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Kiwi Code #1: Individuality


Don't put me in a box

In a nutshell

  1. The code has moved from every person’s ‘right’ to be themselves to everyone is unique
  2. People don’t need to be classified – so brands need to be careful about overplaying the idea that they acknowledge ‘specific’ individual rights
  3. Embracing uniqueness is a strong play for brands

“Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.” — Bernard Baruch

New Zealanders have long been a nation of individualists, but now we’re seeing this cultural code morph again, with greater acceptance of showing who you are. More people are having conversations about mental health, welcoming people’s choice to select their own pronouns, and as a nation we are placing more emphasis on authenticity than before.

More unique than ever before

On Dancing with The Stars, Eli Matthewson and Jonny Williams showed there is more openness to being gay, and a much broader definition of what it means to be a man.

In an article for The Spinoff, Eli said he was sent messages from “teenagers who were inspired to come out by what they saw, parents with kids as young as four describing the impact we had on their whānau, and queer people who have waited years to see this on our TV screens.” He continued: “I can’t thank [Jonny] enough because, as important as it is to see queer people being their authentic selves and living their best lives on screen, I think it was seeing a straight man be so warm, open and kind to his gay mate that has struck a chord with so many”.

There is a generational shift in the view of masculinity. Now, there is greater acceptance of men expressing their emotions as individuals. They no longer need to conform to the stereotype of masculinity. People are keen for brands and organisations to bring this to the forefront, which is one of the reasons why the Speights ad, showing men learning to dance together, is so successful.

However, there do remain nuances within generations, rural divide, ethnicity and religion – and although there is respect for their choices, for some people they don't want to know what goes on behind closed doors. We are accepting and respectful of others and their choice to be who they want to be, but we generally keep to ourselves and want others to do so as well. Not imposing your views onto someone else is a way of showing that respect. Migrant groups – Pasifika, Indian and Chinese – all feel that there is more expression perceived here than in their homelands due to cultural protocols. Auckland is seen as a hub of diverse cultures.

An example of New Zealanders embracing more individuality is the siren bike scene. Those in the siren scene are redefining ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ to create sound systems and expressing themselves via music. However, there are boundaries, and if they lack respect for the neighbourhood and community then they tend to lose acceptance.

What we see from this is that you are free to express your individuality, but it shouldn’t affect, hurt, or disrupt others.

Where we see people not come together (for example, with vaccine protests) we see the old type of individuality emerging, which was about no one having the right to control an individual’s behaviour. This has deep roots in the foundation of this code which evolved from when we respected the necessity to be your own person because life was remote and hard.

Young and free - celebrating uniqueness 

The younger generation in particular feels freer and more open to self-expression. They no longer feel they must conform to traditional values, and instead can fully explore their individuality. Diversity and inclusion are on everyone’s minds, and there is a curiosity to learn.

The younger generation is more vocal when they feel someone is being unfair and they will pull someone up if they have said something they believe is wrong. This is largely because this age group are being exposed to different issues around the world and are feeling encouraged to stand up for what they believe.

We are seeing a shift here as well, with more people willing to stand up against a perceived wrong – if someone says something out of line, they are more likely to be pulled up for it.

No individuality without authenticity

More and more, New Zealanders are placing emphasis on authenticity and being genuine – without this you cannot not show true individuality. Recent data shows that 16% of people say they have some difficulty expressing their identity regarding gender, for example.

The younger generation, Māori, and those with a progressive MindSet, are at the forefront of the change in valuing and celebrating authenticity. In Te Ao Māori the concept of tūturu exists, the idea of trueness or authenticity, which aligns with this shift in values. For the wider population, trail blazers and leaders are needed to pave the way toward full, open and authentic individuality.

With the goal and vision of being authentic, people are proud to come together and willing to set aside their differences. A shift in values in the past five years means a new pride in our authentic open mindedness, and acceptance of the full spectrum of expression among individuals.

Individuals, as part of a collective

With the team of five million, we started pulling together as a community more than ever before, while being more physically separated than ever before.

Faced with a global pandemic that threatened the lives of New Zealanders, the nation came together with one vision of eliminating the virus and keeping everyone safe. The ‘team of five million’ phrase/metaphor worked because while the country was scared and uncertain, there was a leader who took charge and used language that we all understood to highlight a vision that everyone believed in.

When there is one vision or one goal to achieve that everyone believes in, we come together as a united front. This should not come as a surprise - 4 in 10 New Zealanders say they are community-minded (as opposed to being focused on self and immediate family/friends). Some of this is aligned with more traditional MindSets, but it also reflects the current population demographics where 36% of people are from a collectivist cultural background (including those who identify as Māori). 

The pandemic crisis communications framed lockdowns as an urgent and meaningful cause, and mobilised New Zealanders to support public health measures by appealing to the strong support of the collective. This response illustrated that while we believe in the right of everyone to express their individuality, ultimately, you are still part of a group.

Divesting from the team of five million, for example, led to some people being skewered by the media. People who didn’t abide by the rules and do what they could to protect their communities were made examples of. Parties on the North Shore, people making a run for holiday homes – when people abandoned the community spirit and made more selfish decisions, they paid the price.

We are a nation of tolerant individualists who believe in the power of the collective.

Understanding New Zealanders’ values around individualism, and the right to freedom of self-expression, can help brands create advertising that hits the emotional bullseye.

This cultural code highlights the need to be authentic and genuine.

Now that we have shifted away from benevolent tolerance of differences to a true celebration of individuality, brands should look to ways they can embrace uniqueness - while being authentic and genuine.

The takeaway for marketers with the Individuality code is that it’s getting safer to take some risks with expressions of individuality. The caveat is that these risks can't harm anyone.

You can have more fun, be playful, and expand on tired tropes. People expect brands to show more authenticity.

Expressions like Tina from Turners that celebrate individuality and uniqueness are very welcome. Another good example is the If It's Not Gay, It's Not Gay campaign by RainbowYOUTH.

Shasha Gan
Senior Consultant
Shasha has a background in media, brand strategy and communications with over 7 years experience in New Zealand, Australia, UK and Ireland. As a senior qualitative consultant, she works across a range of public and private sector clients. Naturally curious and intuitive, with an appreciation of cultural nuances, she applies this approach to help unearth insights and connect brands and organisations to people's everyday world.

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