By - Wayne Linklater 27/08/2013

The Advertising Standards Authority decision is out. Their Complaints Board decided on 8th August that the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ by and made no environmental claims but that the environments – scenes and places – featured were only implicated as ‘part of the unique New Zealand visitor experience’.

100% Pure New Zealand – Where unspoilt islands are never far away. Source: Tourism New Zealand

‘100% Pure’ has been re-interpreted as inter-changable with the concept of ‘unique’ not a claim about the environment.

Intent or interpretation?

What should have been examined in this case – the advertisers claims about what they intended by an advertisement or how their advertisement is interpreted by the consumer?

The ASA have favoured the former by relying heavily in their decision on Tourism New Zealand’s claim that “100% Pure New Zealand is not an environmental statement or promise and never has been” and Tourism NZ’s more recent claim that they used the word ‘Pure’ as an intensifier not an absolute – such as how it is used in the phrase ‘pure coincidence’.

Even if we accept that this is so and appropriate, the tourism industry and consumer – expert in their own business – interpret the brand differently.

The tourism industry and consumer thought ‘100% Pure’ an environmental brand

For example*,

Tourism New Zealand’s promotion of New Zealand as 100% Pure New Zealand has been visionary in an increasingly environmentally-conscious world” – Rob Fyfe, CEO, Air New Zealand.

100% Pure conveys New Zealand is clean, green, uncrowded (in a congested world) and as such adventurous” – Len Murray, Managing Director, Value Tours (Australia).

‘100% Pure New Zealand’. Source: Tourism New Zealand

Equally when people want to point at a country which has managed to make the natural environment a very large part of their tourism picture, well New Zealand is usually top of the list” – Tony Wheeler. Co-founder, Lonely Planet Guidebooks.

I believe the campaign to have been highly successful for New Zealand. The timing was excellent – it anticipated, not followed the green consciousness shift” – Anna Pollock, CEO of DestiCorp (Canada).

The 100% Pure New Zealand campaign works! It describes New Zealand and gave us an early opportunity to position ourselves as environmentally and culturally aware” – Stuart Neels, Managing Director, ATS Pacific New Zealand (NZ).

It is clear – the industry and consumer has considered ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ an environmental brand.

Feeble advertising code, futile complaints?

Is the ASA’s mandate to examine only an advertiser’s claimed intent or also the consumers interpretation? The standards and code for advertising would be made feeble and more complaints by consumers futile, I think, where only an advertiser’s intent is evaluated.

The ASA’s decision has some quite far-reaching and serious consequences for the value of advertising codes to consumers. An advertiser can claim an intent quite different from its interpretation, but benefit from that interpretation nonetheless.

What does this mean for New Zealand?

I said in my last post I would consider the implications of Peter’s loss.

New Zealand’s environment provides a service to advertisers that they currently do not pay for. So long as advertisers and industry get our nation’s environmental brand for free, or below cost, they will be:

(1) unmotivated to invest in the environmental asset,

(2) reluctant to self-police their industries environmental claims, and

(3) unlikely to bring pressure on industries that degrade the environment to clean up their act.

Without these New Zealand’s environment will continue to degrade. The ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ brand will have a shorter life.

We missed an opportunity here. Peter’s loss is a loss for New Zealand’s future and the future of New Zealanders.

Tourism New Zealand could do better

‘100% Pure New Zealand – Where guardians of the land…’. Source: Tourism New Zealand

Tourism NZ has achieved a legal and technical victory but not a victory for its brand or the brand’s asset – the environment. Decisions can be technically correct but be the worst outcome for all concerned. This is one such case.

It is disappointing that Tourism New Zealand did not engage proactively with Peter’s complaint and the debate about its ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ brand.

‘Guardians of the land’ – Yeah Right

An acknowledgement from Tourism New Zealand that the environmental qualities of its brand need to be strengthened and supported, rather than pretending they do not exist, would have been the response of a business with a sense of responsibility to its consumer and society.

But the last word should go to the victor – Tourism New Zealand – because it frames how they have viewed Peter Nuttall’s complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority:

It is disappointing that so much time must be spent on justifying the use of one of the most highly regarded and successful tourism campaigns in the world, while it continues to deliver significant economic benefits to all New Zealanders” – Tourism New Zealand.


* These quotes come from the text of Peter Nuttall’s complaint to the ASA.