New Zealand 100% Pure or Purblind?

“100% Pure forms a big part of our brand marketing for New Zealand Inc…”  John Key, Minister of Tourism.

 A decade ago, about the time the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign first saw the light of day, I attended the opening ceremony of an APEC meeting in the Christchurch Town Hall.

To enter the cleverly transformed auditorium guests had to make their way through a womb-like artificial cave, to emerge blinking in a recreation of prehistoric nocturnal New Zealand bush. There was not much to be seen except the glimpse of some stars and some dusky foliage, but there were lots of wonderful bird sound effects.

 It was an eerie and highly creative experience, but I wonder what sort of message about New Zealand it gave to the assembled and rather bemused Pacific and Asian delegates.

 It no doubt reinforced the Kiwi stereotype of a seldom seen flightless and nocturnal bird with a rather distasteful diet and strange breeding habits. (The clever, highly social, colourful and often airborne Kea was nowhere in evidence because of a lack of  4 wheel drive vehicles.)

 The APEC opening theme, then, was ornithological but not very logical. At least there were no sheep nor sheepish jokes.

Had the agenda of the meeting been solely about tourism perhaps the imagery would have worked fine. But because it was about new knowledge, new technology and new ways of doing business with new people, it fell flat on its multimedia face. The  landscape  decor was devoid of people, innovative or otherwise.

 Now, exactly 10 years after the campaign was first launched, with some wonderful film footage and effects from Ian Taylor’s Dunedin production company Taylormade, the Prime Minister, who also holds the Tourism portfolio, is reported to be in talks about expanding the 100% Pure New Zealand tourism campaign to become a “master brand” for the whole country.

“We think it’s a foundation brand to carry on into the future. We can use that to leverage not just our tourism activities but also our trade promotion and general promotion of New Zealand.” John Key he said in an interview Key seeks expansion of 100% Pure |

In response the University of Waikato Management School’s Juliet Roper said using 100% Pure New Zealand as a wider national brand was risky unless the Government was serious about protecting the environment. “We’ve got to show the substance behind it…..The scenery is knock-out gorgeous, but we don’t want people coming here and saying, `But the water wasn’t clean’….”

Mr Key agrees there had to be integrity behind the 100% Pure New Zealand image. “We have to make sure that we, through our actions or our goods and services, don’t undermine the brand. “But, broadly speaking, I think it reflects reality, that New Zealand’s a largely unpopulated, unspoilt landscape….We are trying to balance our economic growth with our environmental credentials.”

But brilliant and heart swelling though it is, the 100% Pure campaign sweeps under the promotional carpet the dirty truth that, as a highly developed farming nation, we have transformed much of our land and waterways with a chemical cocktail of additives.  Giardia warning signs on the banks of New Zealand rivers are at odds with our 100% Pure brand.

Quite separately the image of a pristine and largely deserted landscape does not help our push in other markets to be perceived as a technologically savvy, innovative people. Nokia didn’t get to where it is today by staying fixated with forests and endlessly replaying the Finlandia Suite.

This is no doubt why some time ago NZTE launched its  New Zealand-New Thinking campaign.   This endeavored to make the point that if we are geographically on the edge, it is a creative cutting edge.  This is no Hickesville hinterland, and we have a lot of creative, scientific and technological talent to prove it.

Intensive factory scale dairying and tourism are opposite ends of a tricky balancing act. Old and new pollution muddy the  waters.  It may be that current primary product prices and land values are taking the heat out of dairy conversions, but it is difficult to ring electric fence the discharge of nitrates and cover up other depradations. Taking agriculture out of our emissions scheme, for example, is simply sleight of hand, though it is fair to acknowledge that many farmers are already using systems which reduce pollution.

As a country we have to be wary of falsely representing our environmental credentials with a proudly patriotic but purblind campaign. If we get it demonstrably wrong we will have no credibility and the campaign will be seen to be at least 50% pure bullshit.

As the Kingston Trio used to sing in a more innocent time “Do not muddy the water around us, we may have to drink it.”


100% Pure New Zealand 

Early milking on a New Zealand dairy farm:  

Jean Sibelius: Finlandia 

Muddy Waters – Blow Wind Blow   

The Kingston Trio – Early Morning Rain

Speight’s ad “Don’t mess with nature” feauterin… 

Best Beer Commercial ever

#Lyall Lukey 1 August 2009


2 Responses to New Zealand 100% Pure or Purblind?

  1. Trish Moylan says:

    Hi Lyall’

    Loved your blog and you totally hit the nail on the head!

    Great and informative, keep it up.

    Trish Moyaln

  2. Anita Cox says:

    Hello from London Lyall!

    Had to comment on this blog as a subject v close to my heart and having lots of discussion back in the UK about. New Zealand has a very strong reputation in the UK for quality foodstuffs which is being used to sell everything from lamb chops to Tesco finest Toffee sauce! However, ask the average Brit about New Zealand and they are likely mention 1950s England at some point in the conversation. That NZ is thought of so fondly in a sort golden nostalgic glow for Britain in its heyday is no bad thing on many levels. But in terms of positioning New Zealand as a cutting edge provider of innovative and creative solutions to 21st century problems, clearly some work needs to be done to change people’s perception! The 100% pure NZ brand has been a great global marketing success story but I think you’re absolutely right Lyall, it’s not the right message to send out to the world re trade and business promotion. How New Zealand goes about striking the right balance between economic growth, environmental sustainability and protecting the quality of life for its citizens is at the heart of much wider and deeper global debate encompassing both developed and developing regions. I am sure that legendary Kiwi ingenuity has much to contribute on this point and that New Zealand has both the capability and the opportunity to help lead the world towards a better set of possible futures. Not to mention continuing to provide such a great environment for Kiwi generations to come as well as us tourists!

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