A television commercial using a haka to advertise a new Fiat car has gone to air in Italy, despite New Zealand diplomats warning its producers it is culturally insensitive.
The ad - created by the Turin office of international advertising agency Leo Burnett - features a group of black-clad women performing Ka Mate, the haka written by Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha and made world-famous by the All Blacks.
The women are filmed in a city street beside a black Fiat Idea, mimicking Ka Mate's words and actions.
Crowd noise is played in the background - replicating the atmosphere of a New Zealand rugby test match.
Then, as one of the women drives off in the car, the ad ends with a boy sitting in the back poking out his tongue.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman Brad Tattersfield said the ministry became aware in April that an advertising company was planning to use the haka.
"At the time we advised the advertising company that the use of Ka Mate in this way was culturally insensitive and inappropriate," he said yesterday.
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Te Toi Aotearoa, which promotes and protects Maori art and culture, were also consulted.
Mr Tattersfield said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advised the advertisers to use a Maori group or a haka composed for women.
"However, the advertising company indicated they were proceeding despite this advice."
Te Toi Aotearoa recommended that New Zealand officials in Italy help address concerns about the ad by consulting Gisborne-based artist Derek Lardelli, who penned the All Blacks' new haka Kapa O Pango and has Italian ancestry.
In response to written questions, Lardelli and Rose Gould-Lardelli of Lardelli Arts said they did not support the "adulterated version of Ka Mate" in the Fiat commercial.
"We feel it is completely inappropriate to misuse cultural icons or symbolism in the manner that Fiat have. They had the opportunity to engage on a culturally appropriate level but chose to ignore this," they said.
They had explained to the ad's producer, Stefano Tucciarelli, that there were aspects of haka which were not to be performed by women and "discussed the need to write something appropriate to the kaupapa and context. This advice was not followed."
In email correspondence the Lardellis had agreed to a suggestion from Mr Tucciarelli that Mr Lardelli compose a haka for the commercial. But they never heard again from him after commending him for seeking cultural advice, and also asking him the commercial's budget and projected sales figures for the new Fiat car.
Te Toi Aotearoa general manager Garry Nicholas said it had hoped Mr Lardelli would have found a "way through so the ad was not offensive".
After viewing a video clip of the ad on Fiat's website yesterday, Mr Nicholas said he had mixed feelings about it.
"This isn't a haka in my view but is certainly based on haka," he said.
"It's meant to be in fun and the little boy poking his tongue at the end of the clip makes that very clear.
"I don't have any real problem with that. We are now on the world stage and the All Blacks have taken us there."
But Mr Nicholas said the Italians were taking an "imperialist attitude" that they did not have to answer to anyone in the world of fashion.
"It's an Old World attitude and we're just seen as tribal people."
Mr Nicholas said his main concern initially had been that the advertisers were planning to use "scantily clad" women to do the haka.
Fiat is the latest international corporation to commercially exploit Maori images or culture.
But the Fiat ad appears to be in better taste than a short-lived whisky ad made for Belgian television, featuring a rugby team doing a haka in front of a line of bare-chested Scotsmen lifting their kilts in response.
New Zealand's Ambassador to Brussels lodged an official complaint against that ad.