Winston Peters says we need to use the success of Kiwis like Lorde and Sir Peter Jackson as part of our foreign policy to promote our image abroad.
Speaking at a conference on cultural diplomacy in Berlin, Germany, yesterday, the New Zealand First leader said today's digital environment meant the biggest contribution to cultural diplomacy would be made outside "official" channels.
"The recent impact of the Gangnam Style - something like riding a horse without the horse - raced across the world from South Korea," he said, referring to the internet sensation turned international hit by musician Psy.
"Hundreds of millions sharing a harmless craze on YouTube and laughing together may be as helpful for world peace as some meetings at the United Nations."
Mr Peters said New Zealand should be smarter about leveraging off what it was already successfully doing in the world.
"We can seek out countrymen already successful in their fields including the arts and embrace them as 'cultural ambassadors' using social media, traditional media and other assets including our embassies in support of broader national objectives such as trade connections, tourism, educational links.
"Opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, film maker Sir Peter Jackson and new singing sensation Lorde and the most successful sporting team in the world, the New Zealand All Blacks, would have far greater impact than any government minister or ambassador in promoting New Zealand on the international stage."
He said New Zealand should continue capitalising on events like the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the phenomenal success of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
"We also need to look for opportunities to exploit what other players are doing such as think-tanks, universities and the private sector, while being keenly aware of their own independence."
But he said the taxpayer could not be expected to foot the bill every time an artist, writer or musician went overseas.
"Some say the internet is the answer to those who argue for a taxpayer-funded global cultural exchange programmes.
"Well if haphazard, directionless, unfocused outcomes are being sought then they would be right. However, cultural diplomacy is far too important to be left to accident."