Finding our voice: the rediscovery of BNZ’s ‘Who Are We’ campaign

These days the idea of New Zealandness is a dime a dozen in advertising. But it certainly wasn’t always that way, with British accents and values typically being favoured in the nation’s early television advertising. ​Colenso’s ‘Who are we’ campaign for BNZ in 1990 is widely regarded as one of the first to “consciously reflect a distinctive New Zealand identity”. And for the first time that full series is available to view online.  

Len Potts directed the ads and provided the gravelly voice-over (legend has it that while listening to a tape of potential voiceover options in his car, he threw the tape off the Harbour Bridge in disgust). And, as he says—smoke in hand—in this interview for a programme on New Zealand’s national identity, they “didn’t really know what a New Zealander was” before the campaign. So it did a lot of research and asked New Zealanders what they thought. And the results showed our sense of self was tied more to the physical aspects of New Zealand than any perceived cultural side.

“Things like rivers and beaches, baches and boats and mountains rather dominated the way we thought about our country, so those commercials were a direct reflection of that.”

And they still stand up pretty bloody well today. 

Hat tips: Hazel Phillips (buy her book), Len Potts for finding the tape and BNZ for digitising it. 

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