A rare occurrence: RNZ launches first brand campaign in years

In what has become a rare sight over the years, RNZ has launched a major brand campaign via Rainger and Rolfe (alongside Lew Bentley from Headlight and Starcom on media), in a bid to promote the ‘RNZ’ insignia and reach an audience of one million people by 2020.

RNZ head of communications John Barr says it decided to advertise to emphasise the fact that RNZ has shifted gears.

“Obviously there’s a focus on the Checkpoint programme with John Campbell, but we’re also looking at a lot of other content we are producing.”

He says the decision to advertise was based off the back of RNZ research showing there is a big demand for quality news and current affairs, and a significant audience “might not be being catered to at the moment”.

“And there’s a chunk of people who might not have been aware of what RNZ is and how to find it,” he says.

Barr says with a target of hitting one million people by 2020, paid advertising was a necessity.

“My view is that without spending any advertising money, word-of-mouth and conversations over the water cooler aren’t going to cut it. So we need to get out there and make the quality of our current affairs more widely known.”

Ads for the new campaign feature RNZ broadcasters in front of a dramatic, cloudy sky with a tagline summarising the core values of each show.

He says RNZ decided to advertise solely in Auckland because of a limited advertising budget and because research showed RNZ could do better than it presently does in the city.

“The last time we did paid advertising it was about eight years ago* in the middle of 2007, so it’s been eight years since we have had an advertising budget as such,” he says.

“Auckland is growing rapidly, it has diverse audiences, and it is where we believe we can best achieve growth given the limited budget that we have to work with. [Though] our social media activity will not be limited to Auckland.”

For the last seven years, RNZ’s state funding has been frozen at approximately $32 million per annum. During this time, the rise of digital technology has pushed the radio industry into what is increasingly seen to be its most disruptive period since sound was first broadcast into living rooms from bulky contraptions.

In response to migration of audiences to other services, the commercial radio players have thrown significant sums at revamping their studios, developing video content and introducing new social-media-savvy talent. With its funding fixed, RNZ has however had to stretch its budget to finance its adoption of digital. 

“There’s been no extra funding to support this transformation,” said RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson earlier. “An injection of funding would be nice—it would be fantastic in fact—but we’ve got plans, which means we’ve got enough money to do what we need to do.”

The campaign is also designed to take advantage of the launch of Checkpoint with John Campbell which kicked off at the end of last month. “This ground-breaking programme is a reflection of our digital strategy and underlines our intention to re-invent radio. John is well recognised and has a strong profile in Auckland and we know many of his followers will be potential newcomers to RNZ.”

Barr says a small Auckland-based team was put together to work on the campaign.

“We are working with Lew Bentley from Headlight and Starcom [on the media side]. And we are backing that up with our own internal social media campaign, which will be managed internally and a lot of the design work will be done in-house,” he says.

He says while RNZ is working with Rainger and Rolfe as its agency for this campaign, it hasn’t signed it on as its exclusive partner.

“We [will]look at who is the most appropriate group for the work we are doing and make a decision on that basis.”

RNZ’s priority was to get people with a good understanding of the specific needs of RNZ as a public broadcaster, he says. “[And] a knowledge of the Auckland market and of the broadcasting environment, a strong creative reputation, and in the case of Headlight, past experience of the branding priorities for RNZ.”

He says there are already a number of billboards up in locations in Auckland and the campaign will evolve over time. “It will include social media, mobile and search engine optimisation spread over a number of weeks and will be backed up by work that we do internally with our own social media team.”

Barr says he doesn’t expect things to change over night.

“But our research shows that there is a big potential audience who want quality broadcasting. It takes time to build brand awareness and loyalty – particularly among new audiences, and we have a limited budget – so this is not a sprint.”

Barr says that while RNZ isn’t allowed to run commercial ads on-air, as it doesn’t accept advertising on its services, RNZ is allowed to promote itself.

For its one hundred-year anniversary RNZ teamed up with Clemenger BBDO in 2011 for a celebration campaign. For the campaign, New Zealanders were invited to create a radio design that captured any aspect of New Zealand culture from the past 100 years.

But for a bit of inspiration it came up with a few of its own first, for which it took home a gold Axis in Design.

As part of this campaign, RNZ also unleashed the slogan ‘Sounds like us’, which to put it lightly, didn’t really convince New Zealanders, or even some of the RNZ staff, like host Kim Hill who broadcast parodies of it, according to RNZ Mediawatch reporter Colin Peacock who ran a segment about it on the show. The ‘Sounds like us’ slogan was tacked onto the end of Morning Report with a variety of sounds that ‘sound like us’, like native bird calls.

Listeners haven’t been entirely convinced by the transformation from Radio New Zealand to ‘RNZ’ either, hence why this campaign is so important. RNZ Morning Report journalist Susie Ferguson read out a text that was sent to RNZ while on-air which read “RNZ aren’t you proud to be Radio New Zealand anymore?”

But RNZ is much more than just a radio station now. It’s on radio, yes, but it’s also online, it hosts podcasts and, with the new Checkpoint with John Campbell it runs a live video stream, it also has a strong social media presence. So, it make sense for RNZ to push its multi-channel offering and to make sure New Zealanders are aware that it’s no longer just national radio.

It’ll be interesting to see how well it tracks and if RNZ manages to significantly increase its audience this year.

As mentioned above, RNZ ran a campaign with Clemenger for its one hundred year anniversary, but other than that it hasn’t advertised since 2007.


  • RNZ: John Barr, Carol Hirschfeld, Glen Scanlon, Megan Whelan
  • Rainger & Rolfe: Ant Rainger, Stella Terrell, Hugh Walsh, Darryl Parsons, Quentin Pfiszter, Lew Bentley, Lauren Proud.
  • Starcom:  Alistair Jamison, James Cartwright, Alicia Tutty.

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