If we were to take a more modern approach to rebranding New Zealand, using any team of leading marketing experts, a positive re-brand for New Zealand would not result in a flag change at all.

What does the flag change mean to New Zealand?

The New Zealand flag is a hot topic for debate, many citizens have a strong stance either for or against the flag change. Some feel the need to shed the union jack, arguing that something like the silver fern represents New Zealand better. Others tend to oppose the flag change due to the cost and haste that led to some pretty poor choices for a new flag. Both points are very true, the current flag has become rather archaic, not to mention often confused with Australia. I can’t imagine the current flag would even pass modern copyright laws. But 26 million is a pretty hefty price for such a sudden change for New Zealand. However, the real issue is not how the flag looks, how much it costs or the history the flag represents to us. My main concern is that the entire process has been approached in an old fashioned way – resulting in a complete branding failure of New Zealand.

What does the flag have to do with branding?

If you think about it, flags are very similar to logos, both serve a similar function. A logo is a symbol that represents the values of a company, much like a flag represents a country and its people. A good logo is one that looks good, grabs attention and is memorable. The most effective logos offer subconscious reminders that instantly link people to the company it represents. So ultimately changing the flag would be the perfect way for people around the world to recognise New Zealand and its great values. That is if you were to take a branding approach from the 1990’s. Today a logo is actually only a tiny part of how companies gain recognition and support from people. Even though some older corporations do still rely heavily on logos, many new brands put more focus on gaining recognition through actions. As consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of their purchasing power, branding has moved further away from the humble logo. It’s Literally been put aside for positive messages through media, some of which are simply just publicised actions like supporting local communities, charity events and reducing pollution to name a few. Also with the rise of social media, marketing has become more like a two-way conversation between a company and it’s audience. The most effective marketing strategies recognise the importance of forming a relationship with people and rely on the social part of media for the message to spread.

So what if we apply modern marketing to the New Zealand rebrand?

Marketing almost never starts with a logo or visual design. It starts with research and creativity to visualise the most positive outcomes for a brand at least 7 years into the future. If we were to ‘re-brand’ New Zealand with a more modern marketing process the 26 million would likely be spent on actively solving global issues. Taking on the migrant crisis is a good example of a cost effective way to market New Zealand. If a country were to gain recognition through action rather than advertising, everyone would benefit more. The best way we could market ourselves is to put our flags to the side and take leadership on global issues. Actions deliver stronger messages than a logo ever can at a similar cost. New Zealand would benefit more if we learned from successful global marketing strategies. Recent trends suggest that this involves dropping the us-them mentality and delivering a well executed experience for the audience – in this case, the rest of the world.

What went wrong?

Changing the flag is a great idea that was executed poorly – there’s no room for that in any kind of campaign. Hasty planning and a terrible plan of action set the flag change up to fail. Many of the people who oppose the flag change are actually opposing the government’s big spending and sudden changes. It’s hard to believe that anyone would be attached to the old flag.

Sadly, whilst the flag battle has raged, New Zealand ignored some pretty serious issues in the outside world. Setting a prime example of the worst possible way a country could market itself. The flag campaign itself is simply advertising our ignorance for the world around us, nothing more. It’s just sending the wrong message for NZ.