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Kiwi Codes
Cultural codes of Aotearoa New Zealand
Illustration of the kiwi codes

We’ve studied how the Kiwi Codes have shifted over time to answer the question: What does it mean to be a Kiwi today?

The Kiwi Codes are New Zealand’s cultural DNA. These codes are unconscious characteristics that we recognise as unique to us.

Looking at the Kiwi Codes can help us understand who we are, what we strive for and how we interact with one another. The codes help brands better understand what resonates, so they can provide better products, services and communications.

Want to learn more about the Kiwi Codes? Join our introductory webinar on 8 February 2023.

The codes have evolved.

We have been tracking the codes since 2016. Throughout this time the codes have endured: they are strongly embedded into who we are – but they have evolved. Cultural and societal shifts have influenced our sense of identity, leading to some subtle but significant changes in how the codes are showing up in 2022.

We believe in fairness.

The codes of earned success, social equivalence and humour all come back to a sense of fairness. How we define fairness has also evolved over time: with a heightened sense of empathy and compassion for others, the importance of a ‘level playing field’ has shifted from individual success to combatting systemic inequities for the success of the community.

We believe in connection.

The codes of individuality, connection to nature and outward worldview are all about connection – with ourselves, with the land, and with the world. These too, have evolved over time, with a push towards coming together for our environment and for each other while still embracing what makes us unique.

Individuality

More unique than ever before

illustration of individuality code

Key takeouts for your brand

“Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.”

New Zealanders are celebrating uniqueness more than ever before, with acceptance of more overt expressions of individuality in cultural backgrounds, gender, and sexuality.

  • The code has moved from every person’s ‘right’ to be themselves, to everyone's unique
  • People don’t need to be classified so brands need to be careful about overplaying the idea that they acknowledge ‘specific’ individual rights
  • Embracing uniqueness is a strong play for brands
  • The code has shifted from benevolent tolerance to embracing uniqueness

See and be seen

photo of Eli Matthewson

Individuality for New Zealanders now means you can see and be seen. Cultural shifts mean people can now talk openly about mental health, select their own pronouns, and live in a way authentic to their own individuality. Five years ago, there was acceptance of individuality as long as it mostly stayed behind closed doors – now, people can openly show who they are.

There is greater acceptance of different forms of masculinity, as shown by the strong friendship between Eli and Jonny on Dancing with the Stars, and the Speights ad showing men learning to dance together in a tender way.

"It's not a bad thing, if you like leave a conversation agreeing to disagree."

Individuals are part of the collective

While individuality is celebrated, there is an emphasis on how we come together as a collective.

The changes to how New Zealanders perceive Individuality were highlighted during the pandemic. This response illustrated that while we believe in the right of everyone to express their individuality, ultimately, you are still part of a group. With the team of five million, we started pulling together as a community more than ever before. A single vision united us

The people who didn’t embrace this communal approach were showing the old form of individuality, which was slanted more toward defiance of the rules in favour of individual autonomy.

Another example of Individuality in action is the siren bikes of South Auckland. The ingenuity and creativity of the Siren Kings are respected by the community unless they disrespect their neighbourhood and cause disruption. They are free to express their individuality, as long as it doesn't affect others.

Read more about the individuality code

Earned success

Success means bringing others with you

Key takeouts for your brand

"This is the redirection of time and money to create something beneficial to society."

New Zealanders value Earned Success and celebrate anyone who works hard and stays humble. However, the definition of success isn’t as narrow as achieving money and renown.

  • Shared success is valued more highly than individual success; if you win big, lift others up with you through sharing support, knowledge, and resources.
  • Success has been redefined and is no longer exclusively about how much money you make, but what you do with that money.
  • People want to know how much successful brands are giving back to their communities.
  • The code has shifted from hard core success to soft core

Success isn't a synonym for money - lived success is built on values

Financial wealth isn’t necessarily an indicator of success for New Zealanders. On the contrary, ostentatious expressions of wealth are seen to be more about ego than achievement.

In lieu of money, a greater emphasis is placed on wellbeing. Happiness and an overall quality of life are seen as equally important to financial gain. Having the freedom to spend time with loved ones and enjoy doing the things that bring you joy are stronger markers of success.

Stay humble

Photo of Steven Adams

New Zealanders admire successful people for their humility as much as their achievements and abhor arrogance. Staying humble and relatively unchanged by success is important. Qualities such as honesty, integrity, and humanity are celebrated when they are seen in successful brands.

“The success I see in Steven (Adams) isn’t necessarily his success with the NBA, it’s with his success in coming home and getting our rangatahi on the basketball court, that’s the most important part of what he does to me. We’ll forever support him and be a cheerleader for him”

Success is bringing others with you

True wealth comes from what you do with your money. Shared success, and the idea of lifting up others through sharing knowledge and resources, is valued more highly than an individual basking in their own success. Using the time and money at your disposal to benefit your wider community is more likely to win over New Zealanders.

“Successful people are beacons of hope.”

New Zealanders will choose to support brands that show generosity with their success. People won’t see success on a brand level as defined by how much profit you make, but by how much you’re giving back. Show success by showing how much you can afford to give.

Read more about the earned success code

Social Equivalence

Widen the playing field of equality

illustration of social equivalence kiwi code

Key takeouts for your brand

“Everyone having equal opportunity - not just treating everyone the same but supporting those that need it.”

Social Equivalence encapsulates New Zealanders’ acute sense of fairness and desire to see fundamental social equity creating a level playing field for everyone.

  • People are looking to brands to engage in society and be open about addressing issues.
  • Everyone has a role to play in achieving social equivalence and brands are expected to step into theirs.
  • Small changes add up. Do what you can as a business, and New Zealanders will appreciate it.
  • The code has shifted from less levelling up and more widening the field of equality

Equity is an ever raising target

The divide between the haves and have-nots is growing, and was thrown into sharp relief by the Covid-19 pandemic. New Zealanders are realising that social equivalence requires systemic change, and we are a long way off from true equity.

“Equality it’s deep rooted, especially culturally, but we are on the right track. We have made some improvements over the years, especially since I’ve come home after 10 years overseas.”

Increased awareness of social equivalence - or a lack thereof

Greater awareness of issues such as racial inequality and poorer quality of life for those on lower incomes naturally leads to more tension. For some, it feels like there are different social classes within New Zealand, despite the country traditionally identifying as “classless.” There’s an uneasy feeling that some issues are being swept under the rug, and a growing urgency to see more active changes.


“There is an attempt of equality but not resulting in equity across New Zealand. For a country this size - we attempt it, but we are not really seeing the action. Some put more effort in than others.”

Do what you can

With heightened awareness of the depth and breadth of problems across New Zealand, people now expect everyone to do their part in bettering the nation. This includes brands, whether that’s The Warehouse swapping old unflued gas bottle heaters with free electric ones, or NIB Insurance partnering with Ngāti Whātua Ōrakei to offer all 5,000 registrants free health insurance.

Brands aren’t expected to solve all of society’s problems, but every effort counts. Do what you can as a business, and New Zealanders will appreciate you for it.

“The disparity especially for minority communities is so far and in-between, that social issues from housing, employment, family harm / violence... all generally reflect negatively. Placing different people (ethnically) in the same basket is what creates inequality.”

Read more about the social equivalence code

Outward world view

Homegrown pride in local innovation

illustration of outward world view kiwi code

Key takeouts for your brand

We want to feel like we are competing on the world stage, but evolved confidence means we no longer need to see our success reflected back at us.

New Zealanders used to clamour for international praise; now, a new sense of groundedness means we are prioritising the needs of our people over fame on the global stage.

  • The obsession with international validation and fame has waned as New Zealanders shift their focus closer to home.
  • New Zealanders want to see local products celebrated.
  • Increased pride in local brands mean homegrown businesses can embrace more ambitious images worthy of competing on a world stage.
  • The code has shifted from less pushing ourselves out to the world to more projecting who we really are.

We're adopting a more community minded worldview

While New Zealanders will always enjoy international attention, it’s no longer as much of a priority as what’s going on at home. We’re more concerned with bringing attention to problems within the country, rather than being applauded for our political leaders or sports stars.

“Being younger I would have been happier about the international recognition but now I don’t necessarily care.”

“None of this matters to the people where I live”

“What matters is the here and now - whether people can afford to buy their kai for the week.”

We still feel like underdogs

New Zealanders still feel like underdogs and feel pride when we punch above our weight. Brands like Rocket Lab continue to show the world that we can be leaders.

However, a burgeoning inner confidence in these types of innovative movers means when the world takes note, it’s no longer as big of a deal. We know we’re great and we’re just happy others have noticed too. We have confidence in our own success without needing to see it reflected back at us through international attention.

Taking pride in local

Attitudes toward foreign versus local products have swung in favour of local and homegrown.

Where once New Zealanders saw imported products as better, now local is more sought after. There is a swell of pride in brands like Whittakers who hero local ingredients in their products.

In response, New Zealand organisations are stepping up, shedding the traditional humble local approach and embracing premium, ambitious branding. Homegrown businesses are capable of competing on the world stage, and they have the confidence of New Zealand consumers behind them.

Read more about the outward world view code

Connection to nature

Nature. Past, present and future

illustration of connection to nature kiwi code

Key takeouts for your brand

“It's about being aware it does not last forever and being wise with the use of land”

Kiwis are deeply connected to our natural environment. But now we see it’s a two-way relationship.

The COVID-19 pandemic inspired a renewed appreciation for everything we have. We feel immense pride in having access to an abundance of natural beauty in Aotearoa.

  • Showing support for the protection and care of the environment will help brands connect with New Zealanders anxious to see nature safeguarded for future generations.
  • Everyone, from individuals to the government and organisations, can show support for protecting nature by joining together in a singular vision and abiding by clear rules.
  • The code has shifted from take from nature to give back

With care comes responsibility - people and nature are interdependent

Along with this connection to the land comes deep concern over how we’re treating it. New Zealanders’ connection to nature means increased motivation to protect nature for future generations.

“It’s a nostalgic feeling, at school we teach the kids to maintain it, treat it well, preserve it, respect it.”

There is increasing urgency to act

People in New Zealand are afraid that there is a real lack of respect for nature. There is anxiety that if we don’t act, we’ll lose our natural assets, which impacts both our reputation as a nation and the future of younger generations.

“Our Māori links have taught non-Māori New Zealanders to respect the environment and life”

Taking a rules based approach to protecting nature

Protecting nature means communicating one clear shared vision, supported by stronger enforcement of the rules. There is a growing sense that we all need to pull together and abide by the same rules if we are going to protect nature.

Everyone has a role to play in protecting nature – by acting collectively, we can work toward better outcomes. We’ve seen what we can achieve when we all pull together, and there is an appetite to apply the same ‘team of five million’ approach to looking after nature.

“I feel passionately about people following rules and guidelines about care of the ecosystem, I see respect as an important element of this relationship with the environment.”

“People are trying to protect and preserve what we have, but we haven’t agreed what we should give up for it or what we could get from being it – it comes back to that one vision.”

Read more about the connection to nature code

Humour

Careful where you point that thing

Key takeouts for your brand

“We don’t tend to put others down to be funny.”

New Zealanders use humour to broach otherwise difficult conversations. Laconic, dry humour serves as an oblique way to reference challenging subjects in a society that shies away from direct confrontation.

  • New Zealanders are more aware of social issues than before, and as such more cognisant of the quality and context of jokes.
  • Humour is not a free pass for exhibiting discriminating stereotypes. Consider how to be funny without turning others into targets.
  • Absurdist and situational comedy, puns and wit all appeal to New Zealanders’ sense of humour without putting any social groups in the crosshairs.
  • The code has changed from combative to empathetic.

Humour without a conscience

New Zealanders are more aware of social issues than ever before. As such, they are more mindful of the types of jokes they share. The Individuality code means people can openly express who they are; humour has evolved alongside this code to mean it’s no longer acceptable to laugh at different social groups or people who stand out from the crowd. The quality and content of jokes have matured.

“Diversity of people play a role in the types of jokes shared.”

We know where the line is

Humour might be used to indirectly talk about difficult subjects, but it’s not a vehicle for attacking others. New Zealanders know where to draw the line with jokes, and will increasingly pull others up if they overstep. Knowing this, even those who think humour is now “too PC” understand where the boundaries are, and avoid humour that victimises the vulnerable.


“We wouldn't joke about race or sexual preference anymore.”

Comedy where no one is the butt of the joke

Brands can still be funny while being sensitive to the heightened sensitivity around humour, by using smart comedy where no one loses face.

Absurdist comedy, puns, and wit appeal to New Zealanders’ sense of humour – without turning anyone into a target. The animated V road trip ad is a perfect example of harmless situational humour among fictional characters. Meanwhile, Pak’nSave’s Stick Man works solely on figurative and literal puns on common Kiwi clichés, and remains a favourite among New Zealanders.

Read more about the humour code

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