In the latest issue of NZ Marketing Magazine, CEO John Miles of the Marketing Association reflects on New Zealand's iconic marketing campaigns from the past 50 years. From Toyota's humorous Hilux ads to Telecom's touching Father’s Day campaign, Miles highlights valuable lessons for today's marketers. Read this fascinating article to explore the creativity and boldness that defined these memorable campaigns.

"To celebrate its half century, the Marketing Association wants your help to find the best NZ campaigns of the past five decades.

CEO John Miles talks Penny Murray through his favourites.

John Miles is reminiscing. The Marketing Association turns the big 5-0 this year and he’s been taking a walk down memory lane. Marketing Campaign Lane, that is. From Crunchie’s “Great Train Robbery” mini movie in the 70s to Tina from Turners’ catchphrase in the 2020s – with everything from Air New Zealand’s Middle-earth safety videos and BASF’s “Dear John” song playing crisply on cassette in between – the past five decades have seen some terrific campaigns, says Miles.

He should know. The Marketing Association CEO has been whittling down a list of great TV ads, posters, jingles, characters and slogans from that time period. Not just for his own entertainment (though it’s been a fun exercise, he says, with a wide grin), but so the public can vote on their favourites.

So what can modern marketers learn from the last half century? Miles answers by taking us back a little further. “One of the greatest story writers of all time was Howard Gossage, an ad man out of San Francisco in the late 50s early 60s, who said that people read or watch what’s interesting to them – and that every now and then it might be an ad. “Having looked at 50 years of advertising campaigns, it really highlighted to me that – when it comes to entertainment and putting a smile on people’s faces – we used to do it a bit better.”

Entertaining risk takers

The reason why is simple, says Miles.

“Part of it has been that people are more risk averse nowadays. Some of the things you could get away with in earlier years – having someone who’s courageous enough to use what at the time was a swear word, like ‘bugger’ [as Toyota did in its famously controversial Hilux ads] – I think that sort of risk taking’s gone. You’ve got a lot more of the heartwarming campaigns, but do they really entertain or put a smile on people’s faces? I’m not really sure.”

Is there still a place for risk taking in these deeply sensitive times? Miles is adamant: “We have to get back into that.”

Humour is one way of making your campaign memorable – and beer ads have been among the most successful, he says.

“In the old days, you had television as an entertainment medium, so if you wanted to capture people’s attention you really needed to entertain. Or be footstomping. Some of the Speight’s ads – which were very blokey and meant to be doing the quintessential Southern Man thing – they were comedy. They were designed to be boys’ comedy. Women hated them, but it was schoolboy humour.”

That series might not have dated so well, but others stand up today. And while local references can hit the spot, “good comedy is good comedy”, says Miles.

“If you go back to 1987 and Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith did the Steinlager ad, it was set in a London pub. [Tagline: They’re drinking our beer here.] It won the best alcohol ad in the world, and it’s just good humour. It travels.

Consistent, provocative

“The really memorable ones have that litte quirkiness to them,” says Miles.

“And a great campaign line. The Tui ‘Yeah right’ billboards were legendary. It was the cheapest production in the world and they used contemporary issues to create humour. People would come into work and go: ‘Did you see the latest Tui billboard?’ The one I remember – which has come true – was: ‘Camilla for Queen. Yeah right.’"

“They were always consistent, always provocative. A little on the nose.”

And while comedy cuts through, it’s not the whole story. Miles has a very soft spot in his heart for Telecom’s 2005 “Keep in touch” Father’s Day ad – a set of home video clips of dad and lad, growing up and growing older, ending with the adult son devastated by grief.

“Father and Son – I’d say it’s the most emotional ad of all time. It’s entertaining, with the amazing Cat Stevens singing, and it’s got such a powerful message at the end. But that’s not comedy, that’s heart rending. It’s fabulous.”

NZTA’s Legend campaign from 2011 gets a special mention from Miles also, for delivering powerful messages levened with humour. One line – “You know I can’t grab your ghost chips” – became a cultural phenomenon.

He says Vogel’s has been consistent with humour and music in its adverts and the latest one, where straitlaced Gareth goes over to the gang pad and asks for his Vogel’s back, is no exception. Chris Knox’s “Not Given Lightly” has been the soundtrack for 20 years – “Now it signposts a Vogel’s ad.”

Takeaways for modern marketers

And on the subject of music, Miles highlights the benefits of bespoke jingles.

“Cadbury Creme Eggs had ‘Don’t get caught with egg on your face’ – such fabulous use of music, composed by Murray Grindlay. We could learn from what used to be done with the special composing of music, so you owned the rights.”

Many of the classic campaigns Miles mentions are from the days when viewers couldn’t skip or pause as the commercials played out for minutes at a time. Today’s shorter attention spans mean creativity is more important than ever, he says.

“Now, with the different mediums available, if you want to hold on to a person and get them to watch more than 10 seconds at the beginning of a YouTube video, you actually have to be even more creative in that first 10 seconds, so they’ll watch the 30 seconds.”

Many fondly remembered campaigns from the past still stand up today.

“Oh yeah, the original Vogel’s does. ‘Bugger’ does – if they put some new Toyota models in there. The Legends campaign from New Zealand Transport.

“I should mention Air New Zealand as well – what they did with the Hobbit inflight videos revolutionised something that was boring as batshit, around the world.

“The police epic recruitment video [2017] – that was EPIC. And I defy any son not to want to call their dad after watching ‘Father and Son’ for Telecom.”

And though Miles would like brands to venture away from the safety of the middle of the road more often, he’s aware lots of courageous ideas are knocked back by clients.

“I’d love to see more bravery from clients saying to their agencies, ‘Hey, give us more ‘buggers’ of the world.""

The Marketing Association thanks Mosh Social Media for help with the social advertising.

Source: NZ Marketing Magazine, July 2024