For whom the flag flies

By the end of this Thursday we will know the outcome of the great flag referendum.

In this referendum we are in three groups. Group 1: those adamantly opposed to any change; group 2: those who want any flag that does not have the Union Jack on it; and group 3, those who would want a change in the flag to more appropriately represent New Zealand in the 21st century but would also need to very happy with the alternative flag before making a change. Group 3 were probably always going to be the deciding vote between the two extremes.

The polls are saying group 3 are nor convinced that the alternative flag is worth changing to. We shall see, but I suspect they are right. And, dare I say it, they are right because the flag committee did not listen to me in the first place.

180px-Flag_of_New_Zealand_Government_Ships_1867.svgThe use of the Union Jack was originally needed primarily for our merchant ships taking our export goods to foreign shores and returning with our imports. This was our merchant navy flag adopted in 1867. On open seas, ships are required to fly their flag, to identify under whose authority/ protection they sail upon the open seas. Without such, in the nineteenth century they could have been assumed to be pirates and treated as such, or assumed to be victims in waiting and also treated thus by any well-armed Spanish or Dutch ship’s captain. So our ships flew the Ensign with the Union Jack and therefore sailed under the authority of Queen Victoria and under the protection of her navy.

credit: Toby Morris

credit: Toby Morris

Somehow the flag design got into the “Union Jack vs Silver Fern” choice. That seemed to have been the briefing from the originator of the process, John Key and I just do not understand why that happened. They are not conflicting “either/or” design elements as demonstrated by the Falklands flag below. I totally concur that we were well overdue to review the use of the Union Jack on our national flag, but I simply cannot make the jump that a symbol of our native flora and fauna was the appropriate symbol to replace the Union Jack.

Falklands flag The Falklands are happy with the Union Jack exactly where ours is, but there is a real difference between us and the Falklands. The Falklands are an overseas British territory; New Zealand is an independent nation connected to Britain by being a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, whose head is the Queen of England. New Zealand is not governed by Great Britain. However we do have a connected but independent link. Queen Elizabeth is named in our legal system as the Queen of New Zealand.

ERSo we do not really sail our ships under the protection of the Royal British navy, which sort of makes the Union Jack a bit redundant. But we do have a constitutional link to the Queen of England. When I submitted my first flag option, it was rejected before even getting to the flag selection panel. It was rejected because I had thought that a national flag should have reference to its constitutional head of state. I agreed that the Union Jack was inappropriate since we do not come under the governance of Britain, so I included the more appropriate E:R crest of the Queen of New Zealand. REJECTED.

No one denies that John Key is a good salesman. But he is a currency and investment salesman. We know that he could sell money to the eskimos and acknowledge that he has successfully managed the New Zealand investment portfolio on our behalf, although the unproductive residential prices in Auckland, soaring at the same time as the value of productive dairy farms is crashing, does present a real challenge going forward.

But John Keys wanted to step up in the sales world from the currency, investment and insurance sales status to becoming a card-carrying member of the Madison Avenue Advertising Guru set. He wanted to be the guy that could rebrand a nation. It would not be up there with rebranding Coke, but it would be worth a column in the back of Advertising Age which would be a good start. He set the brief, he controlled the design process. He got his white fern on a compromised black background and neither Britain nor the Queen had any role in the design.

But a true MadMan gets inside the target market’s soul and touches the heart. A significant response in the polls is that the alternative just doesn’t seem like a real flag. It seems just like a product brand; and a fairly generic, compromised one as well. That would probably be the critical group 3 talking. For the Maddison Avenue explanation of that focus group response read “the target market is, emotionally, highly-invested in their national flag and the design alternative has not touched their heart and soul.”

For John Key has not understood the emotional attachment to the Queen of the critical group 3. A sweet little old woman living half a world away who, at 90, is still sharp as a tack. A sweet little old woman with her prince charming grandson and his beautiful wife waiting in the royal wings. John Keys may well run a good little business down here, but he is not royalty, he is not head of the family. When he prepared his brief on the rebranding of what he thought was ‘our business’, he forgot that we are at our heart and soul a family business, and he left our royal family off the flag brief. She may be a 90-year-old woman, but she is the only head of state that we have got. And as I said on my first submission, a flag needed our constitutional legitimacy to be demonstrated to the world. That is a fundamental role of a national flag. The royal family of Great Britain is our family. For that reason I believe John Key will lose his big entry pitch into Madison avenue. His rebranding of New Zealand will fail. When a salesman loses his big pitch, he loses his mojo.

So when the flag is run up the flagpole on Friday morning, Mr Key, ask not for whom the flag flies, it flies for thee.

Beat you John Key!Footnote: it’s Friday and the status quo flag flies high and proud. Group 1: delighted, Group 2: deflated; the deciding Group 3 see an opportunity wasted with a shallow design.




Flag_Take 2Next time just listen to me, I’m the AdMan, John, you stick to selling money.

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