An homage to a tiny nation with outsized ad chops

—Craig Redmond has long been drawn to New Zealand, a country with more sheep than people that produces some of the best PSA creative in the world.—

Land: 268,021 square kilometres
People: 5.084 million
Sheep: 26 million
Emblem: Flightless bird that looks like an anteater, and shares its name with a native fruit resembling an unkempt, gangrenous testicle

New Zealand. It’s a place that has fascinated me ever since I was a kid, and it has wound its mystical elvish tentacles in and around of my life ever since.

My first art director partner in Hong Kong hailed from NZ, and always kept me guessing with his thickly indiscernible Kiwi accent. My parents were driving through its South Island mountains when my uncle suddenly died, so I convinced its ranger service to broadcast a message to them on their local radio feed asking them to contact me. They never heard the message, but regardless, how cool was that?

Our daughter up and randomly flew to its end of the earth location, and bravely traveled the country in a caravan she rented with a new friend she had only met a few months before.

And then there was the time I had the opportunity to go there myself for free, to shoot a Wrigley Extra commercial. Instead, I stupidly sent my junior creative team to Auckland, chaperoned by my partner and our account guy. I had just taken over the Chrysler business, and felt obliged to stay home to assume my new duties.

Besides, the kids had written the Wrigley script and earned the boondoggle. But to this day, I curse the names Craig McIntosh, Jaimes Zentil, Gary Westgate and Tim Welsh every time I think of that decision not to go.

Of course, now the thing that fascinates me most about New Zealand is its unbelievably prolific and uniquely creative advertising output. It’s a country with fewer people than the Greater Toronto Area, outnumbered five to one by ewes and their ram boyfriends, yet it consistently delivers some of the most interesting work on the planet? It’s utterly and wonderfully confounding.

There are more than 70 registered ad agencies in the tiny nation, and despite its diminutive dominion, it is dutifully represented by the global networks. DDB, FCB and BBDO all produce world-class work on tough accounts like McDonalds, Sky TV, and Pedigree. But all of it is always proudly woven with thick strands of New Zealander DNA.

This Toyota spot by Saatchi and Saatchi epitomizes that homebred world classiness.

Where the surprisingly robust NZ ad agency industry has really seemed to carve out a creative niche, however, is with probably the most difficult and cynically scrutinized category in our cynically scrutinizing business: The PSA.

And I think it’s because they often very cleverly hit home with those public service messages by using the most lethal weapon in their arsenal—a wickedly disarming sense of humour.

A few examples to illustrate my point:

New Zealand Police – Covid education

During the pandemic, the government produced an episodic PSA campaign of short videos explaining the litany of Covid protocols in refreshingly funny detail. This is just episode one of probably 20 that followed.

NZ Internal Affairs – Porn PSA

The Department of Internal Affairs had the unenviable task of raising awareness about Kiwi kids surfing a tsunami of porn. But rather than laying on a heavy-handed (sorry) lecture about parental accountability, they lathered up the giggles.

NZ Road Safety – Texting and Driving

We’ve all seen our share of blood-and-gore texting and driving ads. Some of the most wrenching coming out of New Zealand. But this effort from a few years back, built a nest in my brain for one reason only: It surprised me with a smile.

NZ Police – Recruitment

And then finally this past weekend, I was once again reminded of how the little country that could does great public service advertising. Just imagine. In a time when countries around the world are talking about defunding police departments, a brief comes across your Microsoft Teams chat room for a police recruitment video? Oh my.

Yet, aside from all that gratuitous running around and about, this really made me think twice about the New Zealand Police Department. And ingratiated me to their women and men who serve.

So much so, I’m even considering calling up my former colleague buddies who abandoned me so many years ago to see if they’d consider making a return to NZ and join me in taking up a new career in law enforcement.

What do you say Craigie Mac, Yentil Zentil, Westgateeeee and Timotay?

Do you care enough about me to be an NZ Cop?

Craig Redmond