As any advertising agency would tell you, the purpose of a brand is to sell an experience and create an illusion.
John Key’s devotion to the All Black’s brand is not without good reason.
The silver fern is a dream brand. It evokes images of strength, success and superiority. It allows us to experience the joy of winning and makes us happy and hopeful about the future.
The inclusion of the silver fern in the design of the new flag was about creating an illusionary identity that said a lot about the victory and success of our rugby team but nothing about our nation’s cultural hallmark of simplicity and humility- the very virtues that the world desperately needs in order to face the global challenges of growing inequality and climate change.
For many New Zealanders, waving a flag embellished with a victorious corporate brand at the time of rising inequality and shocking levels of child poverty seemed at best inappropriate and at worst deceitful.
Many also struggle with New Zealand’s “clean and green” brand given the state of our waterways and lack of any real commitment to environmentally sound policies.
The attempt to change our flag at the same time as the introduction of the TPPA comes as no surprise to those who understand the role of the TPPA in strengthening corporate power.
A corporatized economy requires its consumers to strive for a dream and live within an illusion. This, for instance, explains the rapid rise of celebrity culture where consumers are encouraged to disengage with reality and immerse themselves in a fantasy life where ordinary people emulate the looks and behavior of the celebrities.
The new flag was designed to feed us, and the rest of the world, an illusion that we were a successful nation on top of the world where our rugby had taken us. That illusionary success was to be John Key’s enduring legacy.
In 2008, the brand Obama won the Advertising Age’s marketer of the year beating established brands such as Apple and Nike. It was the first time that branding and design had played a pivotal role in an American election.
The awe-inspiring brand Obama was about grass-roots democracy and progressive values, but like many brands, the promise did not match the reality.
Brand Obama has effectively handed over 12.8 trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money to Wall Street and insolvent bankers, expanded America’s doomed imperial project in Afghanistan, has refused to restore habeas corpus and has failed to introduce single-payer universal health care that Americans so desperately need.
Much of John Key’s political success can also be attributed to his strong personal brand: likeable, entertaining, and one of us. The reality, however, points to a man unlike many; a master illusionist without any real convictions who is determined to win at all costs (think dirty politics).
I am proud that despite many manipulative advertising attempts, New Zealanders were not duped into mistaking an illusion offered by a brand with the reality representing our true identity.
In time, when our nation finds the courage to face its demons (child poverty, domestic violence, unemployment, poor and expensive housing, growing inequality, youth suicide, etc.) and find its way towards unity and common good, we will have a new flag that we can all be proud of.