For 150 years, New Zealand's Merino fibre was largely invisible, as it was sold into a world commodity market that was dominated by high-volume producers and then diluted into blends. But in 1995, the growers decided to take a stand and Merino New Zealand was set up. And in 1999, it was awarded the Supreme Marketing Award and Business-to-Business award for lifting the fibre out of the commodity basket and positioning local merino at the highest end of the international market. With chief executive John Brakenridge at the helm of what was a notoriously conservative—and often fractious—industry, it wasn't easy, but he saw an opportunity to breathe life into the brand by targeting the small and, ahem, tight-knit group of key players at the elite manufacturing and high-end retail level and also working closely with existing brands to help stress the romance of the merino story and the premium quality of the fibre.
There was a paltry comms budget of $282,000, so there was a focus on computer generated audio-visual presentations and cost-effective PR. And the move of this once dormant industry from out of the shadows of the wider wool sector and into much more exclusive territory received media coverage on TV1, TV2, 60 Minutes, North & South, and Fashion Quarterly, among many others.
From its starting point in 1996, the campaign created strong awareness of the New Zealand merino clip in targeted processing sectors like Europe, Japan and Korea and growers started enjoying direct supply arrangements with the likes of Icebreaker.
As the judges said at the time: "The merino story is one quality, preference and clear revenue growth. In the face of declining returns, exceptional results were achieved for growers, with significant improvements in price per kilo and overall export earnings ... This entry is at a different level to most others. It takes all the fine elements of New Zealand, all the fine elements of business strategy and the fine elements of marketing and weaves them together in a brilliant execution of style and detail in what could be an ordinary category."
And that focus on the high-end, something many New Zealand exporters should be aiming for, has continued in the ensuing years.
So if you want to be remembered, enter the TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards here.