Why is advertising so much better in New Zealand than Australia?

Ok, so this isn’t a new observation.

But it really hit home after I watched some TV ads for a kiwi supermarket yesterday that advertising in New Zealand is so much better than much of the crap that is being served up in this country at the moment.

Why is it that Colenso BBDO Auckland can turn something as bland as a supermarket chain into a brand I almost like, while Australian agencies succeed only in either irritating me (Coles) or passing me by unnoticed (Woolies) because the ads are so average?

The three kiwi ads released yesterday, as someone in the comment thread pointed out, say nothing about the service offering, or point of difference of New World supermarket. But at least they are pieces of communication I can sit through and enjoy.

Yes, the context is different. Coles and Woolies are embroiled in an ugly tit-for-tat scrap that has reduced their advertising to base tactical gunk, with Coles leading the way down. But even if you argue that Coles advertising is effective, which it surely is, is that an excuse for work that leaves the viewer feeling mildly insulted?

New Zealand’s economy is in worse shape than Australia’s, and the retail squeeze is at least as tight. Locally-owned New World is locked in a battle of its own, with Woolies-owned Countdown. But here is an advertiser that still believes in the work.

Each of Colenso’s ads for New World tell believable, funny stories, beautifully acted, sharply edited and imaginatively shot using everything from a digital HD camera to an iPhone. The third, my favourite, doesn’t even feature the supermarket until the very end, which in Australia might be seen as a creative that has been given too much room to maneovre.

The choice of music, too often an afterthought in the ad creation process, took imagination and a risk in trying non-mainstream artists out on a mass audience. Fishin’ Blues by Henry Thomas. Walking by Ash Grunwald. Lazy eye by Silversun Pickups. The polar opposite of the Coles approach – regurgitating hackneyed ‘classics’.

I believe it was Ted Horton, the creator of Coles ads, regarded as a genius by his peers, who once said that getting creative ads made in New Zealand is like playing tennis without a net.

The implication being that kiwi clients will eat up any work they are presented with, and creatives are free to run amok with any idea that takes their fancy.

Creative agencies in New Zealand, so the theory goes, get access to the CEO, not just the marketing director, as is usually the case in Australia. So they can wield more influence over the creative process than they do here.

And supposedly it’s easier for ads to cut through in New Zealand, as there’s less clutter and less competition. So you might as well cut loose and try new things rather than play it safe.

I should say now that I’m exposed to far more Australian advertising than kiwi. The theory goes that 80% of the advertising you’ll see on television anywhere is either bad or bland, and the same probably applies to New Zealand.

But of the ads I’ve seen – and across a range of categories – the work is generally of a higher quality across the Tasman.  Clemenger BBDO Wellington’s ad for Dulux. ‘Flying objects’ for New Zealand Transport Authority. The powerful charity ad for Pedigree (another by Colenso) that launched earlier this month. Clemenger BBDO Wellington’s anti-speeding campaign is another stand out.

I struggle to think of some really great ads I’ve seen this year in Australia. The winner of the Mumbrella’s Ad of the Month for April, for Dare Ice Coffee, left me completely underwhelmed, but was probably best of an average bunch – because it was an interesting media idea.

The best of I’ve seen have come from unexpected places (not the award-winning juggernauts like Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, The Monkeys or Leo Burnett Sydney). ‘Let yourself go’ for Kangaroo Island by Adelaide agency KWP!. ‘It’s time’ for gay marriage rights, devised inhouse by GetUp!. ‘Date’ for Trade Secret by young agency Bashful.

With Cannes around the corner, I’m not all that optimistic that Australia will improve on last year’s performance – which was disappointing. I’d love to be proved wrong.

Robin Hicks


  1. Ricki
    25 May 12
    1:40 pm

  2. “Better” is subjective. Advertising is about results. How do you know viewers feel ‘mildly insulted’ by the Coles campaign? I’m talking about the viewers out there….the ‘normals’ who don’t work in advertising and marketing, and live west of Lilyfield and who don’t critique ads for a living.

    I worked on a big advertiser that brought it’s highly awarded NZ campaign to Australia and here, it failed. I worked on another big advertiser that had a big Trans-Tasman corporate issue occur. It made the 6pm news in NZ, but in Aus people didn’t much care at all. Its been my experience that the somewhat intangible ‘mood of the people’ is very different in Aus vs NZ and that plays a big part in how advertising is perceived and subsequently developed.

  3. fraser
    25 May 12
    1:40 pm

  4. I think the Aussie adverts try to hard to sell something, yes I know that is what advertising is all about but Aussie ads seem to cut to the chase and forget that advertising is about communication and engagement and not just product flog.

    There are a few Aussie gems this year, the ones that spring to mind are both from Micah Walker for Hahn Super Dry and The Star

  5. Dave may
    25 May 12
    1:52 pm

  6. Blame it on the creative talent Robin. Not the clients please.

  7. Proud Aussie but...
    25 May 12
    2:17 pm

  8. as someone who travels across the ditch often, I have to agree that in general, I find Kiwi’s far more creative than Aussies… Not just TV, but art, clothing, retail, music… Havent thought of a reason why, but the observation has been made.

  9. Jeepers
    25 May 12
    2:21 pm

  10. Having worked all over the world I can say creatives are usually of the same standard and generally it’s about opportunity.

    Clients here though wouldn’t be out of place in a far-right christian cult.

  11. A
    25 May 12
    2:32 pm

  12. Although agencies need to take some of the blame, I think clients are the most to blame for the bland and banal advertising executions in Australia. Everyone is too safe and formulaic. Like the article said, music is often treated as an after-thought. Everyone tries to write 20 pages of backing documents, to try and explain every single frame of an advertisement when sometimes gut feeling and bravery is good enough.

    But if advertising is reflective of society, then Australian society is currently craving safety and conformity. Who can blame us, with all this talk of impending doom?

  13. A. Mused
    25 May 12
    2:38 pm

  14. The New Zealand public is quite advertising literate, having had a couple of decades now of good stuff. They like good ads and mercilessly pan the shite. The result being they get less crap.One of the most popular shows on TV here is an annual Best and Worst ads contest .The clients buy good work because it works better for them, by and large. It’s certainly more effective. Yes we have more access to CEOs and even boardrooms, and they take an interest because of the difference the huge difference good comms makes to their bottom line. A few reasons.

  15. Agnie
    25 May 12
    2:52 pm

  16. I think it’s like Fraser said. People here have completely forgotten what or how advertising should look like… It’s all about emotions and communication..not only product… I’m Polish and have been here quite long enough to notice that people don’t care much about emotions, it’s more about money. Trying to sell your product… you have to show people how great it is or either fantastic you/your company is and becoming part of it by buying your product they can become the same… But I’m not sure if it even can happen here…anyway, from my European perspective this is what I think…

  17. Notnilc
    25 May 12
    3:12 pm

  18. “Where rain falls, culture grows”.

    Same with Melbs vs Sydney or Britain vs. US. If the weather is shit, people are more creative.

  19. Mike Watkins
    25 May 12
    3:24 pm

  20. Kiwi’s are awesome 😀

  21. nick williams
    25 May 12
    3:27 pm

  22. I ran a major supermarket account here for two years at a top agency. I partnered with one of the very best creatives in Australia and we tried and mainly failed to drive through better/more innovative work. The best work we presented (and there was at least one campaign I was incredibly proud of) never got through the client hierarchies.

    I have a few observations.

    – Retail here is a duopoly. Generally in duopolies, there is no incentive to be radically different – the goal becomes to adopt a centrist positioning and then to beat your competitor at the same game by a few percent. Hence a ‘good ad’ became ‘beating’ the oppositions Coke 1.25l price on the front page of a catalogue. Only when you have 3 or more major competitors in the one market, do brands/businesses get forced to differentiate themselves more fully.

    – the retailers are (or were in the dark ages when I worked with them) highly conservative organisations run by executives who literally grew up in them and who don’t have a broad enough perspective to understand that other/new/better ways of doing things may actually bring better results.

    – lastly marketing is seen as a support, not a core function of big retailers here. Buying and Operations run the show, marketing is a ‘service’ to them and generally something not to be taken seriously…. generally the men in white shoes.

    I think things are changing for the better in grocery. the CEO of Woolies is a marketer now at least, But I agree the work isn’t as good as it should be

  23. Matt
    25 May 12
    4:38 pm

  24. Advertising (and marketing) in New Zealand has a culture of bravery, and brands treat their audience with respect – the bar is raised higher as creative needs to be innovative in order to stand out as a result.

    In this larger market throw in a dose of economic rationalism, fear of failure to return in ROI, a distinctive lack of chutzpuh, and the watering-down effect of the MIllwardBrown/IPSOS testing cycle, and that might give you part of the answer.

    If only audiences knew how much better it was over the ditch they wouldn’t put up with such shit.

  25. Greg
    25 May 12
    5:43 pm

  26. What a load of one eyed, head up your own arse crap, however I hope you have a nice day.

  27. Rod
    25 May 12
    8:37 pm

  28. Let Cannes 2012 prove who the real trans Tasman agency daddy is,rather than the opinion of a recent drop in……

  29. Anon
    26 May 12
    10:40 am

  30. It’s true – NZ does make better ads than Aus

  31. Over Oz TV
    26 May 12
    11:35 am

  32. Australian television is quite simply sub standard (ABC and SBS excluded.)

    Tripe, drivel, one sided, loud, obnoxious, vein, materialistic, sh1t.

    The adverts merely resemble on these poor networks what the content does; nothing substantial at all.

    Watching TV in the UK is such a thrill compared to watching it in Oz. It is a shame that 3 networks in Oz are run by greedy, lazy exec’s who have agenda’s and couldn’t care about the quality they broadcast. Shame on them. (They even ruin sport with their belligerent commentators and overdone ad’s.)

    Fortunately I have a remote control and choose what I watch. Sadly the masses are hooked (like they are to the pokies) and the ad industry rides on the back doing little to nothing for the greater good of our society…

  33. jean cave
    26 May 12
    2:52 pm

  34. Several things I noticed in New Zealand. There is a lot less in-your-face advertising generally. You can go days without seeing any at all! It feels less Americanised. and they just don’t seem to be so puffed up by Disney. They have gone their own way. I saw some adverts supporting breast-feeding in public and advising down-beat dads to reconnect with their kids. The Kiwi’s are absolute genius at looking at the human-scale aspects of way things work and they really work at showing respect for each other, which I love. Their design ethic seems to be about pleasure and enjoyment, as much as function.

  35. gimme a break
    26 May 12
    6:34 pm

  36. There’s no question that Australia and NZ both produce world class advertising. There are top creatives from all over the world working here. Having worked in top agencies in both countries I can honestly say that marketers are more risk averse and less open to genuinely interesting category changing work in Oz.
    And in large corporates if you are lucky enough to strike someone who isn’t, they are shouted down by the many other minions and masters in the marketing department. Many clients think they can write the ads themselves, and those are the same clients who treat viewers and consumers like idiots – in much the same way that they treat their agency. Clients get the work they deserve, and sadly most of them deserve the shite that they make agencies serve up on a daily basis.

  37. credit where it's due.
    26 May 12
    10:04 pm

  38. I always thought it was Simon Collins who compared working in a NZ agency to playing tennis without a net.

    I think it referred to NZ’s having fewer management layers client-side, compared to Aus where marketing departments were/are full of people who could say “no” but no one who could never actually approve a campaign.

    Now if only we could get someone to own up to Droga $4.99 – the comment of the year contender for 2012.

  39. Interested
    27 May 12
    8:58 pm

  40. As a marketing manager who has worked on both sides of the ditch, i would say Australian advertising is absolutely more pointed, and needs to be with the options open to consumers around which media they consume.
    However in NZ, there seems to be more of a focus on telling a story which makes for more, dare I say palatable ads. Sadly, however, the story being told often misses the point, meaning great response to recognition of an ad, but poor scores in brand recognition and product. Thats a fail in my book.
    The balance of story and message seems to be hard to find…but the “Ghost Chips” ad for youth drink driving shown above is an absolute home run in this regard.

  41. Waaah
    27 May 12
    10:00 pm

  42. @Mike Watkins

    They sure are! :)

  43. gimme a break
    27 May 12
    11:10 pm

  44. ‘Interested’, spoken like a true client who signs off on only the boring, safe ideas that don’t rock the boat. With ‘more options open to consumers around the media they consume’ there is more reason to do something memorable instead of safe wallpaper. Surely ‘palatable’ ads as you put it are more likely to be viewed and remembered than ‘unpalatable’ ones. Would love you to prove me wrong by pointing to one great campaign that you’ve overseen but sadly don’t think you will.

  45. Oscar
    28 May 12
    10:13 am

  46. I can appreciate what ‘Interested’ is saying, great creative is pointless if it doesn’t get the message across.

    But I think Australia can be pretty gutless, where ideas gets whittled down to the safest possible option, until what was potentially interesting is just safe. Its not a new point, but I don’t think the industry respects the consumers’ intelligence. We end up writing the message on the blackboard large enough for the class dunce to read, leaving little room for story that engages the rest of the class.

    Robin has an ongoing point about music that I’ll be pointing clients to. The power of good music on creative can’t be denied. A recent project of ours is a case in point, music was an afterthought and sure enough the material was half as good as it could have been.

  47. I wonder
    28 May 12
    10:26 am

  48. All this commentary about better ads being about a story, emotion etc is all very nice. I always enjoy my time with agencies talking about things that don’t matter.

    A good ad or campaign is one that is effective at selling. Lets talk about which is more effective.

    Given as many here seem to think quite righly the markets are different isn’t it obvious the ads are different?

    If they are; which works better? Why does it work better? What learnings can we apply based on this?

  49. Lucio
    28 May 12
    11:46 am

  50. Power of the spliff?

  51. paul
    28 May 12
    2:29 pm

  52. Part of it must be because there’s so MUCH advertising here in Oz.
    Each commercial break is loooong and so full of rubbish ads.
    If the law of supply & demand works, how about our TV meisters cutting down on the quantity available. Then we might start getting a bit more quality!

  53. Rushdie
    28 May 12
    3:55 pm

  54. As an ex-kiwi I have a theory. New Zealanders despise pretention and rank. The best idea wins. In the 70’s the poms came to Australia and bought with them their pompous-arsed class system (justified with Oxford degrees). It went CD at the top, group heads beneath and the rest of the creatives can go to hell. The Aussies, who were in awe of these guys, eventually adopted this bullshit. And they’re still out there sitting on thrones of self-interested, mostly in the big Aussie agencies. The best idea is their idea. It’s these guys who are keeping the standard low here.

  55. MRC
    28 May 12
    5:05 pm

  56. How easy it is to read through this thread and differentiate client & agency commentators!

    Being in a profession that see’s me interface with both sides of the fence, I have to say I feel the blame lies at the clients door. Agencies have some great people sat within their walls that are usually penned in creatively by the clients idea that every ad must be ‘effective’ (want to count how many sales, leads, enquiries etc..) Now I completely understand the need for justification behind the ‘why’ but this process of thought simultaneously leaves no focus around the positive brand recognition they get from simply engaging their audience through clever, interesting communication

    It seems the general formula is to buy a 30 second TV slot and have a country aussie shouting prices at you before signing off with a guilt inducing “it’s un-Australian not to buy {insert product}”

    Good article. Fully agree

  57. MRC
    28 May 12
    5:32 pm

  58. @27. Given that the UK advertising industry is generally considered to produce some of the best quality work in the world, and was also the number one creative city for many years; your comments hold zero weight

    That is all

  59. Aussie in Auckland
    28 May 12
    8:25 pm

  60. Having lived in both I have to agree with the article. Though it sounds that many in Australia believe ads in NZ are a rarity allowing for massive cut through from the odd ad that airs on TV. This evening in Auckland I’ve watched more than enough TV ads thanks. In addition to the usual local stuff there is a high number of global campaigns that run here as well as in Oz.

    Using grocery as the example there are the two majors plus the major discount brand, Pak n Save (think Bi Lo meets Aldi) and a huge number of independent suprettes, many just like an IGA. Consumer dollars are tight and the economy in NZ is not flourishing by any means so New World and Countdown are spending more across the board to drive sales in their stores. I don’t think the buyers or operations folk at either group would be high fiving each other for having less competition or ‘media clutter’ than their counterparts in Australia.

    Still, no one feels the need to point a giant red finger at people through the telly shouting this weeks specials.

    Now, if only New World could get their in-store merchandising as polished as their TV ads…

  61. Gooodpr
    29 May 12
    11:02 am

  62. It’s been shown repeatedly that New Zealand is full of edgy, creative, radical, flexible, ideas people. Its about time Australia took note of their smaller neighbor – its creative ideas and entrepreneurs that will lead economic growth during these tough times.

  63. ukpakeha
    30 May 12
    11:49 am

  64. Yeah, TV ads in NZ are great – it’s the programs they interrupt them with that leave a lot to be desired. The only non-commercial TV channel is going to be axed next month. Watching TVNZ makes you grateful for ABC and SBS.

  65. Thomas Dodson
    1 Jun 12
    4:34 pm

  66. God i love that speeding ad..

  67. Fred
    1 Jun 12
    7:27 pm

  68. I do think you can flog product and have a decent ad, they need not be mutually exclusive concepts.

  69. Aaron Rigby
    4 Jun 12
    3:53 pm

  70. Totally agree.

    I regularly put together case studies for a range of categories of best campaigns from around the world and New Zealand is always up there with the most creative. South Africa seems to be highly creative too, especially in QSR.

  71. Nick Farout Jones
    6 Jun 12
    7:32 am

  72. It’s all about da ghost chips bro! If your creative doesn’t bring in the money to your client, you might as well eat ghost chips!

    One can still create the beautiful concept and keep the tills ka-chinging for your client.

  73. Richard Moss
    15 Jun 12
    12:53 pm

  74. There is a lot of opinion here as usual. “A LOT”

    The answer is not hard to settle upon, just difficult to admit.

    We have lost the plot here in Australia, we have sold out to a bunch of crappy ideas and become far too commercial and quasi educated, too concerned with corporate and world class and aggressive leadership etc etc.

    Get back to creative input, start to once again make commercials. Tell stories, seek truth and sensitivity, get back to the heart strings.

    Remember that the people are your audience, not the corporate ladder climbers.
    The average CEO will be a better decision maker than the advertising or sales manager, that is why he/she is CEO.

    The pack shot must always be too small and always on screen for too short a time.