Hitting the heart, not the head: Tourism New Zealand’s Justin Watson on 100% Middle-earth

It’s not often Greymouth gets to play host to a global launch, but that’s exactly what happened last week when members of the New Zealand tourism sector gathered together to see the fruits of six months labour from Tourism New Zealand and the Sydney and Auckland offices of TBWA\ as the $10 million 100% Middle-earth campaign was launched. And general manager of marketing and communications Justin Watson says all those involved in its creation are stoked with how it turned out. 



While it’s hard not to be impressed with the beauty of the ad’s main star, shot beautifully by world-class director Darryl Ward from Curious, some in the tourism sector were concerned that a reliance on The Hobbit and on New Zealand’s natural grandeur didn’t reference any of the more urban and contemporary aspects of the New Zealand experience like shopping, nightlife and casinos.

Watson admits there was a bit of nervousness in some quarters “that we would go too Hobbity”, but he says it’s been received well by the industry because the link to the film isn’t overly explicit. It’s linked by its storytelling technique and there’s a little, some might say slightly corny nod to it at the end. But it’s about selling the desirability of New Zealand outside the country. And, as chief executive Kevin Bowler said, the three films have the ability to reach millions more potential visitors than anything Tourism New Zealand could ever do on its own. 

Watson says tying in The Hobbit to its promotional activity was in its thinking when it ran its pitch back in November, but they weren’t sure they had enough time to pull it off. 

“It would have been really easy to do an ad with Hobbits running around in it. But getting the balance right between the film and the destination was really tricky and there were a few moments where we felt we weren’t going to get there.” 

But the notion of 100% Pure Middle-earth and “the idea that the fictional world we see in the movies is a real place” was strong enough to get the nod. 

While the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign relied heavily on TV in its formative years, almost all of Tourism New Zealand’s budget has been spent on digital marketing in the recent times, so a large-scale production like this is something of a novelty. But, over the past 18 months, Watson says it has been actively seeking new partnerships and has signed up a range of airlines and travel agents to offer various deals on travel to New Zealand. And this has added $25 million to its coffers.

“A lot of money has been brought to the table and that has freed us up to try and hit the heart, not the head,” he says. 

It has been trying to set up partnerships in every market and Watson says it’s a double whammy: the tie-ins reduce some of the marketing costs and, because there’s an offer attached, the media also works much harder. 

Obviously, New Zealanders aren’t the target of Tourism New Zealand’s work and Watson says they don’t really get to see much of the activity. So he’s pleased Air New Zealand, which has also embraced the Hobbit by calling itself the official airline of Middle-earth and filming a new safety video, will be showing the ads on some of its domestic flights so Kiwis get a taste of what their country has to offer. 

As for the next phase of the campaign, Watson says “the Hobbitness will be dialed up a bit” when the movies are launched around November/December and he says there is a whole lot of amazing, “hopefully world-leading” digital ideas to come as well. 

The campaign, which will use the 100% Middle-earth platform for the next two years, launched in Australia over the weekend on Nine’s Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, the story of how Packer shook up the sporting establishment that’s currently rating its socks off. 

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