Opinion

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

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