Values, impact and purpose: why marketers should be paying attention to culture

Oliver Lynch

It’s been a big year globally in terms of cultural shifts, ranging from climate change responses to political systems. Marketers and brands in New Zealand have the opportunity to look at these shifts and create messaging that embraces, reflects and contributes to local communities.

Oliver Lynch, head of customer experience, brand and marketing at Westpac New Zealand, says culture is the context through which people view the things that the company is doing, its messages, and also its actions.

“I think without understanding culture and staying close to it, it’s really hard to deliver your messages as impactfully.”

Westpac have spent a lot of time as an organisation defining its purpose and understanding how that fits New Zealand culture, says Lynch.

“On a more practical level, we’ve moved away from more formal pieces of research to lots of high-frequency informal pieces of research. We do lots of speed-dates and intercepts and I think the trick of that is to see how people in the moment react to the things we are thinking about.”

Lynch thinks it’s interesting to think about the role, and obligation, of big businesses to help shape culture. 

“For us this lies really close to our purpose and we take our role very seriously – we’re a big business, we’ve got a lot of employees and a huge customer base – so with that comes some pretty amazing opportunities to not only contribute to society but to also help shape it a little bit.”

An example Lynch gives is the Women in Leadership conversation Westpac started where it worked with Deloitte to commission a big piece of research into the economic costs to New Zealand of not having gender balance amongst senior leaders.

“We then went to market [in early December last year]with the research findings, a big PR piece and a big campaign focused on influencers. The core message was that only 29 percent of business leaders in New Zealand are women and we don’t think that’s good enough.

For this campaign, Westpac New Zealand partnered with NZME and created a front-page wrap for the New Zealand Herald. Readers woke to find a bare-looking paper with only 29 percent of its content on the cover.

There were no images and no by-line to the cover story that was also missing chunks of text. The campaign ended up on the national news and as a result a question was asked in parliament about the issue.

It was a short, sharp hit over a number of days, says Lynch, but the results were incredible.

“The volume of applicants that applied for jobs at Westpac in December was about three times the number of women [than normal]. It was fascinating, it wasn’t the intent of the campaign and we hadn’t even thought about it, but we just got a huge spike in enquiries of people who want to work here.”

Looking forward, Lynch says Westpac have started working really differently with its agency partners over the past year, moving away from the traditional model of providing a brief with the agency coming back with a response, “to a place where we have cross-functional agency teams working together.”

Westpac have been quite prescriptive about the roles that sit in there, says Lynch, and one of those dedicated roles is cultural insights strategist.

“Their role in every session is to bring relevant cultural insights that should either be considered or might impact the way we think about things. This is primarily looking at social trends – big things happening overseas but also all the small cultural events evolving in New Zealand, seeing if they reflect what we’re thinking about or if they are something we could align to.”

Matthew Pickering

Organisational values

When asked why marketers should be paying attention to culture, Matthew Pickering, head of consumer marketing, marketing and customer strategy at ANZ New Zealand, says there is a responsibility to reflect culture back to the market and customers.

“Do it to be relevant, relatable and inclusive…marketing provides an opportunity to demonstrate what is important to your organisation’s values.”

ANZ have been a major supporter of the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community over the past few years, notably through the highly awarded ‘GAYTM’ campaigns in 2015 and 2016, as well as continued support and sponsorship of the Auckland Pride Festival.

Pickering says two to three years ago, there was an opportunity to make more of what ANZ did with the LGBTI community.

“When corporates get involved it can help accelerate acceptance of a social issue.”

ANZ also has celebrated diverse cultural traditions, such as Matariki. This year it launched a video of Tauranga-based ANZ staff member Lesleigh Ricardi talking about what the Māori New Year celebration means to her and how proud she is to be able to bring her whole self to work.

“A number of staff are in community groups – such as the Māori and Pasifika Staff Group – and we [Marketing] have given them the opportunity to tell their stories,” says Pickering.  

The organisation is also hosting free te reo Māori classes at the ANZ Centre in Auckland – for anyone, not just ANZ customers – which has had a great response.

Sport is another area ANZ supports, with partnerships with New Zealand cricket and New Zealand netball in particular, and the New Zealand Olympic committee.

“Something we’re really proud of is supporting New Zealanders to achieve,” adds Pickering.

“It’s reflecting New Zealand back to themselves because sport is something we are passionate about as a nation, it is part of our national identity, and our culture in a broader sense.”

Culture is evolving

An example of a company’s awareness of culture changing and evolving is Speight’s recent campaign – an exploration of male friendship, generosity with a bit of humour thrown in.

The two-minute spot by DDB, called The Dance’, follows the story of two workmates who seem to be teaching each other to dance. During the lessons, it becomes clear there is an event the protagonist Simon is working towards, however, it’s not revealed until the end when we see him dancing at his wedding. There, Simon surprises his wife with the perfect dance routine while his mates watch proudly from the dancefloor sideline.

Lion’s national marketing director, Craig Baldie, told StopPress in May moving the brand forward with a contemporary tale was seen as necessary given the way culture has evolved.

“A fresh approach to our core beliefs was the perfect way to showcase mateship, a value that has stuck with Speight’s through various ages and stages,” said Baldie.

“There are some things you can only ask a mate for help with, ‘The Dance’ reimagines an age-old tradition of mates sacrificing for mates through challenging times.”

To celebrate its 50th anniversary in July last year, Goodman Fielder subsidiary Vogel’s brought eight New Zealanders with surprising back stories together, ranging from a teacher who taught in a war zone to a surprising speaker of te reo Māori.

The campaign called ‘What do you bring to the table?’ celebrated diversity and uniqueness, said Rachel Ellerm, the general manager of marketing at Goodman Fielder.

“Vogel’s has been part of New Zealand for 50 years and over that time our country has changed a lot…every Kiwi, no matter who they are, brings something special to the table and we want to celebrate that.”

Colleen Ryan


Colleen Ryan, partner at TRA, says one of the problems that brands have is how to differentiate themselves, while also to be culturally on code.

“People don’t change, human needs don’t change but the context does, and the context is the cultural stuff,” says Ryan.

 “[TRA] think therefore as a brand what you need to do is have good ‘cultural intelligence’ or good cultural acumen.”

She says this is achieved by not having heads down digging deeper and deeper into people’s psychology but with heads up, actually looking at what’s going on in the world, with more of a broader perspective.

“The other thing is that we can’t really change the big things that are happening in the world that affect culture,” says Ryan.

“We can’t do anything really about huge political movements or climate change or shortage of natural resources – they are happening in the world and we have no control over those things. What happens is they dribble down onto our country and have an impact here and it’s how that impact is felt that is the focus of our attention.”

Depending on which country the global cultural movements land in impacts the way the issues shape and morph themselves due to the culture within that specific country. Ryan gives the example of the cultural issue of sustainability and water in India compared to New Zealand.

“…In India, water has a spiritual and a transport role, people bathe in the Ganges for spiritual reasons, they don’t mind that the water is brown and you wouldn’t want to drink it because it has a particular role in life,” says Ryan.

“Whereas in New Zealand we’ve got concern about our waterways, we like to swim at the beach, to hike and fill our water bottles and to be able to fish – so when the sustainability movement in regards to water lands here, it arrives on a different landscape.”


For brands developing new products, services or ways of dealing with customers, you want to develop it not so it’s relevant today but so that it’s relevant next year and the year after, says Ryan.

“No one can predict the future but if you can look at how the cultural influences are going to play out over the next few years then at least you know what environment you’re launching your product in…it’s being able to read these big cultural movements as they come through.”

This is more than just being able to predict the technologies, it’s about being able to predict what the world will be like, what people will care about, what they’ll feel about what’s going on in the world.

Ryan gives the example of doing a cultural piece with the New Zealand Transport Agency looking at the future of communities, because, as she explains, NZTA’s job is not just to build roads, “it’s actually to support communities.”

For marketers, she says there are a couple of things they need to do to look long-term such as accepting culture as important and creating frameworks and tools to do so.

“Culture has a lot of applications short-term as well, particularly around brand communications. We’ve all seen missteps when a company gets the cultural codes wrong which can be very costly and embarrassing.”

And while Ryan notes that marketers and brands have many jobs to do, embracing culture is crucial.

“You have to get focused on what are the main things that are going to affect you, what are the things you are just going to need to be aware of and paddle along with, and what are the things you need to adopt and base your future planning on.”

This story is part of a content partnership with TRA.

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