The tourism campaign featuring Prime Minister Jacinda Adern that has gone viral had its genesis in humble surroundings.

Figures out today show the $150,000 #GetNZontheMap campaign has yielded an estimated equivalent that has today grown to $8 million of advertising around the world with an audience of five million people, and growing.

It began last November in a San Francisco Starbucks.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall was waiting for a coffee when he noticed the large map on the wall had left this country off it.

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He alerted colleagues in New Zealand to "the scale of the challenge", laid bare in the harbourside coffee shop.

"I posted that to the team with a tongue-in-cheek request. From there the team picked up on that humour and started to do a bit of digging and what they came up with was this is actually a thing."

England-Hall said the Tourism NZ staff worked on turning that into something powerful and getting it to the world with a guerrilla campaign.

That's where TNZ's general manager of PR and major events Lauren Vosper came in.

"Lauren responded by saying 'I'm on it' and the next thing we know we've got some crazy ideas going around and about needing a global spokesperson who's got some real credibility offshore like our Prime Minister and then we need someone the Americans know and recognise," said England-Hall.

Rhys Darby was first on the list for the second part of the lineup.

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Vosper said Darby could tell that Kiwi story in a creative, funny way and marrying it to some legitimacy.

"We talked to Rhys and straight away he loved it. He went straight online and went 'oh my god it's true I can't find it'. He was so willing to do this for the country.''

The Prime Minister's office was also keen, although arranging time to film (in New Zealand) what became the #GetNZontheMap campaign required some juggling, she said.

"Obviously, she's got a busy job running the country but we had a hunch she might be interested in something like this because she reflects that warmth and empathy and her team saw value in it straight away. She was unbelievable she did it in an hour — she was a pro."

The filming has produced content for a social media video campaign that has attracted about five million views since its launch early this month.

One million of these are from Ardern's social media.

The New York Times declared the video viral on May 4, just two days after its release.

"Right from the start we were determined we were targeting Australia, the US, UK and Germany in particular and that is exactly where we've hit," said Vosper.

The "where the bloody hell are you?" reference to a famous Australian tourism campaign got an instant response across the Ditch.

"Australia is a critical market for us and it's important to resonate with them. We did because we were on their breakfast TV within about 40 minutes of sending out the content."

Vosper said the delay because of the PM's busy schedule ended up working in the campaign's favour. It meant its launch came after her successful visit to Britain and Europe where she attracted media attention.

The campaign had a double meaning: New Zealand actually being off maps but also encouragement for potential visitors to get this country on the radar.

Tourism New Zealand worked with creative agency Augusto.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall. Photo / Nick Reed

England-Hall said the campaign was deliberately not identified as being TNZ's, at least not initially.


"That was the thing - we tried not to get it referenced to us. We were trying to get it pushed through Jacinda's and Rhys' channels - we want it to be led by the influencer rather than being a TNZ product.

"It was a very good example where a very simple observation leads to a real clarity of insight."

One advertising boss says the campaign was a good example of assembling the right talent to showcase the unique personality of a country.

Simon Lendrum, managing director of JWT, said it was similar to the appearance of the Queen to promote the 2012 London Olympics.

Taking a risk could pay off for relatively low cost.

"The reality is nobody can predict what has viral reach or not - it's trial and error."

Tourism NZ said the next part of #GetNZontheMap will very soon see Darby, who was paid an acting fee, report back on his investigation into why the country is being left off world maps.

To promote this country overseas Tourism New Zealand has $111m, down from $117m, following a cut in last week's Budget.