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Design: Archi Banal
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Pop CultureSeptember 8, 2023

The best NZ TV ad characters of all time

Design: Archi Banal
Design: Archi Banal

Tara Ward salutes some of New Zealand television’s greatest characters – the ones in our ads.

A great television advertisement sticks in our memory, but nothing makes an ad more compelling than when it stars an unforgettable fictional character. Where would Mitre 10 be today if not for Mr Mega (“big is good!”) or Speights without their “good on ya, mate” hero, and why can I not think of ANZ without wondering how the Sharma family is getting on with installing the solar panels on their roof? 

The power of television means these clever ad characters connect us to a product in unexpected, often emotional ways. As the years pass and their stories unfold and universes expand before our very eyes, these loveable folk can become more interesting than the item they’re actually selling (looking at you, Vince Martin from Beaurepaires). 

It’s about time these people got the credit they deserve, so let’s take a trip down memory lane to celebrate New Zealand’s most memorable and beloved fictional ad characters. 

The Pak’nSave Stickman 

He’s just a stick, standing in front of a yellow background, asking Meat Week to love him. For the past 15 years, Stickman (voiced by 7 Days stalwart Paul Ego) has promised us New Zealand’s lowest food prices, but who knew a simple stick figure would become such an advertising legend? No other sticks have 25,000 followers on Instagram, and despite some complaints about his behaviour, Monsieur la Stique shows no sign of breaking any time soon. 

Vince Martin from Beaurepaires

Tyres were boring as hell until “long, lean, lanky Vince” rocked up in the 1980s. Vince Martin played Vince Martin in the Beaurepaires ads both here and in Australia for three decades, starting by reciting different brands of tyres and ending by crooning us into Christmas. Fun fact: Martin also played the dead pilot in Castaway and if you love the sound of “smooth talking Vince”, be sure to book him for your next function.  

Ben and Amy from ASB

ASB’s current ad campaign follows the lives of Ben and Amy, childhood sweethearts who love eating tomatoes, work in a watch shop called “Big Ben’s Watches” and fell in love over a pair of dinosaur slippers. She has chilly feet, he likes to get his ducks in a row, and we love them for it. 

The Mainland Cheese blokes

Good things do take time, and these heartwarming Mainland cheese ads were a calming balm in a hectic world. A soaring musical soundtrack, some stunning Central Otago scenery and those gravelly-voiced, gentle blokes who simply wanted to make good cheese – and some even better cheese puns. Delicious. 

Spot the Telecom Dog

Spot the Telecom Dog trotted into New Zealand hearts and minds so deeply that when he died in 2000, a heartfelt goodbye screened across three different channels at once. Spot (an acronym for the Services and Products Of Telecom) was actually an Australian Jack Russell terrier who appeared in a whopping 43 Telecom ads during the 1990s, sending faxes, embracing call waiting and dialling the shit out of 0800 numbers. He even climbed into the internet once, which is something Stickman will never do. 

Big Save Lily

Big Save Lily was a superhero – literally – who drove a golf cart through prices, wore a mullet wig and got caught in a blizzard of crazy prices. Thanks to Big Save Lily (played by Lily Salter, whose family owned the Big Save chain of furniture stores), these ads gave us some of the most memorable content on TV during the late 2000/early 2010s. Nobody knew what Big Save Lily would do next, until it was something none of us saw coming: she chilled out completely, and furniture has never been the same since. 

Goldstein from ASB

ASB know to make iconic ad characters (see also: these ads), but Goldstein is the most enduring. Ira Goldstein (played by actor Steve Mellor) was the star of the award-winning ASB Bank ads between 2000 and 2010, a bumbling banker sent from New York to New Zealand to investigate what made ASB so good. The loveable hero went to great lengths to keep his spy work a secret, including disguising himself with a moustache and calling himself “Chad Valiant Jr”. What a guy.    

The Anchor Family

If you think cheese is dramatic these days, take a trip back in time to when the Anchor Family ads were on the telly. These ads were a mini-soap that played out in ad breaks from 1989, as Sam and her parents Donna and Phil experienced a variety of life events – divorce, co-parenting, tragic accidents – with the help of Anchor’s dairy products. Heartfelt? Yes. Cheesy? Never. 

Tina from Turners

Never has someone holding an ornamental frog in a car yard resonated so strongly with New Zealanders. Everyone loves Tina from Turners (played by comedian Sieni Leo’o Olo, aka Bubbah), and if you don’t yell out “CARS!” when you see her on the TV, are you even alive?  

“In an overcomplicated world, Tina is a wonder of simplicity,” we wrote back in June, after a nation mistakenly thought Tina from Turners (not Tina Turner) had died.  “She loves cars: big ones, tiny ones, uncomfortable ones…those cars are a metaphor for the human race, and Tina from Turners is the mother of the nation.”

The Briscoes Lady

Much like a Briscoes birthday sale, the Briscoes Lady is unbeatable. Played by Tammy Wells for the past 35 years – which seems like a long time, but also, not long enough – the Briscoes Lady’s style is impeccable, her energy unstoppable, her love of kitchen appliances unsurpassed. For a brief moment this year, we thought Suzanne Paul might be coming for The Briscoes Lady’s crown, but there can only be one. There is no Lady without Briscoes, and there is no Briscoes without the Lady. Long live the queen.

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