New Zealand on the Edge

Friday, 28 August 1998 - Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland New Zealand Edge

Presentation Summary

A keynote address to the NZ Tourism Industry Association Conference. New Zealand’s tourism marketing needs to excite the global imagination with new ideas, metaphors and concepts of the nation and its people. The idea is boldly simple: New Zealand is an adventurous, innovative, creative nation because it exists on the extreme edge of Western Civilization.

New Zealand and New Zealand Tourism, there is so much to talk about. I accepted this invitation to speak some months ago because I passionately believe in the need for brilliant marketing of New Zealand internationally. As you all know, since then, Saatchi & Saatchi has won a global communications project for the New Zealand Tourism Board, and we’re hugely excited and proud about this.

I’m not going to talk about Saatchi & Saatchi’s creative proposals for making New Zealand the most desirable destination in the world. Right now we’re looking, listening, growing and testing some great ideas. They’ll make the world sit up and take notice, believe me!

What I am going talk about is a new way of thinking about New Zealand and New Zealanders, new metaphors, new concepts, and new definitions.

My family and I came here nine years ago and we’ve all become New Zealanders. We plan to live the rest of our lives here, and we want the rest of the world to think of New Zealand in the same way we do.

Selling New Zealand as the hottest destination on the planet for international travellers is the most important economic job this country has.

The creative enhancement of our country’s name and values is, I’m sure, one of the most pressing economic priorities of Parliament and the Treasury.

The management of Brand New Zealand sits at the core of our nationhood and sovereignty. Our domestic economic future lies totally in our relationships with the international. This has always been, and always will be.

What and how we tell the world about New Zealand as a destination, and the way we connect with global audiences, will benefit every other New Zealand enterprise which sells product overseas.

And wouldn’t it be fantastic if we were really amazing at it, if we really cracked the opportunity for prosperity that sits right in front of us.

It’s been done superbly before. The fantastic marketing job which sold New Zealand to prospective immigrants from Britain in the Nineteenth Century, exploded the size of the European population from a few thousand in 1830 to half a million in the space of 50 years. Since then we’ve been taking a rather prolonged tea break.

The time is now for the next great New Zealand marketing campaign. We’ve got to give global consumers a new context for thinking about the words “New Zealand”.

You all know the predictions that tourism is set to become the world’s biggest industry. The US Department of Commerce predicts that tourism will gross 1.5 trillion US dollars by the year 2010.

The World Tourism Organization has predicted that the global tourism market will grow from 612 million international arrivals in 1997 to more than one billion tourists by the year 2010 and 1.6 billion by 2020. I’m told that at the recent WTO conference the principal talk was about how to manage growth, and that’s a great problem to have.

The WTO also says that the destinations which will capture most of this booming market will be those destinations offering innovative, natural experiences. Their most exciting prediction is that the hot destinations will be those at the edges which offer tourists a sense of discovery and adventure.

That’s big news for New Zealand. We offer the ultimate natural discovery experience at the end of the world. The bigger news is that we have to lift our game significantly in the face of a world that changes rapidly, is frequently in turmoil, is intensely competitive and is searching for meaning in new places.

Right now, New Zealand is a global under performer in the attention stakes. We’re not communicating well as a nation, not even to ourselves. We’re not cutting-through internationally. We’re not being noticed. Our market share of world tourism is dropping. Our actual visitor numbers are dropping, and foreign exchange earnings have remained static at around NZ$3.2 billion.

The downside of not getting tourism growing here is stagnation and national apathy. The rewards for smashing the traditional formula for tourism marketing are immense in terms of foreign exchange earnings, jobs for all and higher living standards.

Consider our performance against the market leaders. In 1997 the world’s premier destination, France, got about 50 million tourists. About 8% global market share. There are 60 million people in France. That means they have a ratio of 1.2 French persons to every tourist.

In 1997 New Zealand attracted about 1.5 million tourists. That’s 0.25% global market share. There are 2.3 New Zealanders to every tourist who comes here.

These quick benchmarks tell us how much room there is to do things better.

The dimensions of our task are easy to articulate. If you take 1.5 million tourists to New Zealand, and say everyone of them is part of a couple, that’s 750,000 decisions being made every year to visit here. That’s about 1.43 decisions every minute of every day. If we got 2 decisions per minute, that’s an additional 600,000 tourists a year.

How do we get into peoples’ attention spans, into their conversations and decision-making, into their choice sets?

As an industry and as a nation, our absolute priority must be to capture global attention – and to do so for very little cost.

Attention is the principal currency of our time. We all know the story too well. It’s a stressed out, super-charged world with more and more channels of TV, radio, movies, billboards, magazines and the internet all screaming – GIVE ME ATTENTION! We’ve got letters, faxes and e-mail demanding responses. We work longer hours, take fewer holidays and live at a pace which would make our grandparents recoil with disbelief. We suffer from Information Anxiety.

Welcome to the Attention Economy. Globally, consumers are being bombarded by a constant stream of competing product messages.

Their power, their currency, is the attention consumers decide to spare you.

The result is that to launch a new product in the US market today, it will cost around 65 million US dollars. Today’s global advertising budgets are huge. Saatchi & Saatchi’s most important global client, Procter & Gamble spends over three billion US dollars a year on advertising.

The $64 million question is “can New Zealand tourism compete in a global attention marketplace?”

Let’s face it, by global standards the amount of money we spend marketing New Zealand as a tourism destination is very small.

If we add together the budgets of the Tourism Board, tourism operators, exporters, Tradenz, the Film Commission, other Government communications, we’re maybe spending US$100 million on marketing our brand internationally. That’s not a lot, but right at the moment, that’s what we’ve got, and our challenge is to get ten times the value, make US$100 million into US$1 billion of value.

This is our perennial problem. New Zealand – too far away, too small and not enough money. It’s a problem we’ve overcome before by using our greatest natural resource – our brains. As Ernest Rutherford put it almost 100 years ago: “We haven’t got the money so we have to think.”

We have to make Rutherford’s words our national motto. To make the breakthrough we have to engage the power of ideas, ingenuity, intelligence, originality and creativity.

We can compete, but we have to be much much smarter marketers and brand builders.

The first thing we have to do is to develop one theme around which these funds can be spent. Currently the dollars are being spent by too many people on too many diffuse messages. New Zealand must have one coherent theme, one promise. We’re working on a huge idea that will deliver this. There must be a unifying process which pulls these budgets under one roof. Under Bryan Mogridge and Paul Winter’s leadership, the Tourism Board with its new look corporate disciplined approach is just the right vehicle to achieve this.

Ideas are our future, and people with big ideas are our greatest resource. We’re a nation of grit, guts and genius. I’m really optimistic about the future of the New Zealand tourism industry because this country is full of dreamers and achievers. Inventive, crazy whackos who keep coming up with great new ideas.

Look at the tourism industry’s record of innovation and invention. Heroes like Harry Wigley, whose ingenuity landed tourists on glaciers.

William Hamilton’s Jetboat invention was turned into a natural roller coaster ride by tourism entrepreneurs.

Sir Tim Wallis, flying ace. AJ Hackett, whose exhilarating, flamboyant and illegal act of bungy jumping off the Eiffel Tower connected with people around the globe and helped create an image for New Zealand as an extreme adventure playground.

The emergence of Kaikoura onto the global stage as the place to watch whales. The builders of Sky Tower and the operators of Air New Zealand and all the other entrepreneurs who put their capital and talent on the line to provide compelling adventures and experiences.

And people like Mike Tamaki of Rotorua, who was featured in last week’s Herald as one of New Zealand’s best new entrepreneurs. His tourism ventures employ 27 fulltime and 48 part-time staff, and he had to convince his brother to trade in his Harley to get his start-up capital.

The greatest asset of the industry is not the world famous scenery, but us, our people. People with the creativity and vision to put New Zealand smack in the middle of the radar of select, savvy international travellers.

We need an idea that doesn’t need 65 million US dollars to cut through, that has its own momentum, that creates its own talkability.

Right at the moment the people we most want to attract here – educated, affluent, adventurous visitors – don’t have an accurate or complete view of New Zealand. Let me show you what I mean.

Saatchi & Saatchi is currently running a global ideas competition to find the innovation which offers the greatest potential to advance communication. The finalists are some of the most brilliant minds around, and one of them will collect $US100,000 from us. Last month when we were filming them, we asked these people what they knew about New Zealand. It’s not pretty.

“I’ve heard that it’s beautiful / it’s got rainforests / it’s got glaciers / beautiful natural impressions / mountainous / green rolling hills / you can go hiking and skiing / very restful and peaceful / charming / the famous sheep / sheep definitely / provincial / I know that New Zealand is a rather big island north of Australia / but I’ve never been there.”

Disaster. We’re in the “love to visit someday” camp, beautiful sure, but nice, quiet, small, empty, sheepish, a sort of international wallflower.

The immediate challenges the messages in the video provoke are to move “visit someday” to “visit soon” and “now”.

And we must turnaround our fixation with beauty. We have to stop defining ourselves in terms of other countries’ standards. We’re actually not going to win a “My Alps Are Bigger Than Your Alps” contest, so we’ve got to add massively to the existing set of perceptions about New Zealand.

People don’t have a really great holiday here just because the mountains are so beautiful, or the fishing’s great, or the fjords terrific. People are the essence of most memorable tourist experiences.

What makes one holiday stand out from the rest is people – the Tuscan winemaker we chatted with in phrase-book Italian over lunch in a village café. Or the American we shared a joke with on the New York subway.

New Zealand’s people are friendly, open, resourceful and fresh thinkers. We’re bi-cultural, we’re young, we’re energetic, we’re handsome, and collectively, our performance as a nation has been amazing, compelling and world-changing.

The challenge is to turn this performance into an idea with cut-through. We have to turn New Zealand and New Zealanders into a marketing proposition that shatters global market apathy about us.

I’m going to show you how it is possible to radically and quickly change negative perceptions that are held by a whole country, into positive perceptions. This is a story about moving to a whole new paradigm in which every one of you has participated. The experience in question was structured and communicated in such a way as to fill consumers with anxiety – about time, about distance, about money – the same perceptions the tourism industry must control.

The solution was big, it was simple, it was bold, it was competitive, it was deliberate, it was a world first, it became famous, and it rapidly became part of our way of life.

This idea won back market share, increased revenues, built the brand values and drove the share price, eliminated all the negatives and completely turned around customer behaviors and motivations. It’s great to see such a big commercial idea pulled off in New Zealand.

I’m going to roll for you one of the first ads for the solution. Saatchi & Saatchi made it, and I want you to all remind yourselves that “nothing is impossible.”

Roll inaugural Telecom $5 Call television advert

It’s so obvious isn’t it. The team that invented $5 calls worked to a simple model: how do you get more New Zealanders calling more often and talking for longer.

Our challenge in marketing New Zealand tourism is much the same: how do you get more tourists coming to New Zealand more often, staying for longer and spending more? With marketing devices that leverage the amazing achievements of this country.

An idea that sweeps away the cliches and misconceptions about New Zealand.

This proposition already exists. It’s the edge of the world. New Zealand, the country on the fringe of mainstream global culture. A place where you meet an extraordinary nation of people who could only have arisen on the fringe.

This idea is seductive in the extreme. It’s about freedom from orthodoxy and conformity. It’s about exciting new ideas, interesting people unconstrained by the need to conform to the mores of New York or Berlin. A holiday in a place like this is about escape. Adventure. Liberation. Discovery.

The power of the fringe is one of today’s most compelling intellectual devices. It’s based on the biological metaphor, which is set to make the biggest changes to the way humans think about the world since we lost God.

Basically stated, this metaphor says that our modern networked economy, and our culture, operates like a biological organism – guided by the same processes and influences that determine change in nature.

Changes in species almost always occur first at the fringe of a species’ range, where the population is most sparse and where the orthodox ways of the center are weakest. Isolated New Zealand has been a social laboratory which gave women the vote first, introduced a cradle to the grave social welfare system and then made itself one of the most open economies in the world.

Fringe New Zealand has produced an incredible number of world beating sporting teams and individuals, like Robbie Hamill and Phil Stubbs who won the 1997 Trans-Atlantic rowing challenge in just 40 days, 33 days ahead of the record and 800km ahead of their nearest global rival.

We produce world-changing thinkers. New Zealanders have participated in some of the most profound scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

  • Richard Pearse was a pioneer of powered flight.
  • The father of the nuclear age was Lord Rutherford.
  • Biology’s great leap was the discovery of DNA. New Zealander Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his part in that.
  • Kiwi scientist William Pickering was responsible for developing rockets which travelled to the Moon, Mars and Venus.
  • This is highly cool. Space scientist Sir Ian Axford, New Zealander of the Year in 1995, led the team which designed the electronic heart aboard Sojourner, the Mars buggy which asked of a rock, on our behalf, those simple and universal questions: who are we, and where did we come from? 

And did you know this. If you’ve ever driven between Palmerston North and Marton, you’ll cross the railway lines at Bunnythorpe, right in front of an old building marked Glaxo Laboratories. The world’s largest pharmaceutical company was founded right here by New Zealanders.

These stories of world-changing innovations from funkyville down here in the South Pacific go on and on.

There is a very good reason the kiwi is our national bird, because it lays the biggest egg proportional to body size of any bird in the world.

New Zealand is a natural ideas factory. Let me show you more of what I mean. I’d like to introduce you to some latter day heroes of innovation at the fringe.

This is the Smitkin engine, a revolutionary internal combustion engine designed by Aucklanders Roger Smith and Graeme Jenkins which outperforms conventional engines by virtually every measure. It’s several times lighter in weight, easy and very cheap to make, incredibly powerful, very low on emissions and extremely fuel-efficient.

This is Wellington scientist Bill Robinson with his unique earthquake shock absorbers that safeguard over $10 billion worth of real estate in the world’s earthquake zones.

This is David Beach with his invention, the world’s most powerful photographic lens which the US military are using.

Here is Leslie Kay, a world leader in sonar research. His invention, called Kaspa, uses bat technology to help blind people see.

And this is Bill Buckley of Mt Wellington in Auckland, a hands-on Kiwi engineer who makes machine tools that create about 70% of the world’s computer chips.

Kiwi innovation like this makes common sense, if you subscribe to the “Maximize the Fringes” ™ theory.

Ron Trotter explains the legendary relationship of Kiwi farmers with number eight fencing wire as being the result of not being able to wait three months for a tractor part to arrive by boat from England.

We’ve got to look for devices to express our fringe character. Think of our name. If you were to name a fictional fringe nation that produced ideas, you couldn’t come up with a much better one.

New: perfect for a focus on innovation and ideas creation.

Z: the 26th letter. It doesn’t get much more extreme.

Black and white, our colors. Uncompromising, timeless, hip. 747s look great in it.

We have an unassailable time advantage. We are literally first to the future. People I talk to around the world from my Auckland office get a buzz when I say I’m calling from their future.

And here’s another twist. If we are the fringe, then New York, where I have a base, is the center. New York is the most powerful focus of cultural, intellectual, financial and corporate influence in the world.

New York is our Antipodes. The center and the fringe. And I can prove it, because we are forever entangled in a beautiful alphabetical sequence. NYNZ™. Look at any atlas, and you see them indexed one beneath the other.

Your atlas will show you too, that we are surrounded by more water than almost any other country on the planet. We are one of the most sparsely populated places on earth.

We are as close as you get to being a desert island without the desert. Face it. We are the fringe, the edge. The natural home of the new and unusual.

To my mind, that’s a hugely exciting thing to be able to say. It’s a great marketing proposition. And it belongs exclusively to us.

We must use this to add a more radical context to the associations people make with New Zealand. In the Attention Economy, it’s the only way to cut through.

Tourism must lead the change. The tourism industry must deploy a new, self confident language that makes a bold, intelligent declaration of independence. A self confident restatement of what it means to be a New Zealander, to be bi-cultural, multi-cultural, and in my case, bi-polar.

Out with the Old and in with the New.

  • We are not isolated. We are the edge.
  • Our greatest national resource is not sheep, it’s brains.
  • Not a short history, but a source of big ideas.
  • Not pretty scenery, but unique, interesting people.
  • Not unsophisticated, but inventive.
  • Not charming, but action and adventure.
  • Not a visit, but a discovery.
  • Not tourists, but relationships with citizens of the world.
  • Not expatriates, but a network.
  • Not recession, but opportunity. 

We have to make this statement to the markets that matter most. Sydney and Melbourne, obviously, the two closest sophisticated, high population centers with direct air links to New Zealand.

And on the other side of our great Pacific Ocean, the West Coast of America, from Seattle in the north where Microsoft and Boeing and a former Nelson Girls’ High School student called Courtney Love call home, down through Silicon Valley and Hollywood, to San Diego, the location of one of our greatest triumphs.

This conurbation has 41 million people, and the highest concentration of wealth in the world. And the best part is that they are only 12 hours from Auckland. Overnight from LAX. The Air New Zealand Overnight Luxury Express from Los Angeles. Suddenly the fringe appears to be close and attainable.

And despite the fact that a Fletcher Challenge company Dinwiddie Construction built the extraordinary Getty Center in Los Angeles, as a country we’re near invisible on this coast. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the West Coast of America over the past two years, and we’re nowhere!

San Francisco and Los Angeles are two of the most important centers of influence on the globe, and we’re not being seen. We’re lost in the fog, off the radar. We’re not even a billboard on the drive into LAX!

California is the one market we really have to excite. Sell this market on the idea of a radical, confident, creative, intelligent New Zealand that’s accessible and great value, and the idea will spread throughout the world. California is World Brand Headquarters. If you are famous in California, then you are famous in the World.

I’m not going to get into the argument today about “it’s all very well being famous, but how do you close the sale”. Let’s first get ourselves onto the field of play and talk about making New Zealand recognized and understood in ways it never has before.

Becoming famous and staying famous today involves a dedication to the task – just ask Madonna – and management of networks.

Networks have always been the basis of communication and the transmission of ideas. We all have personal networks of friends. Rumors spreads through networks. News is disseminated through networks. The World Wide Web is the highest evolution a network has achieved.

In the Attention Economy, the job of marketing is to shape an idea so well that it infiltrates a network and spreads by its own momentum. The ultimate communication network has always been word of mouth.

Our single objective must be to make New Zealand worth talking about. You’ve been hearing a lot about the potential of the upcoming global events in New Zealand like the America’s Cup, APEC, New Year’s Eve 1999 and other mega events. These are fantastic events and we must maximize the exposure to create the right sort of talkability. Success isn’t just how many visitors we bring in – it’s being on the front page of Time on December 31 1999 as the world welcomes the new millennium.

But these mega-events can’t mesmerize us. Our biggest task will be to maintain the attention momentum after 2000.

We need a continuous supply of big ideas and events and conferences to avoid a Millennium Black Hole.

We’ve had big ideas in the past. Jean Batten had a really big idea.

Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Everest was a really big idea.

Nuclear Free New Zealand was a really big idea.

Winning the America’s Cup was a really big idea.

Janet Frame has big ideas.

Jane Campion has big ideas.

Neil Finn has big ideas. #1 in Australia, top ten in the UK and Europe, sold out the Royal Albert Hall in five days. Good on you Neil!

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and their $260 million contract to produce Lord of the Rings in New Zealand is a really big idea.

And Xena, Warrior Princess is a really huge idea. The biggest global TV phenomenon, on 2250 channels including Iraq, and the hottest subject on the internet.

What else? A cultural coup d’etat. A new flag. Here’s the one in my office at Saatchi & Saatchi HQ in New York given to me by its leading champion, Bryan Mogridge. A new national song, written by Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn. And could we please have new names for the most exciting places with the dullest names on the globe, the North and South Islands.

Imaginative and exotic names, like Maui and Pounamu, derived from Maori names for these islands. Think about it, Maui and Pounamu, islands of New Zealand.

And what about the network of people who have visited New Zealand? The art of leaving is as important as the art of welcome. We must do everything we can to get people talking about New Zealand when they leave here.

What do we do right now? Nothing. We don’t even stamp passports. Passports are a storehouse of memories. I was watching a couple in a plane on Monday looking through the passports, musing over the stamps and visas and returning to great holiday experiences they had shared.

But you can bet that they weren’t remembering their New Zealand trip. They don’t have a stamp to prove they were here. Here’s the stamp I want in my passport, the silver fern.

Without doubt the most powerful under-exploited resource for spreading New Zealand, the idea, around the world is the amazing network of overseas New Zealanders.

First, let’s ban the word expatriate. Make someone an expatriate and you are excommunicating them. Instead, let’s talk about what I’m calling NEON – Network of Eminent Overseas New Zealanders – the Kiwis who shine on the international stage. Kiwis who are opinion formers with a global influence.

We must activate and energize this rich network of influential overseas New Zealanders to spread new ideas about New Zealand. Potentially we have a rich ethnic network of brand champions, just like the overseas Chinese and the Jews.

I’m talking about the exceptional Kiwis who have left because their Everest is overseas.

Like the battalion of Kiwi opera singers.

Like Emily Perkins, the dazzling young literary talent now in London.

Like Dave Dixon, who just signed to the Minnesota Vikings football team for $12 million and is making his way into every American kids collection of football cards.

Like Rachel Hunter and Kylie Bax.

Like the Sugar Club.

Like every exporting winemaker.

Like our world champion motorcyclists.

Like Zinzan. Bob Charles. Peter Arnett. Bruce Farr. And on. And on.

There are a lot of hot Kiwis in Hollywood with the power to place ideas into movies. People like scriptwriter Andy Nichol, whose film The Truman Show was number one in America this year. Like Martin Campbell, the director of Zorro and James Bond films. Anna Pacquin. Sam Neill. Russell Crowe. Vincent Ward. Lee Tamahori. Roger Donaldson. Andrew McAlpine. Geoff Murphy.

What I’m saying, is that cutting through the foreground noise and connecting with global consumers is going to take the energy of the entire country. Every industry. Politicians. The Prime Minister. Entrepreneurs. Educators. Editors. Every New Zealander. Every time the citizens of the world encounter New Zealand they must be enthralled by the idea of New Zealand on the edge.

We have to have the belief that our geography and our culture is our advantage, and then to spread it. If this attitude doesn’t take hold, then we will continue to exist on the margins of global attention.

When you go from this conference you’ve got to believe that there are big things that we can do together to market New Zealand as a premier tourism destination to global audiences.

Saatchi & Saatchi is really getting down to business with the New Zealand Tourism Board, and our desire is to produce stunning creative work that cuts through the attention economy. We will come up with a huge, iconic idea.

Yours is the most important task in the whole process. You provide the compelling, memorable, quality experiences.

Together we need to work on closing the sale, on converting preference to purchase. We must work as a team to create a bold and confident country which celebrates its distinctiveness to the rest of the world.

In closing, I need to talk about one of our most important global assets. The All Blacks. I’m backing our team to pulverize the Australians tomorrow in Sydney and then go on to win the 1999 World Cup in Wales. Kia kaha!

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