Kiwi Cultural Codes
A collaborative project between TRA & True
We've studied how the Kiwi Cultural Codes have shifted over time to answer the question: What does it mean to be a Kiwi today?
"Witty, disarming but blended with tragedy"
Key takeouts for your business
Making the connection
Kiwis value humour - it is a way to break down barriers and share a laugh, often at our own expense. Brands that can harness the unique Kiwi sense of humour and poke fun at themselves will benefit from a deeper, more human connection with New Zealanders.
The self-deprecating wit of Kiwis is often used to tackle bigger issues.
Our humour diffuses hierarchy, tradition and conflict and hence, is used as a coping mechanism.
Down to earth and earnest
Kiwi humour and banter is self-deprecating and lives amongst friends, colleagues and communities as opposed to watching stand up or through other cultures. Our humour reflects our down to earth, earnest natures. Popular TV comedy show 7 Days features predominantly Kiwi comedians, meaning it can get away with poking fun at Kiwis and current events. On the other hand, Jonah From Tonga doesn’t sit right with Kiwis because the character is played by European Australian Chris Lilley - it feels like the show is laughing at us, not with us: “It’s not funny when someone from the outside makes fun of our culture.”
“We like to see ourselves and laugh at our uniqueness. Jokes that would only happen in our community but the rest of the country sees it and laugh along.”
Our humour speaks to our non-confrontational nature and is often used to diffuse conflict and make light of tough situations. However, new migrants reckon Kiwis still have a way to go before they can say they really know how to laugh at themselves.
“You can have banter with your boss, the ref, with the opposition…it shows that if you’ve got an issue you park it and have a laugh.”
Humour is used to broach day to day struggles and serious issues in Kiwi life. We often make light of serious situations to avoid facing real emotions and struggles. Iconic New Zealand film, Boy, is a classic example of this where director Taika Waititi used humour as a Trojan horse to communicate real pain and hardship amongst Maori youth.
“A lot of our humour has real tragedy in it - Boy has mortifying stories…It shows us that it’s OK to have knock backs and that if you don’t laugh you cry.”
'You can be a tall poppy as long as you earned it.'
KEY TAKEOUTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Celebrating commercial success needs to done with humility. Kiwis have little tolerance for arrogance and ostentation, so to ensure business comms land well they’ll be devoid of marketing ‘swagger’
Keep it real
Kiwis will get behind your business if your success feels earned, authentic and raw. Provide a track record and proof points as opposed to American puffery and word perfect success stories.
Kiwis have been known to shy away from recognition, but we are now more willing to take pride in our wins and celebrate our successes.
When we consider that for New Zealand to progress as a country we must have individuals that achieve on the world stage. However, certain accomplishments are more valued than others and how you handle success is what you’re judged by.
NO TIME FOR PUFFERY
Kiwis have little tolerance for arrogance and bragging – showing off makes you unrelatable and will earn you a good dose of tall poppy. This explains why our nation has such a strong dislike of sportsmen Jimmy Spithill and Quaid Cooper; and on the other hand, why we especially love Peter Burling and Richie McCaw – we admire their humility and dignity in the face of extreme success on a global scale.
SEEING RUNS ON THE BOARD
Success has to be earned. New Zealand’s richest man, Graeme Hart, is seen in this light. Starting on the ground floor with a working class upbringing and a first job as a tow-truck driver, Hart built his fortune through hard work. It’s these tales of overcoming adversity that become media myths, stories that we love to retell over and over again. Hart is a tall poppy for sure, but one that most Kiwis can respect based on his hard-won success. This a stark contrast to how Kiwis perceive ‘quick won’ fame and fortune like those on reality TV shows. Success through self-promotion and being in the right place at the right time is an un-Kiwi way of doing things.
“You need to have the stats, data to back it up.”
‘You have the right to be who you want to be - but there’s no need to make a song and a dance about it.’
KEY TAKEOUTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Genuine and backed up
Kiwis don’t stand for contradictions so will look for the commitment and that you can back up your words
Each to their own
Take a stance on key issues, but understand that Kiwis won’t necessarily want to swayed to your way of thinking.
Authenticity is essential for businesses forging their own path. Evidence of genuine hard work and dedication goes a long way.
New Zealanders are relatively progressive compared to the rest of the world, but are we really inclusive?
YOU DO YOU, AND I’LL DO ME
Religion, gender, sexuality, how you run your household and bring up your kids – Kiwis believe you can do it how you like, just don’t make a big deal of it and most definitely don’t force it on others. For example, Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki’s outspoken beliefs on sexuality, gender roles, family values, politics and the media see him frequently criticised for imposing his forceful opinions on the general population.
“I call them ‘lifestylers’. I don’t need to know what they do behind closed doors, that’s up to them.”
DON’T UNDERMINE THE COLLECTIVE
Kiwis believe that doing what you want under your own roof is fine, as long as it doesn’t undermine the collective. Sonny Bill Williams’ single-mindedness and willingness to forge his own path is viewed negatively by many Kiwis because he’s seen to make individual decisions that go against the good of the wider professional team environments that he is a part of.
“Everyone wants to make money but communicate with your fans the reason why – don’t create a distraction for the team.”
FORGE YOUR OWN PATH, BUT BE AUTHENTIC
Kiwis understand the need for self-expression and individuality. It’s okay to stand out, but it needs to feel genuine and authentic. Admired Kiwi CEO and founder of Rocket Lab, Peter Beck, is hands-on, hard working and focused on the integrity and progress of his company. Compare this to how Kiwis perceive Jack Millar, a young entrepreneur who interviews famous people. Millar’s business doesn’t resonate well as it’s seen to be all about Millar (not the work or the goal) and it feels showy.
“Jake Millar was missing the point of being a Kiwi – he’s trying to compete with the rest of the world when we have a unique POV being a Kiwi.”
Belief in Social Equivalence
‘We’re known for our equality, egalitarianism and standing up for what’s right – but we don’t see or feel it day to day.’
KEY TAKEOUTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
We set an ever raising target for ourselves in the pursuit of equality and fairness. Keeping up with the status quo and minimum standards is not good enough for most Kiwis, we must push ahead despite what the rest of the world tells us.
For the most part we know we live in a fair, moral and non-hierarchical society.
Comparatively, we’re doing well – all it takes is a trip overseas or a conversation with a new migrant to understand why New Zealand has been dubbed ‘God’s Own’. But Kiwis believe that there’s room for improvement.
WE AREN'T LIVING UP TO OUR HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Nuclear free, giving women the vote, the Treaty of Waitangi – these are all historic examples, while current day examples feel few and far between and much less substantial. While Jacinda Ardern’s pregnancy and Taika Waiti making the big time are notable, it feels like we have big strides to make around the widening wealth gap and equality for women and minorities in people’s day to day lives.
”We haven’t had our modern suffragette moment.”
EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO A FAIR GO
Through social equivalence we see the rule-based nature of Kiwis, particularly around fairness and respect – everyone has the right to a fair go, and it doesn’t sit well when we feel that groups in society are disadvantaged.
“Being Māori is not socially equivalent. When I go to apply for a house, they see my skin colour. We're scrutinised…they asked me to send through a 'colour' photocopy of the drivers licence.”
AN EVER RAISING TARGET
Social equivalence is an important value, but not a cultural code that Kiwis believe they are living by. The gap between the have and have nots is widely felt, and women, Māori and Pacifica people feel discriminated against. This is in stark contrast to new migrants who see Kiwis as extremely non-hierarchical.
“It’s personally taxing standing up for yourself, especially as a woman in a male dominated industry… I feel like I can't speak up against people.”
EMPOWERMENT NOT ENTITLEMENT
There is a tension between having the right to a fair go and entitlement – particularly when we’re talking about young people. It’s fine to have a voice and feel empowered but you need to respect and listen to your elders.
“You need to have a pecking order based on experience. They’ve still got their training wheels on but they want to be the boss. They need do their time.”
Outward World View
“While NZ no longer feels isolated, we still look to the rest of the world to celebrate and validate our ‘world class’ achievements.”
KEY TAKEOUTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Being the older sibling of the Pacific
There is a sense amongst Kiwi millennials and Gen Z that New Zealand needs to step up. It’s the responsibility of business and government to we don’t make the same mistakes as the UK, US and Australia.
Earning our place
We want to shine on the global stage, however our ‘earned success’ code kicks in – we still expect individuals and business to put in the hard yards so we can be proud of them.
When it comes to our place in the world, it feels like New Zealand is in its adolescence.
A tension arises from being connected, realised and no longer on the outskirts yet still feeling like a younger sibling of the commonwealth who seeks its more established counterpart’s approval. Both New Zealand born Kiwis and new migrants are extremely proud to call NZ home and are proud to live the good life here, however there is still a sense that "I need the world to show NZ success back to me".
PUNCHING ABOVE OUR WEIGHT
There are many examples we can point to that highlight the pride we feel within ourselves – our education system, our sporting success and, in particular, our artistic icons in the music, film and fashion industry. Along with the open access the internet and technology has provided, New Zealand no longer feels so out of touch.
“Hells yeah! We're movers and shakers! We're up there, with sport.”
Some nations are content with their national achievements and focus more inwardly to foster talent and celebrate success, for example the USA’s NFL. On the other hand, Kiwis tend to seek approval and share our success beyond our national turf. What other country has a ‘world class’ award like we have our ‘World Class New Zealand Awards’?
“We need to look in our own backyard for talent first.”
NO LONGER ON THE EDGE
We no longer feel stuck in the corner of the world, 10 years behind everyone else. We’ve proven that we’re a global player, even if we do still use ‘per capita’ to our advantage every now and then.
“Our measure of success is different to the rest of the world, but it's changing - we used to live in a community, now we live in an economy.”
Connection to Nature
‘Nature needs to remain part of the Kiwi identity - a lawn is not a substitute for the great outdoors.’
KEY TAKEOUTS FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Protecting what is ours
While we may not have the chance to enjoy our country’s natural beauty as much as we’d like, Kiwis are anxious to see that it is protected for future generations. Individuals, government and business have a big role to play in ensuring our great outdoors survives for generations to come.
Kiwis are deeply connected to our natural environment
However, with busy lives, too much screen time and a growing population, there is a sense that this connection is not as strong as it once was. As a result, nature is a value that we continue to connect with as opposed to a cultural code that we are currently living by. In fact, of all the cultural codes, connection to nature is the code Kiwis feel has changed most over time - for the worse.
OUR CONNECTION TO NATURE IS WEAKENING
The gravitas that nature holds is still strong, as a spiritual and restorative place and a vital element of childhood. Nature used to be a part of where we lived, where kids would ‘go outside to play’. Now we have to make a distinct call ‘go out to the Waitakere’s’. There is a sense of loss – “we’re close to nature, but not in nature” and a unified sentiment that a backyard or park is not a substitute for real nature.
“Nature is taken away from kids - you buy a playground to replace a tree. My playground was a tree.”
AN OPPORTUNITY PROVIDED BY PARENTS - SOMETIMES
Parenting is strongly connected with how Kiwis interpret our role in nature, with many feeling that nature is an “opportunity” that many parents struggle to provide their kids. Whether it be due to lack of time, fear of danger, increased density or a lack of interest from the kids - there is a sense that Kiwi kids have lost an “outdoorsy joy” and are living a more “canned life.” The Kids in Space Study found that children aged 11-13 today spend more than 50 per cent of their non-school time within 500 metres of home, typically leaving to visit school, other residences and food retail outlets - not to play outside.
“Parenting is more demanding; you’d be seen to be neglectful if you parented like they used to.”
Quality time spent in nature is seen as a luxury. Given that more and more Kiwis are living busy city lives, the chance to immerse oneself in nature comes along very rarely, despite the fact that most Kiwis find peace and comfort in natural environments.
“Nature grounds me and know my place. Makes you realise that you’re small in comparison and to stay in your lane.”