Jacinda Ardern is brand New Zealand’s breath of 100% Pure air

Not since the launch of the 100% Pure campaign has a single force had the power to impact on brand New Zealand in such a profound way, says Principals’ Steve Main.

A change in leadership for a company or organisation can do incredible things to its brand. Think about Rob Fyfe who became CEO of Air New Zealand and enabled a change in the airline’s culture towards customer centricity and innovation, a legacy which endures today. Or Eddie Jones taking over England’s rugby team and massively lifting their game (until recently, at least).

Right now, brand New Zealand is experiencing such an impact powered by Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern campaigning at the University of Auckland in 2017 Source: Wikipedia

Since the moment our new Prime Minister was elected – and even more so since she announced her pregnancy – Jacinda has dominated the headlines well beyond New Zealand, popping up in publications from as far afield as Brussels.

The media’s coverage of her prime ministership to date has seen the words “empathy” and “kindness” being used, words rarely associated with politicians. But there is also mention of the more circumspect “lofty promises” that have been made by Ardern’s party; promises to build 100,000 houses, reduce child poverty and clean up polluted rivers.

The tone is predictably a combination of scepticism – or perhaps naïve optimism – and glowing positivity, of challenges not ignored or mansplained away.  

Given Labour’s desire to be perceived as progressive and forward-thinking, the government couldn’t have chosen a better brand persona than Jacinda.

But more broadly than that, she epitomises The New Zealand Story. If you’re unfamiliar, The New Zealand Story was developed by our tourism, trade and enterprise bodies with input from leaders in manufacturing, export and Māori culture. It is embodied by the values of Kaitiaki, which means care of people and place, integrity and ingenuity. It would be challenging to suggest Jacinda isn’t consistent with each of them. She certainly conveys a sense of having a go and nothing is more Kiwi than that.

Historically, brand New Zealand has been heavily influenced by tourism campaigns. The 100% Pure campaign which kicked off in 1999, and has seen numerous iterations in the years since, is a powerful brand platform.

New Zealand’s natural assets have also influenced the brand as it has come to be associated with a clean, green lifestyle. Local producers of products such as milk, infant formula and cheese have been able to leverage this very successfully around the world. There’s also a creativity and innovation story embedded in the brand that is starting to be told.

Beyond the landscape of the country and its produce, a number of exports have played a role in shaping brand NZ in recent years. Musician Lorde, comedians Flight of the Conchords and film director Taika Waititi are a few that spring to mind.

But right now, there’s no denying that our PM is best placed to guide the brand.

While it’s certainly a step change for New Zealand to elect such young Prime Minister, it’s not inconsistent for our nation to create, lead and innovate. After all, we were the first self-governing country in the world to grant women the right to vote in parliamentary elections. We were also one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex unions.

History shows we’ve got a real appetite for fresh new thinking and bravery. And the appointment of a 37-year-old PM reinforces that point.

Of course, it’s early days here for the Jacinda-led government. There’s still a frisson of excitement in the air around our audacity to have a leader who made such a late and reluctant run for leadership and stitched together an unlikely coalition.

It has something of a honeymoon period feel about it, perhaps extended by a bucolic summer and the announcement of our her pregnancy.

But there’s a good chance Jacinda will have a lasting positive impact on brand NZ.

While there’s some excitement across the media spectrum, there’s still a question of potential yet to be realised. The honeymoon continues with a fascination with the evolving Jacinda leadership much as with Trudeau and Macron. It feels as if the world is watching with fingers crossed that our audacity pays off. And if it does, brand New Zealand may never be the same again, in a good way.

Steve Main is the general manager of Principals New Zealand.


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