Light relief


This is a post about Z.

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund bought Shell NZ, and has rebranded Shell petrol stations in New Zealand as Z.

A string of ads featuring jaunty service station attendants tell us all the great things they’re  doing.

You can view these ads on their youtube channel.  In particular have a look at the ads marked Trial and Neighbourhood.

As with most jaunty corporate things I find these ads very irritating.  So I sent an insincere email to them.

I received this reply.

Which, you will notice, ignores my second question.

I dutifully went and looked at the advertisement information on their website about their community donations.  Actually, I have to admit that this looks worthwhile and well set up.

A part of me really wanted to hear for a fact that the annoying, jaunty employees were paid actors so I sent another email (with typos).

Today I got an answer.


Firstly, let me say that in an advertising environment where a company like Bunning’s clearly use real employees in their ads, an advert where you have people walking around on your forecourts and in your shops saying “we” and “us” and “you” and “our” is lying.

Secondly, the casting director for the advertising agency Z is using is clearly racist a victim of stereotypes.  The problem is not that this approach is overt, the problem is that it is covert, unnoticed by the people writing it, acting in it and viewing it, but subtley adding to an overall impression of race created by a wide range of sources.  Please note as you go through the Trial ads (click on this link and then let autoplay take you through five 20 second ads) the following facts:

  • When Z talks about pies, food or coffee the faces are brown
  • When Z shows low skilled jobs like cleaning windscreens the face is brown
  • When low skilled work is taking place the people in the nice cars are white
  • When Z talks about making the community better its faces are white
  • When Z talk about technical stuff like sat navs its face is Asian

Even in their flagship ad explaining what the whole thing is we get:

  • White people talking about investment, and plans, and vision, and
  • Brown people talking about trucks and building work (and saying “coz we reackon Z stands for New Zealand” at the end)

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a bit shit.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

9 thoughts on “Light relief”

  1. Racial stereotypes abound in the “Z is for New Zealand” ad, where they cheerfully announce they’ve moved the call centre back to New Zealand. This is illustrated by a scene set in a very “Chinatown” kind of Asian street, wet from rain and lit up with neon. Emerging from the fictitious “Pandiadigang Call Center” Z workers carry out the office gear, including a chunky old ’90s style CRT monitor. On the street, Asians furrow their brows, and inside a bewildered call centre worker has his headset removed.

    It’s hilarious and slightly tragic that this is the shorthand for “Asian call centre”, when in reality Asian call centres look just like New Zealand call centres – nondescript office buildings in nondescript parts of the city.

  2. But in most other ads the people who directly talk to camera are either part of the company, or the hired face of the company but not pretending to work there (Bricoes, Beaurepairs), or just a shouty voice, or clearly actors acting out some little scene. I think the Z ads are disingenuous.

    I also think there is a clearly biased selection of who does what in the Z ads. It wouldn’t be conscious. But pies get mentioned by two brown people, and investment by white people (etc). Couldn’t it be the other way round? To be honest, I didn’t even notice this until I saw all the ads in one place and thought… “hang on…”

  3. Actually, Alan didn’t do too bad there, but I remember him grating as he popped up on TV all the time.

  4. I didn’t really get your racism stance when I watched the ads. A lot of people use actors for ads; basicly because they CAN act. Do you remember Michael Hill in the early days? Alan Martin?

  5. Just to get this straight in my head, the money that I will be needing in about 35 years’ time (Super Fund) is currently being invested in a fossil fuel that has reached its peak level of supply and is bringing about environmental degradation that will impact on the world I must live in for said retirement? And cherpy staff are meant to make me forget all this?

  6. Can I just add, that one time I went to a Z station on my way up to New Plymouth and I was so overwhelmingly impressed with the happy, friendly guy who came out to pump my petrol that I really, really wanted to send an email to them and tell them what petrol station I was at and at what time and describe the guy so they could let him know that I though he was awesome. Maybe he was one of the actors that was left behind after a commercial shoot??

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