‘Australia, I want one of your big things’: Parker takes the lead as Christchurch appeals to the disappearing Aussies with quirky mockumentary

After a tender process that ended up attracting over 50 submissions, Sydney agency Iris was chosen to lead Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism’s push to bring Aussies back to the region after a 43 percent decline in visitor numbers since the earthquake. And it has launched a campaign based around a series of long-form mockumentary episodes, with Mayor Bob Parker playing on Australia’s love of oversized novelty structures and real-time images used to show how far the city has moved on. 

Christchurch Reimagined, which could possibly be seen as a much quirkier, more scripted version of the branded content seen in Air New Zealand’s Kiwi sceptics campaign, launched yesterday (September 26) and is designed to show Australians how Christchurch has moved on since the 6.3 magnitude quake on February 22 last year to emerge as one of the most creative and exciting cities in New Zealand.

Not surprisingly, some of the news coverage after the event, which often used old footage, hampered visitor arrivals and it is estimated the province has lost between $200-$300 million in visitor spend as a result. Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter says this coverage also influenced the number of travellers putting off trips to the South Island. 




He says overall visitor numbers were down 58 percent in the months after the quake compared to 2010, but it is slowly levelling out and, back in July, was about 21 percent down on 2010 numbers. But while arrivals from other international markets improved, it was proving difficult to lure visitors from Australia.

“We cannot afford to let visitor numbers continue to drop so we have to change the way Australians see Christchurch,” says Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter. ”The Christchurch that many Australians picture in their minds has changed dramatically. What visitors to Christchurch find now is a city unlike any other in the world; a city where the determination to carry on has led to innovative developments like shipping container shopping malls and pop-up bars and restaurants. We’re still a glorious garden city but now we offer something unique. Our goal with this campaign is to show Australians how Christchurch is today and to open their eyes to how much this city and region has to offer visitors.”

As part of the campaign electronic billboards located in heavily populated areas of Melbourne and Sydney will be used to screen digital imagery live feeds from Christchurch (apparently this idea was also mooted for Tourism New Zealand before settling on the 100% Pure campaign, largely because putting up big screens in places like Times Square in New York was just too expensive. In hindsight, that was a good decision). 

“Australia is traditionally our biggest source of visitors but since the quakes some Australians have been reluctant to visit because they saw the images beamed around the world immediately after last February’s quake and felt it would be inappropriate to visit,” Mayor Parker says. ”Those dark days are behind us though and as city we’ve moved forward in leaps and bounds. We still have a lot of rebuilding to do, but transitional Christchurch is an inspiring and exciting place to be. We believe now is the time to share our story and our progress with our friends across the Tasman and to send them a clear message that we want them to come visit.”

Throughout the campaign Jetstar will be offering discounted travel deals to Christchurch from Australia. And Jetstar Australia and New Zealand chief executive David Hall is confident Australians will respond positively to the campaign and he expects to see a steady increase in the numbers travelling across the Tasman.

“Christchurch is home to more than 200 Jetstar team members and we will continue to stand by Cantabrians as they rebuild,” Hall says. The city is reinvigorating itself as a vibrant, prosperous and distinctive place to visit and do business. Australians should take advantage of Jetstar’s special fares and everyday low fares to visit the Canterbury region which still has much to offer.”

Back in July, we asked Hunter why a local agency wasn’t appointed, and he said it was a special task that had special requirements. He said it really needed to do something more pro-active with its messaging and look for some fresh thinking from an agency that understood the Australian psyche. It was a very tough and unusual brief: how do you take a brand that’s been broken and make it appealing to visitors again? But Iris, which has offices around the world and works with the likes of Adidas and Heineken, was chosen for the quality of its ideas, its great track record and its obvious enthusiasm to do it. 

“We really struggled to arrive at a final decision as everyone was so passionate in their commitment to help us get back on our feet”. It’s not a huge account, Hunter said, but there was a feelgood, almost philanthropic, element to it, as shown by the number of responses it received to the brief. 

Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism did employ the services of Phil Keoghan just before the first earthquake, with a nice campaign by AMG Agency that showcased some of the region’s jewels. Hunter says it hasn’t had any comms requirements since the disaster. But it has required plenty of PR, using Mode Partners and Barking Owl in Sydney, which will work closely with Iris for the Christchurch Reimagined campaign. 

“But if we were to run a large domestic campaign, we’d try to use a local agency,” he says. 

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