The Press, December 2012

Defenders of the truth have been active in recent weeks, slamming Tourism New Zealand’s 100% Pure marketing campaign as the depth of hypocrisy.

One of these brave paragons of transparency is Massey University lecturer Dr Mike Joy who told the New York Times-owned International Herald Tribune that, “There are almost two worlds in New Zealand. There is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality.”

In the same article Green MP Eugenie Sage also weighed-in, skewering us for the double standards of promoting our supposedly clean and uncrowded land as 100% Pure.

The Mike Joys and Eugenie Sages of the world must be supported. I demand an amnesty, a truth commission of sorts, to be applied to the advertising practices of New Zealand organisations.

Not many could meet up to the superior standards of accuracy and truth championed by recent critics of our 13 year old tourism campaign.

Take Dr Joy’s own employer, Massey University, the marketing claim of which is “New Zealand’s defining university.”

‘Defining’ in this context would usually mean the university that sets the standard, the defining institution in our nation. Most rankings I could find online ranks Massey anywhere from 3rd to 5th amongst New Zealand universities, hardly defining.

What about that famous Kiwi brand, The Warehouse, “where everyone gets a bargain.” Again, patently inaccurate – how could they support the claim that “everyone” to visit their store gets a bargain.

Fonterra, our largest company, is another transgressor. “Dairy for life” is their tagline. Tell that to the lactose intolerant or the vegan community. Again the marketing statement doesn’t match with reality.

“What else” is Wattie’s latest advertising slogan. Pams, Homebrand, Oaks, McCains and so on is what else. The implication that there is no other option in the sauces, and frozen and canned vegetables categories is clearly an outrage.

Even closer to home is Kiwibank “your bank.” My bank! I don’t think so, I don’t have any ownership in it, I am not even a customer. The only truth would be if it said “the only bank that causes you to wait much longer in the post shop than you would have to otherwise.”

Finally, and probably most scandalously, is that supposedly not-for-profit community organisation St Johns. “First to care” they claim. I think if I chop my foot off and have to ring for an ambulance I will be caring about it a jolly sight faster than they will be.

The examples are too numerous to cover in this short article. A rigorous examination by the Truth in Advertising commission will out these rogues properly.

Alternatively, critics like Dr Joy and Ms Sage could draw breath and relax. Maybe go and sit by a beautiful New Zealand beach (with few people around), listen to the bird song as they tramp one of our thousands of trails, or perhaps fish in a remote backcountry stream.

They could accept that 100% Pure is within the normally acceptable limits of advertising hyperbole, that it isn’t claiming everything in this country is absolutely 100% certified carbon neutral and pollution free. No more than The Warehouse would promise that every person that ever goes into their store would get a bargain.

New Zealand does have serious environmental challenges, many of which could be worse if we had a much larger population. But the overall impression of many visitors will be a ‘pure’ experience in terms of physical beauty.

The only “truth” that actually matters is what the customers, visitors to New Zealand, think. The ‘brand’ of New Zealand is built from the promises like ‘100% Pure’ that we make to visitors, balanced against their experience of actually coming here.

If that experience doesn’t meet or exceed their expectation, our brand would weaken and our visitor numbers would be dropping. From 1999-2009 the campaign helped visitor numbers to increase by 50%, and foreign exchange earnings from tourism by 62%.

This is because the vast majority of tourists come here with an expectation of a ‘pure’ experience – beautiful, uncrowded landscapes and warm and friendly people. Travel site Tripadvisor.com is full of admiring statements about our wonderful land, “It's an amazingly beautiful place, with the friendliest people on the planet. Every region is so different and stunning in its own way. And there's an uncanny spiritual pull that keeps you wanting to go back again and again and experience even more of the place,” says one recent post.

From a crowded Asian city choked with traffic and strewn with litter, the Mackenzie Basin must look quite pure. To a European forced to share any beach or forest with thousands of others, they must marvel at the ‘purity’ of being able to swim uncrowded beaches and hike for days without seeing a soul.

100% Pure is a very smart and effective marketing campaign, that’s helped create thousands of jobs and millions in much needed foreign exchange for out little economy. It is a pity this is being threatened after 13 year long years for the sake of political gain, the ‘impurest’ of motives.

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