The recent Canadian election campaign, which ended in the defeat of the conservative Harper government featured one outstanding campaign ad. It was not produced by the opposition but Adbusters, the Vancouver based anti-consumerist organisation. Even if it is pretty shocking it is a must see clip.
The ad features a man spitting on a Canadian flag sewn onto a woman’s bag.
Adbusters says that is based on an actual incident that happened at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
“What happened?” the man says. “You used to be the good ones.”
The narrator declares, “He was right.”
The ad also shows images of a country that has gone from achievements to be proud of, to a kind of police state that is wreaking havoc on the environment.
“I used to be proud of my country,” the narrator laments, “we have come a long way together, but lately we’ve been led astray. And the world now sees us for what we’ve become.”
The final line reads: We are better than this.
Looking at New Zealand over recent times up to yesterday and today I cannot get this ad out of my head.
New Zealand’s reputation under threat
New Zealand more than most countries relies for our economic wellbeing on it’s good will, it’s positive image. The country is dependent on trade with our overseas customers. Buying our product they want not only value for money but want to feel good about it. For this we have developed the image of the “100% Pure Clean Green New Zealand“. However, the reality does not even come close to that image. It should be only a matter of time till New Zealand will be charged with advertising fraud if only anybody would take our claims seriously. Just take a few examples from recent times.
Our prime export commodity is dairy products. We promote the image of happy cows on pristine green pastures in contrast to overseas production, which mostly happens indoors where cows are housed and milked. The feed there is often imported, shipped and trucked around the world at great cost not only financially but to the environment. However, if we look closely our dairy production is far from lilly white. As a consequence of dairy farming most of our rivers are so polluted by nitrogen that they are not safe to swim in. The methane emissions from our livestock account for about half of our green house gas emissions. And we are right at the top on a per capita basis. Our industrialised dairy production relies also in part on imported palm oil seeds for feed, which also contributes to the increasing destruction and burning of the tropical rain forrest in Indonesia. Also a major contributor to climate change.
On top of this we this week were confronted with disturbing images of cruelty to bobby calves as a byproduct of the milk production. Images, which will go around the world to the consumers of our products as the activist against cruelty against animals have promised.
Our dairy trade is not the only industry threatened by the fact that reality does not match the beautiful imaginary portrayed abroad. Most of our tourists come here with that image in mind. We can be sure that it will have a major impact when potential visitors find out that the clean green 100% pure New Zealand image is just false advertising: 100% pure bullshit. The customer backlash is going to hurt the whole country. It will affect other exports as well, which based on our image and good will have up till now produced premium returns for our horticultural and wine industry. The dirty big secret is bound to come out.
The biggest threat to our international reputation is our government’s policy on climate change.
Listening to our prime minister at the UN climate summit in Paris making promises with his fingers firmly crossed behind his back makes you angry and want to spit on our flag.
One policy making the headlines was to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, which internationally amount to over US$ 750 billion annually. New Zealand does not directly do this and therefore it is cheap to demand. What we do instead is subsidise oil & gas exploration at a time when we know that this is the last thing we need to find more fossil fuel resources under the sea. If the world is to have any chance to keep global warming to the agreed maximum of 2 degrees most of the already known reserves of coal and oil have to be left in the ground. So we don’t need to find any new ones. This goes to show that our government is not at all serious about the future of mankind on planet Earth.
New Zealand after the pathetic hypocritical performance of our Prime Minister in Paris was shamed by winning the wooden spoon “Fossil Of The Day Award”. The world is watching with 8000 journalists in attendance. There is not enough advertising space available to repair the damage.
And we have the means in our country blessed with an abundance of renewable resources to make a real difference if there only would be the political will.
Are we better than this ?
I first came to New Zealand in 1981 before Neoliberalism had arrived. Everyone I talked to beforehand was full of praise for this beautiful blessed country. I promptly fell in love with it and it’s people and immigrated in 1984. In those days like the Canadians who don’t want to be mistaken for US Americans we proudly attached our flag to our luggage to be safe and liked.
Thirty years of Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us and especially the last seven years of the neoconservative Key government. So I am not so sure if people who really know the New Zealand of 2015 still like us as they did in years back for good reasons. Advertising and PR do work only for a limited time if not matched by reality.
Our chance to show the world that we are better than this comes around every thee years. Will we take that chance in 2017 – like the Canadians did – and toss out our present conservative government and even better neoliberalism altogether. This year will be another record hot year. We are facing a severe drought in the coming months. How many more record floods, droughts, hurricanes around the world and in our backyard will it take to show the world that we are better than this.