Authenticity key for businesses celebrating Matariki

As the celestial cluster of Matariki begins to rise in the sky above Aotearoa, Mahi Tahi, a Māori owned creative agency, shares some advice on how marketers can embrace the celebration and honour te ao Māori in their campaigns, ensuring a meaningful observance of this culturally significant event.

Last year, Mahi Tahi was asked by Professor Rangi Matamua, Māori astronomer and chief adviser to the Government on the Māori New Year, and stakeholders, to create the first Matariki awareness campaign.

The agency is once again behind this year’s campaign titled ‘Matariki Kāinga Hokia – Matariki calls you home’, having been engaged by Te Māngai Pāho as part of a wider initiative to build on the awareness created by the 2022 campaign, with the goal of creating a stronger sense of unity and understanding about the cultural importance of Matariki to Aotearoa. 

Chief Creative Officer of Mahi Tahi Jade Maipi says ensuring there is a genuine understanding of cultural protocols throughout all the teams who touch a campaign means there is less risk of coming across inauthentic.

Jade Maipi.

She adds that many consumers know a lot about Matariki and are quick to hold brands accountable on social media these days if something does not sit right with them.

“One of the biggest safety things would be to work with a Māori creative agency in the first instance because there’s that level of care.

“You will get alignment for your brand with the values of Matariki, and if not with a Māori creative agency, then it’s just making sure you put value on the same level of care that you would if you were marketing the All Blacks to New Zealand.”

She adds that there are many values that brands are already aligning with, such as sustainability and climate change, that also are also celebrated during Matariki.

“It’s all about kaitiakitanga, sustainability, conservation – those are the main things. When it comes to over-commercialisation, and especially in things like holidays, it can be quite disrespectful to our traditions. What tends to happen is that it can also marginalise us by commodifying our traditions without proper consultations,” says Jade.

“When we say we want to be authentic and genuine, you’ve got to carry that in every step of the process. It’s not so much about just protecting Māori, because I am Māori, but it’s also about protecting your company.”

Following the first official Matariki holiday last year, many conversations have been had about the need to preserve the cultural significance of the holiday in order to avoid it becoming overcommercialised.

As with many other indigenous cultures around the world, over-commercialisation can lead to “the commodification and exploitation of our cultural symbols, practices, and traditions” Jade adds.

“We expect people to tread carefully and make sure that however brands or businesses align to something that’s indigenous is by aligning to the values of that thing.”

In the case of Matariki, Jade says it’s about slowing down and coming together as a people to reconnect.

As a Māori-led agency, Mahi Tahi was well positioned to lead the campaign, having people throughout the process who were aware of culturally significant protocols. However, not all businesses will have this, Jade acknowledges.

“Usually what happens is there are Māori consultants who come in. But we understand in this industry that there are so many steps to sign off. That cultural advice isn’t necessarily being carried across those different parts [of the campaign].

“The people who have sign off on things aren’t aware of these cultural significant protocols that have been put in place and the reason why it shapes the creative.

“We need to understand that it’s not enough just to have an advisor at one point because for a business, there’s your marketing teams, your comms teams, they need to understand everything behind anything that’s indigenous.”

Jade emphasises the importance of internal alignment within a company before engaging with external stakeholders regarding Matariki. She believes that authenticity is crucial. “If you want to align to that, how can you do that? Answer that first as a company before you bring in external stakeholders to have that conversation with. I think it’s always got to start with us, and like with anything to do with Matariki, people can see from a mile away if it’s not authentic.”

Regarding the goals of Matariki, Jade says there are two primary objectives. The first goal is for people to reconnect and spend time together. In today’s fast-paced world, where individuals are constantly busy, finding time for meaningful connections has become challenging.

The second main goal of Matariki revolves around the environment, with an emphasis on conservation and sustainability. Jade stresses that Matariki is strongly associated with these principles. Preserving the environment and ensuring sustainable practices are essential components of the Matariki celebration.

Looking to the future she says she is hopeful that the meaning of Matariki will be more widely understood and embody values of kaitiakitanga and reconnection.

“That’s one of the main goals that I know that Rangi Matamua is really hopeful for with this holiday.”

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