Key fails to mastermind an illusionary legacy

By   /   March 30, 2016  /   14 Comments

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As any advertising agency would tell you, the purpose of a brand is to sell an experience and create an illusion.


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.


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About the author

Donna Miles

Donna Miles is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen with a strong interest in human rights, justice and equality issues.


  1. Nick says:

    Well said Donna, I couldn’t agree more.

    Except for one point. You say John Key is without conviction apart from his desire to win at all costs. I agree about his determination to win. Witness his real portfolio as Minister for Sneering. Also his taking a leaf out of Rob Muldoon’s playbook (never admit to being wrong and especially never apologize). But whether or not he has any convictions – you will have to check with the US legal system for that one – he certainly has both a goal and a strategy.

    Everything the current administration has done has been to advance the neo-liberal project. The aim is to create an environment where transnational corporations are free to play: where the playing field is leveled by the destruction of unions and other potential opposition power bases and where international money can have free access to the New Zealand market: whether land, shares, businesses or influence.

    And the strategy is based on the cook-a-rat principle. (Throw a rat into hot water and he will struggle to get out; put him in warm water and he will swim round and round as the water is gentle heated and heated and heated).

    Kiwibank’s time as a New Zealand bank may be limited, we may subcontract the prisons and social housing, we may give up on home ownership and the social contract, but those precious selfies: well,they’re eternal…..aren’t they?

  2. esoteric pineapples says:

    Legacies are what people think about you years after you are gone, not what you manufactured for people in the present to think about you. The biggest legacy the Prime Minister will leave is his refusal to do anything about climate change because that is what people in 50 years time will be struggling to deal with.

    • Mike the Lefty says:

      Just to add something.
      When Roger Douglas was screwing the country we were told much the same thing: how good it was for us and how much we needed to be screwed. To our eternal shame a lot of us believed it (I am ashamed that even I believed it for a while). Thirty years later we know just how destructive that government was.
      Thirty years from now I hope that the sleepy hobbits of today will also look back on the John Key years with horror; horror that they were so stupid that they fell for his s….t and the National government’s legacy will be the government that reinforced child poverty, polluted the rivers and made inequality the norm.

      • richarquis says:

        “Thirty years from now I hope that the sleepy hobbits of today will also look back on the John Key years with horror; horror that they were so stupid that they fell for his s….t”

        Not when they can blame it on Helen Clark and/or the next government who takes control.

    • Steve King says:

      Exactly. He will leave a legacy, but it isn’t one that he would be proud of. Inaction on climate change, two-faced policies on the environment, record inequality and poverty, debt-laden economic management bereft of any new ideas and the most corrupt government in my lifetime, possibly longer. The big question for future historians and pols students will be “How did he get away with it for so long?”

  3. Jack Ramaka says:

    This Flag Thing was a c**k up for National, I bet there was some bitching going on behind closed doors at Nationals HQ, Judith Collins would have been in boots and all after the final result?

  4. Mike in Auckland says:

    John Key’s legacy will be his son Max, Maximus Arrogantus, the man who loves to indulge and be Playboy’s next playmate, I suggest.

    There will be nothing else for a legacy from the Key era, the MSM just made too much of it up so they have totally discredited themselves and the PM.

  5. tom says:

    Well said Donna – Excellent

  6. Stuart Munro says:

    Shonkey is a rolling stone,
    Somewhere in Hawaii that is his home
    And when he dies, all that’s left us was are his loans…

  7. Kim dandy says:

    His legacy will be the huge 100 billion dollar debt, that the next generation, and the next and probably the next will have to pay down. …and I won’t even start on the TPP…

    • mary_a says:

      Spot on Kim. And to also think when FJK’s dirty deeds are over and done with, he will expect to receive some prestigious honour (a knighthood?) for his treason against 99% of the citizens of NZ!

      What’s the penalty dished out to traitors these days?

  8. Marcus says:

    Actually the legacy will not be created by John Key, it will be created by his bootlicking, toadying sycophants in the MSM like Paul Henry and Mike Hosking.
    John Key bootlicking is almost a prerequisite to get a media job in NZ at the moment, but hopefully there will come a day when it will make you virtually unemployable.
    Justice will have been done then.

  9. Jack Ramaka says:

    JK’s legacy will be $120 Billion Debt and a Greek Style Economy?

  10. e-clectic says:

    John Key’s legacy will be whatever we allow it to be.