Ad creatives in London v New Zealand

Sometimes I look back on my time in ad agencies in New Zealand and wish I could’ve told my former self to have stuck it out there for longer.

The reason for this is as one famous Australian ECD once said, “advertising in New Zealand is like playing tennis without a net.”

Brutal but fairly accurate.

Admittedly the budgets are small, the clients quite often are regional, but if you can put aside these two down-points the rest is overwhelmingly positive; for the creatives that is.

For starters the marketing structure from a client’s offering is incredibly weak. Or perhaps a better word would be pliable. Account Directors can often over a phone-call say to a stubborn client “mate, this is going to be great, it’ll win awards, tell you what I’ll buy you lunch this Friday!” And quite often it works.

The strategy and planning are done from the agency and are often un-challenged from the client’s side. “Great! Let’s make it happen.”

The creative team with the blessing of the ECD make magic, and boom, see you on the podium at Cannes come June.

Essentially it’s a can-do approach combined with ‘screw strategy and extensive planning from the client’ rhetoric.

In London, on the other hand, I have worked on projects whose versions sometimes gets up to triple figures. Version 138 is the highest number I’ve worked on. It sounds like death by a 1000 cuts and sometimes that’s exactly what it feels like but sometimes it’s for the greater good of the project.

Creativity definitely comes a distant second to actually making work that works. The nuance of a turn of phrase or the alignment of a sub-line is tried and re-tried 30 different ways. Just when you think it’s finally gone out after 4 months of meetings the entire project gets cancelled or re-briefed.

But working in London does hold its benefits. From a humble creative’s point of view it’s two-fold.

  1. You learn about creating work that is effective yet still being creative. (How to operate within boundaries yet push for the best possible solution inside a tight briefing remit).


  1. You learn craft. Both from a writing point of view as well as an art point of view. In terms of writing craft in New Zealand there seems to be one tone of voice, a generic catch-all voice that appeases everyone but never really sets the brand apart. To be honest it’s usually the copywriter’s own voice. Occasionally brilliance does rise to the surface such as the L&P tone of voice, but by in large the words are more to service the creative rather than to push it forward. I knew one of the best copywriters (most awarded) in New Zealand who used to use the same trick on all campaigns… an adverb and then an adjective; stuff like ‘Refreshingly different’ and the like. If you did this in London you’d get bounced down the stairs for being lazy.

And off the back of this craft point New Zealand sometimes suffers from the lack of it. Due to budgets, deadlines and the euphoria of getting 6 campaigns through in the last 3 months, the quality of craft does suffer. Typeset it in Gotham and get it out, it’s a brilliant idea. It runs tomorrow!

The bigger agencies rely on one or two super craftsmen to make the idea shine in next to no time. But if you aren’t fortunate to have one of them assigned to your job, then you default to the basics.

But in spite of the last few paragraphs sounding barbed towards the New Zealand ad culture, it is a refreshing place to work. A place where creativity is endorsed, a place where work can get up fairly easily, a place where you come into work and feel like what you’re doing is actually doing something. I sincerely wish I had spent more time there.

A year ago I met a friend who’s a far better creative than me. He came around to help me paint a room. He’d won 5 lions or so and had knocked around all the best agencies in Auckland as well as London (Mother, Saatchis et al) . His comment to me summed up the London situation while he was painting; “this is really fun. I paint the door, and it stays painted. I can physically see something that I’ve done and it’s permanently there.”

Later on he told me in the last two years that he had been in London he hadn’t made a single ad he was proud of.

You tell this to a New Zealand creative and they’ll look at you like they don’t understand what you’re saying. Work is produced all the time in New Zealand, and that’s something to be proud of.


Interesting post, but why London (a city) vs New Zealand (a country)?

Is the rest of the UK not relevant? Or is London vs Auckland not enough of a contrast?

posted by Andy Rainford / 05.20.15 - 7:21 pm

I’d say New Zealand / the New Zealand ad-scene is small enough that the culture and clients between Auckland and Wellington are indistinguishable and can be treated as a single entity. London on the other hand is very different in terms of ad culture, clients and to be honest reputation to the rest of the UK (with maybe Edinburgh being the exception). Thanks for the read!

posted by Jonathan / 05.21.15 - 9:46 am

138 revisions would certainly have tested my patience. Then again sometimes a painting is like that, it can take a long time to resolve. Interesting to hear your comparisons here between NZ and London.

posted by Celeste Sterling / 05.29.15 - 12:03 am

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