Marketing Brand NZ to Kiwis

Brand NZ

While much of the world is still under the grips of the pandemic, New Zealand is opening up for business – but with a difference. With our borders largely closed to the outside world, and in a country reliant on selling Brand NZ to foreign markets, Graham Medcalf asks how marketers have pivoted and repositioned their brands to appeal to Kiwis.


On June 8, 2020 New Zealand moved to Alert Level 1 and companies breathed a sigh of relief as business headed into a new normal, one that had border closures, resulting in marketers turning inwards to see where the local market could make up for the inevitable losses forced by an isolationist Covid-19 world. 

Seventeen days later, insights and consulting company, Kantar, issued a news release proposing “brands must tap into their ‘New Zealandness’ to stay relevant”.

“A well-articulated and crafted brand will have an emotional core, but it is possible to ‘dial up’ and ‘dial down’ attributes within that. The implication is that brand strategists need to tap into their brands’ ‘New Zealandness’ at a time when supporting local businesses and, by extension, ‘New Zealandness’ as an economic concept is increasingly important,” wrote Kantar executive director Jason Cate.

A return to Level 3 in August, as a new cluster of Covid-19 infection hit Auckland, only served to reinforce this advice.

Similarly, research from Rutherford Labs suggested: “Businesses that want to speed their recovery following Lockdown might want to consider marketing based on their affiliation with local communities – or at least position themselves as a Kiwi business.”

As a staunchly Kiwi brand that’s been marketing to Kiwis for generations, Mitre 10’s market focus didn’t change, in that the company has always been committed to the local domestic market. However, “consumer behaviour in the category has definitely changed since Covid-19,” says Jules Lloyd-Jones, Chief of Customer Marketing & Inspiration.

Mitre 10 is the major New Zealand chain of home improvement stores and as Kiwis were feeling the isolation of Lockdown, their homes became even more important to them, becoming a sanctuary. 

“With so much enforced time at home during Lockdown, many New Zealanders undertook existing or planned new home improvement projects,” notes Lloyd-Jones. “And so, to be relevant and helpful throughout this time we focused on the promotion of existing and new ‘how to’ content, like our extensive range of Easy As videos and Easy As Kids content, to support projects big and small.”

While the Lockdown proved to be a marketing opportunity for Mitre 10, no such luck for businesses like Air New Zealand and many other tourism reliant companies that suddenly saw their potential customers disappear. Back in the good old days of 2018 Air New Zealand took out the Marketing Award at the Airline Strategy Awards in London, recognised for excellence and innovation in various aspects of marketing which contributed to overall market positioning with strong commercial results.

With a reputation for using substantive research and evidenced-based insights the airline consistently produced some of the best marketing campaigns over many years, many of them aimed at international travellers. Fast forward to today and Air New Zealand’s marketing focus has turned inwards, teaming up with Tourism New Zealand to persuade Kiwis to enjoy the attractions of their own country.

The ‘Do something new, New Zealand’ winter campaign kicked off early August, promoting the key ski locations in Taupo, Christchurch and Queenstown, primarily through social media, digital display advertising and online. It begs the question as to whether this is the demise of the big-budget, TV-led campaigns that we are used to.

Meanwhile, Tourism New Zealand is now marketing to locals, while keeping the Good Morning World campaign alive. Local tourism marketing has been helped by a recovery package that injected $400 million into the domestic campaign, a programme to assist strategic tourism attractions.

Fran O’Sullivan (NZ Herald, 15 August 2020) wrote: “There is no public strategy which underpins how New Zealand will engage with the rest of the world when Covid-19 dissipates. Or considers the industries that might replace tourism and international education.”

With the loss of foreign students, higher education is an industry that has been hit hard by the pandemic. Tertiary institutions have had to pivot and give greater focus to the local side of their business.

In what is an incredibly competitive domestic market, the University of Auckland, has moved swiftly to offer the working professional market with a growing portfolio of fully online programmes.  

The University has also shifted engagement with school leavers, their parents and schools to online rather than relying on the more traditional channels of engagement such as face-to-face school visits and on campus events.  

The challenge for the University is to appeal to a broader New Zealand student market whilst staying true to their core. The key was doing this effectively and fast, along with a strong strategic focus on the University’s point of difference.  

Wunderman Thompson has worked closely with the University to develop compelling creative that spoke to New Zealanders, producing multiple recruitment campaigns. The tightness of the team – University marketers, Wunderman Thompson and the media agency, Mediacom – is a great example of the ‘one team’ approach necessary to succeed in a crisis.

This totally immersive, real-time approach that at times blurs the lines between agency and client is reinforced by Troy Fuller, managing director of ad agency 99.  

“With collaboration and reactiveness at the core of our Covid-19 ways of working, processes became leaner and that enabled us to get to market quicker,” he says.

Prioritising tactical thinking and being responsive to quickly changing customer needs, has meant a short-term focus on customers’ mid- to long-term strategies. 

“Knowing nothing was guaranteed in 2020, we have applied scenario planning techniques to bake greater flexibility into our work. It’s a practice of mapping ‘what ifs’ to solutions that can still deliver on objectives.”

With the help of 99, Spark launched a New Zealand first ‘Spark Virtual Store’, a proactive response seeking to replicate the Spark in-store experience online. The real challenge was delivering the curated discovery, expert advice and demonstrations of a best-in-class store experience to the safety of Kiwis’ homes during the pandemic. 

The Spark Virtual Store has already proven itself as a successful retail channel and branded experience touchpoint. 

With partners Kiwibank, 99 launched the ‘Ask Kiwibank Anything’ digital platform, and ‘Reset’ and ‘Flexi’ campaigns. These pieces of work converged around the customer, putting the ability to meet their needs ahead of everything else.

The ‘Ask Kiwibank Anything’ campaign opened up a two-way dialogue between Kiwibank and its customers, with the idea built on the empathy and transparency unfamiliar to many of the big banks. With always-on support communications and specialist teams at the helm, Kiwibank stayed active in the market and available to field the questions, concerns, and often panic, that many customers were facing. 

‘The Big Reset’ signalled to customers Kiwibank was there for New Zealanders in a stressful time and delivered a 100-basis point drop on variable mortgage rates. This was a New Zealand first move that created more equity in the home loan market and demonstrated Kiwibank’s mandate and purpose in helping Kiwis.

Primary industry is another area affected by the new reality. Beef + Lamb New Zealand Inc is responsible for domestic promotion of beef and lamb and is jointly funded by farmers (Beef + Lamb New Zealand Ltd), New Zealand retailers and New Zealand processors. 

The company recognised that there are a number of Kiwis struggling as a result of Covid-19 and launched its Beef + Lamb Community Fund, which was set up to support grassroots, community initiatives  in need of a helping hand in the form of meat packs for raffles, BBQs and general fundraising.

To date they have supported over 50 different community projects nationwide, from sports clubs, kids’ charities, toy libraries and more, and that number continues to grow.

General Manager, Kit Arkwright, told NZ Marketing:
“We were due to launch a campaign in March but took the decision to postpone in light of Covid-19. Part of the budget, originally ringfenced for the March campaign, was directed into our ‘always-on’ digital activity which gives us the flexibility to adapt at the click of a button.”

Like many marketing companies, it’s not so much the strategies that have changed, but a focus on tactics and channels. With consumers potentially one Covid-19-positive case away from returning to lockdown, marketers have seen the need to place resources in channels that will be not impacted by restrictions on movement. 

“We saw our digital channels double in size during Lockdown,” reports Arkwright. “We’ve been delighted that audiences have more or less stuck around, and we will continue to future proof these channels.”

But what about other market sectors? 

“It’s been impressive to watch how many of our clients have been able to quickly adapt and change to the evolving environment created by Covid-19. Decisions that would have taken a year in ‘normal’ business conditions, are being made in days,” says FCB New Zealand’s Managing Director, Toby Sellers. 

“While NZ has done well to return to a level of normalcy other countries can only dream of, there is still much uncertainty in the market and an expectation that an economic downturn is looming.” 

That remark from Sellers was made just before the August return to Level 2 in Auckland, so the economic downturn he refers to may be longer and more frightening than thought of at the time. Long and even medium-term planning is much more difficult, and marketers are having to focus on short-term marketing strategies to maximise revenue generation, in the present. 

Pressure on revenue has impacted marketing budgets, and more robust measurement to demonstrate ROI is now a top priority. Something being championed by FCB. Campaign efficiency has to repay investment as media budgets decrease and share of voice is impacted.

“More clients are now realising the benefits of using first party data and leveraging their owned channels to engage customers,” reports Sellers.  

Not surprisingly, there has been a steep rise in the optimisation of e-commerce sites to realise new online trading opportunities driven by lockdown restrictions. While the increase in online sales has been a positive development for most businesses, the sudden demand has also brought new challenges which have had to be quickly addressed.  

There is now a much greater focus on the digital customer experience, minimising friction to maximise conversion and enhance brand reputation. It has afforded some brands the opportunity to modernise and refresh, perhaps a little more quickly than they would have liked.  

The disruption of Covid-19 has brought with it new and unexpected opportunities for marketers to change elements of their business models. Identifying new and emerging trends will help to develop new products, services and audiences to capitalise on these opportunities. 

Some astute marketers see the current crisis as an opportunity to grab brand share, while their competitors reduce spending. Harvey Norman is a great example of this recently, with a splurge of wrap arounds on Stuff and NZME newspapers, advertising an array of well-priced, brands, offered to a stay-at-home customer base who might previously have spent their disposable incomes travelling the world.

The Lockdown also afforded health and wellness brand Red Seal, with the help of agencies Studio Nash and MBM, to encourage Kiwis to look after themselves from the inside out. The ANZAC Day launch took advantage of high TV viewership to share Red Seal’s revamped ethos, ‘When you put incredible in you get incredible out.’

Over the past few months, there have been many cliched and inauthentic responses from numerous brands that, in trying to remain relevant, have ended up in a sea of sameness, instead of jumping on the ‘in these unprecedented times’, bandwagon, and pivoting or repositioning their brands to appeal to Kiwis.

Conversely, there are examples of marketers recognising an opportunity, despite the adverse circumstances.

Encouraging Kiwis to continue to shop local is central to Visa’s new digital campaign, which focuses on six small North Island businesses that need support following the impact of Covid-19.

The ‘Where You Shop Matters’ campaign aims to support small businesses, enabling them to not only survive, but thrive. Fronting the campaign are Duncan’s Brewing Co., Waiheke Dive and Snorkel, Commonsense Organics, Surmanti, Adrienne Whitewood and Loxy’s Hair Boutique.

As Visa country manager for New Zealand and the South Pacific, Marty Kerr, told NZ Marketing’s digital arm, StopPress: “Visa has launched free e-commerce starter packages, an ad booster programme, and the Visa Business Locator Tool. These resources are still available, and we urge Kiwi business owners to take advantage of them as they rebuild from the shock of Covid-19.” 

PAK’nSAVE has always entertainedKiwis and made them feel good about who we are as a nation, so instead of compounding the uncertainty, their FCB-created campaign doubled down, delivering important Covid-19 related messaging in the brand’s inimitable tone. 

Instead of talking about being trapped at home, Four Square highlighted the benefits of more time at home and simpler pleasures.

Audi connected the pleasure of a premium driving experience with the pent-up demand to get out and explore New Zealand. This was done through a retail offer that incentivised purchase with a credit towards a premium driving holiday to a number of New Zealand’s most desirable locations.

Mercury had launched the latest chapter from their Energy Made Wonderful brand platform before the Covid-19 outbreak, encouraging Kiwi’s to ‘make oil history’ by joining the electric revolution. The Covid-19 Lockdown gave New Zealand and the world an immersive experience of the benefits of a world without fossil fuel powered transport.

Staying close to consumers via insights has been important for marketers, and understanding New Zealanders’ feelings of safety, positivity and confidence in the future has become a priority. 

Mitre 10 is now using media channels which offer considerably more flexibility, so the retailer is able to be more responsive. 

“Lockdown created opportunities we hadn’t foreseen prior to this, Lloyd-Jones told NZ Marketing, “particularly the need to accelerate our e-commerce channel rapidly, when for a period it became our only retail sales channel.”

This required the team to get things done in days, what might have taken months under usual circumstances. 

There has also been a genuine desire amongst Kiwis to support local, so Mitre 10 amplified its storytelling around community connections, a co-operative business model and its heritage stories, with many of the Mitre 10 stores having served their communities for generations.

“Recognising that many New Zealanders’ financial situation has changed considerably due to Covid-19, we’ve increased our focus on value-based promotions and deals and our entry level private label brands like Number 8, so that shoppers can continue to undertake small and large home improvement projects. As a Kiwi co-operative business, we do a lot for our local communities,” says Lloyd Jones.

 In addition, Mitre 10’s Helping Hands programme, recently launched nationally, brought together all the practical support that its stores provide to community projects, like rebuilding school playgrounds, establishing community gardens, or upgrading a local rugby club room. 

“We’re continuing to produce content to help Kiwis get their jobs done right because we’re seeing a continued high level of interest in our Easy As videos and how-to guides,” adds Lloyd Jones.

Spending more time at home has also been a boon for streaming services, and with the merging of Spark’s Lightbox under the Neon umbrella, Sky TV is turning its business around at a time when pay TV is being decimated globally by Covid-19.

Sky sees this move as one of being a local disruptor, taking the fight to local Netflix, and getting the pricing right at $13.99 a month. Whether this will have the unintended effect of moving some Sky TV subscribers off the pay TV subscription remains to be seen. Sky TV has also managed to change perceptions with their customers, and with the return of live sport, have seen soaring audiences. A lot of Sky TV’s new approach to upgrading customers has been off the back of work done by award-winning researcher Kathryn Topp at Yabble, who helped them to understand their customers’ needs better, while introducing new ways to interact with both current and future customers. The customer-first approach is indeed refreshing.

The reaction to the ‘Life needs more Sports’ campaign has been extremely positive and the broadcaster is now poised to make the most of ‘New Zealand as Sports Stadium for the World’, unless we have recurring Covid-19 community infections. 

At the time of writing, Sky TV were working on a relaunch of the SKY master brand, with its agency DDB, who had already garnered accolades for the Streaking Baby TVC. Sport is obviously huge for Sky but as their marketing team like to emphasise, “we also do entertainment so well, and also Sky News – people keep forgetting we do news!”

Talking to NZ Marketing, it was obvious they had a very good time through Lockdown and are on a journey from brand dislike to re-invention. This all happening under the guidance of CEO Martin Stewart and CMO Steve Bayliss (both joined Sky TV in 2019), which has introduced a new positive way of working with their partners and other players like TVNZ. 

Smart marketers have become considerably more comfortable with being uncomfortable, working with greater flexibility and less certainty. They’ve developed more resilience, pragmatism, and a real Kiwi can-do attitude and increased sense of perspective. They’ve had to deal with many uncharted and sudden challenges, from pressures on customer service capacity to supply chain problems and trading restrictions, all of which has impacted their ability to trade and their customers’ brand experience. But in many ways, Covid-19 has given New Zealand marketers permission to be more innovative. 


This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

About Graham Medcalf

Graham Medcalf is former Editor of NZ Marketing and regular contributor.

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