Irene Gardiner from New Zealand on Screen chooses New Zealand’s top 10 television commercials of all time.

Television commercials can be an annoyance, but they can also be tiny works of art - little bits of beautiful filmmaking, clever humour, or both.

Without the massive budgets of big overseas ad campaigns, New Zealand writers and directors have had to be smart and resourceful - so a lot of what makes our favourite ads work is the clever idea at the heart of them.

In the days before TV recording technology and time shifted viewing, the internet and ad blockers, advertisements could make a particularly fierce assault on Kiwi pop culture, so it's not surprising that the 1970s and 80s are strongly represented in our Top 10.

But the beloved road safety message Ghost Chips in 2011 showed that, even in these crowded online times, a great ad can still become a little slice of pop culture legend and give us a new catchphrase.


There are so many great ads to choose from, it was a major challenge getting the list to a Top 10. Ranking them one to 10 would have been just too hard, so here they are - in chronological order from the oldest ad to the newest.

1975: The Great Crunchie Train Robbery

Generally accepted as New Zealand's longest-running TV commercial, this ad for Cadbury's Crunchie chocolate bar features a who's who of New Zealand acting talent of the time.

1975: Hugo and Holly

Strictly speaking, this ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken wasn't actually New Zealand-made, as it was animated in Australia and screened in both countries. But it is so fondly remembered here we couldn't leave it out. Two children sit in the car with a hunger so strong, they're "getting thinner". Tune, lyrics and imagery work as one: the car, the animals and the KFC store all move in time with the music, and the song is the ultimate earworm.

1981: Dear John

TVC director extraordinaire Tony Williams is also the man behind the Dear John ad for BASF cassette tapes. The ad was made on a shoestring budget: milk bottle silver caps stood in for soldier's dog-tags and a Wellington quarry is a Korean War-zone.. The deliberate anachronism of cassette tapes in Korea proved a winning twist on the traditional Dear John letter, and the ad was voted Best Australasian commercial of the 1980s.

1982: Crumpy and Scotty

A year after Dear John, the first ad in the long-running Crumpy and Scotty Toyota Hilux campaign hit our screens. The Crumpy and Scotty adverts combined an iconic Kiwi author, odd couple comedy, and off-road driving. The first ad sees Scotty trying to sell the brilliance of the Hilux four-wheel drive, while Crumpy takes a backroads short cut. The Crumpy and Scotty ads continued for 12 years, and got a bit of note in more recent times with a homage in hit film Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

1988: Travellin' On

An anthem to good times on the road, this Europa ad featured four friends - musician Midge Marsden, jingles veteran Murray Grindlay, and models Janna Lapidus and Brigitte Berger - larking around the North Island in an old ute. The popularity of the Travellin' On song made this one a viewer favourite.

1989: Instant Kiwi Trout Fishing

Designed to promote the Lotteries Commission's new scratch and win cards, viewers were encouraged to take a gamble on the new cards and ask the question: "Instant Kiwi attitude: have you got it?" as personified by a bungy-jumping fisherman. The commercial was directed by prolific ad-maker Lee Tamahori, who went on to make his movie directing debut with Once Were Warriors in 1994.

1991: SPOT

Another of our most popular and long-running ad campaigns, SPOT was an acronym for the Services and Products of Telecom, and Spot the dog was a much loved Australian Jack Russell terrier. He starred in 43 different Telecom commercials made between 1991 and 1998 - many of them on an epic scale and seemingly at risk to his life or limb.


1993: Red Blooded

Also directed by Geoff Dixon, this 1993 ad dates from the time when craft beer was yet to make a big mark and Lion Red was NZ's number one beer. Hyperactive in a flannel shirt, a pre-Hercules Michael Hurst takes the mic at a pub talent quest, singing a war cry for Kiwi blokes against wimpy pretenders like champagne cocktails and Mexican beers. "Red Blooded" became a bona fide pub anthem.

1999: Bugger

A series of farming mishaps each provoke the laconic comment - bugger. This was the formula behind one of our most iconic Kiwi advertisements. The Toyota Hilux "Bugger" ad attracted 120 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority, who ruled that bugger was unlikely to cause serious offence. The shock value of that word, the role of Hercules the dog, and the performance of the hapless farmer - in the tradition of Dagg and Footrot - made for Kiwi pop culture magic.

2011: Ghost Chips

The newest commercial in our Top 10 is the 2011 anti-drink driving ad that became a Kiwi pop cultural phenomenon, spawning countless parodies, memes, t-shirts and over a million YouTube views; phrases from the ad entered the vernacular ("you know I can't grab your ghost chips" and "I've been internalising a really complicated situation in my head"). Eschewing the usual shock and horror tactics, the ad used humour to get the message across that it was choice to stop a mate from driving drunk.

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