertisements

Although most advertising was for selling goods, advertising techniques were increasingly used for other purposes. Political parties continued to advertise on billboards and on television, but there was a big increase in campaigns designed to change behaviour. Important among these were campaigns against drink driving, smoking and domestic violence. These were unusual in that they encouraged people to stop an action rather than encouraging them to do something such as buy a product.


The tradition of self-regulation of advertising, which had been pioneered by the newspaper publishers and the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies, was formalised in 1973 with the establishment of a Committee of Advertising Practice. This subsequently became the Advertising Standards Authority. The authority includes representatives of advertising agencies and newspaper publishers, along with television and radio broadcasters, cinema advertisers, and community newspapers and magazines. The authority established codes of practice covering such topics as advertisements aimed at children, and liquor and gaming ads.

In 1988 an Advertising Standards Complaints Board was established to administer the codes, and hear cases where advertising was misleading or deceptive. Despite these restrictions, New Zealand practice remained unusually liberal in some respects – for example, in the 2000s New Zealand and the US were the only countries which allowed the advertising of prescription drugs directly to consumers. There were highly public campaigns to restrict the advertising of junk food to children.

Advertising and New Zealand society

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.’


National identity

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’.

Kiwi blokes

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.


National pride

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.

External links and sources

More suggestions and sources

How to cite this page: Jock Phillips, 'Advertising', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 11 March 2010