NZ On Screen has taken a trip down memory lane to select its Top 10 New Zealand television commercials of all time.
Listed in chronological order from oldest to newest, the ads span back nearly 40 years of local advertising history, starting with the 1975 ‘Great Crunchie Train Robbery’ for Cadbury’s Crunchie bar and finishing with ‘Ghost Chips’ for NZ Transport.
NZ On Screen content director Irene Gardiner said the Top 10 was a great opportunity to celebrate advertising’s important role in the country’s screen industry.
“Some of our best TV ads really are small works of art, and the ability of those we’ve chosen for the Top 10 to get into people’s hearts and minds is extraordinary. Many of our selections have become Kiwi pop culture icons,” she said.
“This top ten selection salutes the advertising gurus with the ability to teach dogs to skateboard, get Stevie Ray Vaughan to play Mangaweka, turn a Wellington quarry into a Korean war zone, and compel us to buy anything from scratchies to Crunchies and more.”
Here are NZ On Screen’s choices explained by Gardiner:
1975: ‘Great Crunchie Robbery’
A mainstay on cinema and TV screens for over 20 years, this commercial — reputedly NZ’s longest-running — made Kiwis feel as if the UK-born hokey pokey treasure was ‘ours’. Directed by Tony Williams, the madcap romp features a bevy of 70s acting talent caught up in chaos, after outlaws start a free for all fight for a chest of Crunchie bars. A connection with Martin Scorsese’s editor allowed access to footage from old Westerns, while the immortal tune is by Murray Grindlay. Williams overspent his meagre budget, and a lawn mower given to him as a thank you ended up his fee.
1975: ‘Hugo and Holly – Kentucky Fried Chicken’
Decades after the words “and Hugo said you go” first entered eardrums, this animated Kentucky Fried Chicken advert is still remembered by many on both sides of the Tasman. Two children sit in the car with a hunger so strong, they’re “getting thinner” (though not so you’d notice). Song, lyrics and imagery work as one: the car, the animals and (in the last shot) the KFC store all move in time with the music, sending a ‘we’re all in this together’message that is as hypnotic as it is logic-defying. The promo was animated by Zap in Australia. Just one question: why does Holly sound like a male?
1981: ‘Dear John’
This classic ad was made on a shoestring budget: milk bottle silver caps stood in for soldier’s dog tags and a Wellington quarry apes a Korean War-zone of the evergreen MASH TV series (from the naming of “O’Reilly” at the top of the mail call through to the 1953 country and western tearjerker used in the soundtrack, sung by Jacqui Fitzgerald and adapted by Murray Grindlay). The anachronism of cassette tapes in Korea proved a charming twist on the traditional ‘Dear John’ letter; and the ad was later voted Best Australasian commercial of the 80s.
1982: ‘Crumpy and Scotty’
Arguably one of New Zealand’s most beloved advertising campaigns, the Crumpy and Scotty adverts combined an iconic Kiwi author, odd couple comedy, and off road driving. They also deftly sent up two cliches: the unruffled country guy — in the shape of Good Keen Man Barry Crump — and the wimp from the city (played by Lloyd Scott). The first ad sees Scotty trying to sell the brilliance of the Hilux four-wheel drive, while Crumpy takes a backroads short cut. The follow-up spot sees Scotty taking extra precautions. The Crumpy and Scotty ads continued for 12 more years.
1988: ‘On – Eurpoa’
This 1988 Europa commercial showcases the guitar playing of American bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan. An anthem to good times on the road, the promo features four friends — musician Midge Marsden, jingles veteran Murray Grindlay, Vaughan’s fiance Janna Lapidus and Brigitte Berger — larking around the North Island in an old ute. Stopping off at the iconic DC3 aeroplane parked in small-town Mangaweka, they step into a bar made from car parts to join Stevie Ray on stage. A shorter cut of this petrol station promo also screened, plus an ad featuring an acoustic version of the song.
1989: ‘Bungy Fishing’
This classic 1989 TV commercial promoted the NZ Lotteries Commission’s new ‘scratch and win’ cards. The goad to gamble was based on the question: “Instant Kiwi attitude: have you got it?” as personified by a bungy-jumping fisherman. From Saatchi & Saatchi’s then-high-flying Wellington office, the promo is iconic of the big budget era of NZ ad making. It was directed by Flying Fish co-founder Lee Tamahori, who also helmed high profile promos for Fernleaf and Steinlager before making his movie directing debut with Once Were Warriors (1994).
In the 90s Spot was an acronym for the Services and Products of Telecom, and also a much loved Australian Jack Russell terrier. He starred in 43 different Telecom commercials made between 1991 and 1998 — many of them on an epic scale and seemingly at risk to his life or limb. Special mention should be made of the size of the Yellow Pagesshoot, apparently featuring a warehouse full of chefs, couriers and entertainers — and of Spot’s considerable arsenal of tricks from skateboard riding to orchestra conducting. Spot died in Sydney in 2000 at age 13.
1993: ‘Red Blooded’
This boisterous Geoff Dixon-directed commercial dates from the time when craft beer was yet to make a big mark, and Lion Red was NZ’s number one beer. Hyperactive in a flannel shirt, a pre-Hercules Michael Hurst takes the mic at a pub talent quest, and sings a war cry for Kiwi blokes against wimpy pretenders like champagne cocktails and Mexican beers. Local advertising veteran Roy Meares wrote the “anti-yuppie commercial” (he was also behind the long-running Speights ‘Perfect Woman’ campaign). The Murray Grindlay-composed song became a pub anthem.
A series of farming mishaps each provoke the laconic comment — “bugger”. This was the formula behind one of NZ’s most iconic advertisements. Made by Saatchis to follow up the beloved Barry Crump/Lloyd Scott Toyota ads, and directed by Tony Williams, it attracted 120 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (who ruled that “bugger” was unlikely to cause serious offence). The shock value of that word, the role of Hercules the dog, and the performance of the hapless farmer (in the tradition of Dagg and Footrot), made for Kiwi pop culture magic.
2011: ‘Ghost Chips’
This 2011 anti-drink driving ad campaign became a Kiwi pop cultural phenomenon, spawning countless parodies, memes, t-shirts and over a million YouTube views; phrases from the ad entered the vernacular (“you know I can’t grab your ghost chips”). Eschewing the usual shock and horror tactics, the Clemenger BBDO campaign for the NZ Transport Agency was targeted at young male Māori drivers, and used humour to get the message across that it was choice to stop a mate from driving drunk. Directed by Steve Ayson, it won a prestigious D&AD Yellow Pencil award in 2012.