The Kiwi Codes are enduring, but are brands paying attention?

09 December 2021 3 min. read
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The pandemic hasn’t changed Kiwis’ cultural codes, but it has clearly shifted how brands are reacting to them. To forge emotional connections with Kiwis, and stay relevant, brands need to align themselves with Kiwis’ moral codes, writes Colleen Ryan, a partner at market research and insight agency TRA.

Regardless of whether a brand’s audience is made up of surfers in coastal villages, retirees in small towns, or mums and dads in suburbia, cultural codes are deeply embedded in Kiwi psyche and being culturally relevant will resonate broadly across all segments a brand is targeting.

TRA initially developed the Kiwi Codes – deeply seated and largely unconscious cultural codes among New Zealanders – in 2018, in a collaborative project with True. The six codes are Individuality, Earned Success, Social Equivalence – which all highlight the importance of fairness – and Outward World View, Connection to Nature and Humour – which relate to connection.

Kiwi Cultural Codes

Cultural codes are about identity. Kiwi Codes are a cultural compass for New Zealanders, and marketers should expect to see them reflected in brand work. Through the latest Kiwi Codes survey, as well as data from the previous two years’, we see the brands that demonstrate the codes well and are perceived as more ‘Kiwi’.

Love for Kiwi brands

The more brands can express their ‘Kiwiness’, the more successful they will be, as this inspires brand love which in turn bolsters brand usage. The reason for this is that brand is an emotional component that drives what might otherwise seem to be entirely rational decision making. If Kiwis identify a brand as one of their own, that brand will have more sway over consumer decision making.

In the latest iteration of the research, we asked a representative sample of over 4,000 New Zealanders about their attitudes to themselves, businesses, and brands post-pandemic. What we found was that expectations that brands should align with the codes hasn’t changed.

Expectations that brands show Humour has increased by 3%. Given the context we’re operating in, this is hardly a surprise. As a nation, we use humour to help us through the hard times – pandemics included. Along with Connection to Nature, it is the cultural code that shone through as resonating the most strongly with Kiwis.

However, higher expectations can lead to greater failings for brands. The study also revealed that there is a post-pandemic gap between what Kiwis expect to see and how cultural codes are being shown by brands. The gap has increased by 6% compared to pre-Covid levels, sitting at 22%.

The biggest gap between people’s expectations and how well brands overall demonstrate a particular code was around Social Equivalence. This code has always had a large gap between expectations and performance, but this has grown even further from -26% pre-pandemic to -32% in the current survey.

Historically, New Zealand has been famous for taking a stance on being nuclear free, giving women the vote, and creating the Treaty of Waitangi – but what are we doing today? Present day instances of Social Equivalence seem to be few and far between, and feel less substantial.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern may have made some progress, but over the past year, circumstances such as the vaccine rollout to minority and vulnerable groups, the housing crisis, an ever widening wealth gap fall well short of the expectations we have for our society.

There is a growing desire to see stronger Social Equivalence, which centres around fairness and respect. It doesn’t sit well with Kiwis when we feel that groups in society are disadvantaged. To make an impact, this could be an opportunity for brands to adhere to the idea that everyone has the right to a fair go and show that you are taking action against inequality.

So, given the results of this year’s survey, what should the next move for marketers be? Brands should familiarise themselves with the Kiwi Codes and understand how these pillars of cultural identity can be incorporated into branding and communications.

Consider how Humour and Connection to Nature might tie into your messaging. Or, make a bold leap, take a stand, and show how Social Equivalence is important to you as a brand – and watch as you win Kiwis over in the process.