You don’t really see ads on TV anymore. What with the mute function, DVRs and streaming, this once proud tradition is not necessarily dead – but definitely not as great as it once was. I’m not saying there aren’t still great ads – the drug driving ads in the dairy and takeaway stores are comic gold – but the heyday of television advertising being a dominant cultural force is perhaps behind us. Luckily, we can look back. Here are a few of my personal favourites from the last 20 years.
New Zealand has a rich tradition with ads where people die horribly in cars. It was like a challenge in our ad industry to create the most likeable character and kill them off in the most devatsating way. A classic opens on a horrendous car smash, followed by a man in a wheelchair who is handed a speeding ticket by his wife. “It was the same day, David”, she tearily informs him. His puffy face is sorry; he squeaks out the word. She isn’t having it, and delivers the line that was then repeated throughout history on the playground as a bleak-but-hilarious joke: “Don’t say sorry to me! Say sorry to his kids!”
I always preferred the drink driving ads where no-one dies or gets hurt because someone was being a cool bro. The zenith – the very pinnacle – of these ads is definitely Ghost Chips. This classic, deserving winner of several international awards is almost impenetrably kiwi in its humour and in its message. I would wager that no drink driving ad anywhere else in the world would have a ghost offering his friend a chip.
The good thing about driving ads is that they are rarely serialised. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for banks, of all things. This brings us to one of New Zealand’s most enduring nightmares – one from which we didn’t escape for a full decade.
“Go to New Zealand to find out what makes that bank tick,” Ira Goldstein is implored by his Wall Street boss every episode, as though we didn’t have ingrained in our very fibre as New Zealanders the holy mission of our favorite caricatured Jewish banker. There are about 60 ads all up featuring the mildly questionable Goldstein as he bungles his way around New Zealand, harassing innocent bank employees, making the worst dad jokes and launching his definitely-not-stereotypical line of bagels.
Goldstein is maybe New Zealand’s most recognisable ad character – save maybe for the Briscoes Lady – a woman so immortal that the question of whether she should have a state funeral or not is irrelevant, as she will never die. She has never had a story arc, which makes her all the more fascinating and aloof. Curiously, Goldstein has a Wikipedia page, but she doesn’t even get a mention on the Briscoes page, despite being Our Lady of the Discount Blender.
Instant Kiwi has been a rich goldmine of quality ads over the years as well, albeit with a wide weird range of characters, from bungee-jumping fishermen to underarm bowl-facing New Zealand cricketers. Perhaps the most iconic is the sassy, sexy-in-a-late-’90s-way exam taker who, upon finishing his paper, decides to kill time with the $1 thrill in his pocket.
This seemed a brilliant ploy to 13-year-old me, but given the particular phase of my education, rather unworkable. Sure, this might go in an exam room of hundreds but would probably need an extra element of disguise if I was going to use it to fool Mrs Hedges.
I feel like I could actually go on for hours, quoting the quotable (“It was a year ago, Michael, let it go!”), singing the jingles (“I’m an utter peanut butter nutter”), awwing along (“to mummy… and daddy”) and wishing I was sailing with all those good-looking white people eating Frujus and trumpets. But instead, I’m just going to leave you with this: