Countdown has long had to contend with the fact that it isn't a Kiwi company. Its 18,000 staff, 3 million weekly customers and thousands of suppliers might largely be New Zealanders, but the overarching business remains in Australian hands – and that's something its retail competitors like to rub in from time to time.
"It's a fact, we're Australian owned, and we're never going to change that," says Countdown head of brand Debra Brooks as she sits down with the Herald to talk about the company's strategic plan to showcase its inner Kiwi.
Under the creative guidance of its new ad agency Y&R NZ, Countdown last Sunday launched a major rebrand that positions the company as central to Kiwi families, regardless of what shape they might take.
A cast of 40 actors appearing in a collection of familial scenes offer a cross-section of a modern New Zealand, marrying cultural diversity with a classic touch of dry Kiwi humour. A volcano-designing dad, students making terrible financial decisions and a plastic-shunning daughter are just some of the quirky characters introduced as Countdown gives viewers their first 90-second introduction to the company's brand refresh, which includes a tweaked logo and the new slogan, "We can help with that".
The aim of the new campaign and the broader strategic realignment is to make the tone and image of the brand "more Kiwi", says Brooks.
"The only way we can build love and trust in our brand is by not just talking about products. We also have to talk more about the things we do in our community, to talk more about food and local provenance and our relationships with our suppliers where that food comes from."
Brooks says that while Countdown has already forged a strong connection with communities across the country, the company hasn't been quite as good at telling those stories. That is something she hopes to rectify as the company rolls out its communications strategy in the coming years.
The push towards a "more Kiwi" aesthetic will also stretch across the company's retail advertising, with the debut of new voiceover artist and theme song.
Tim Barnes, who has voiced Countdown's retail advertising for more than four years, will be replaced by Kirk Torrance, whose voice Brooks describes as "a bit more down to earth and bit more Kiwi". And in place of the long-running "Counting the beat" track, Countdown will introduce the catchy 1990s hit "You Gotta Know" by Kiwi funk rock band Supergroove.
Y&R managing director Jono Key says all these changes together bring life to a strategy that has been two years in the making at Countdown.
"Everything communicates what a brand says and does: from the checkout staff, to the stores, to the logo, to how we talk about retail, to the voiceover, to the music. It's not a campaign. It's a whole new brand platform," Key tells the Herald.
It's a sentiment shared by Brooks, who says it is important not to judge Countdown's brand refresh solely on the first ad to emerge from the creative war room.
"This isn't just a four-week campaign," she says, explaining that the "We can help with that" platform will be expanded upon and used to illustrate all the ways in which the company steps in to help Kiwis in their daily lives.
All of which will aim prove that while Countdown might be Aussie owned, its activities in the local market make it Kiwi as.
Woolworths returns to New Zealand
Another change that won't be as obvious to consumers involves the corporate realignment that will see Progressive Enterprises renamed Woolworths in this market.
The change took effect this week and – symbolically at least – represents a return of the Woolworths brand to the Kiwi landscape, after a 2011 rebranding initiative saw all Woolworths stores rebranded as Countdown.
Brooks says this change is strictly to the holding company and will not result in any further changes in the local market.
"The Countdown name and brand will stay the same in New Zealand," she says.
"It's just an effort on both sides of the Tasman to strengthen our collaboration and to share the strengths of the assets we have between the two of us."
If anything, Woolworths is doubling down on the Countdown brand with the rollout of the new, multi-faceted branding platform.
The launch of Countdown's brand refresh also comes with an added level of intrigue as the first campaign to come out of the company's new ad agency Y&R NZ, which last year pried the creative account free of Ogilvy's 20-year grip.
The denizens of New Zealand advertising will be watching closely with their always-critical eyes to see what the agency delivers and if it measures up to what came before.
This is also the last major campaign that outgoing Y&R CEO and chief creative officer Josh Moore will be working on for the agency.
Asked whether he was concerned about what his industry peers might say, Moore laughed and said he was only concerned about what was good for the client.
He also reiterates Brooks' belief that this isn't simply a campaign, but rather something that can be built on over time.
"The goal is not to replicate the same ads for the next ten years," Moore says.
"The charm of brands today is not to just repeat the same thing over and over, but rather to look at the need in the moment and then create something emotionally engaging in that moment that's on-brand."
And on this talk of responding to change, what's next on the cards for Moore?
On this topic, the agency exec doesn't have much to say – for now, at least.