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Flags are not logos, nations are not brands


Yesterday another Herald columnist, Paul Holmes, joined the ‘flag debate’, writing:-

When an august organ such as the New Zealand Herald launches what is called a serious debate, as it did this week, about the New Zealand flag it tells one of two things, perhaps both.

Either it is early February and there is not much news about or there is a real quickening of the momentum towards changing the design of the flag.

Either way, the debate is timely.

Well Paul, maybe it is because it is the silly season and the Herald finds tackling really important issues far too complicated and the possible topics much too complex for it’s columnists.

Interestingly Holmes referred to the Herald as an ‘august organ’ was he channeling Private Eye which has long poked the borax at the press by referring to them as organs. (Nah, too subtle shurely – Ed.)

Then Holmes wrote sycophantically:-

The Herald gave its debate some real weight by polling 18 of the 22 members of the Order of New Zealand, the country’s highest ranks, on whether they thought the flag should change.

Eleven of those who responded, including Jim Bolger, Sir Brian Lochore and Dame Catherine Tizard, want to see a change in the design. That is a serious result.

Why? This is only commentary from a totally unrepresentative group of people. Just because they have a gong, does not mean their view is any better than that of anybody else. After all one of those in favour of change in that 11 was Jonathon Hunt, former ‘Minister of Wine & Cheese’. It is not a serious result. It merely shows that 11 out of 18 people, in a totally unrepresentative sample favour a change. So what!!

Then a litte later he comments:-

The flag has no use as a marketing tool.

Flags are not brands, they are emblems of their nations. This desire by so many to ‘brand’ NZ is bizarre and reeks of a total lack of self-confidence. Adopting a new brand image or logo, which in this instance is what these morons who prattle on about branding and marketing effectively reduce the flag to, is just dumb. The NZ flag is not a Telecom logo for heavens sake.

Then he prattles:-

It is not immediately recognisable, like the Union Jack itself or the flags of the United States, Canada, China or South Africa.

Well actually, Adam cannot immediately recognise the flags of Chinan or South Africa. He doubts whether in fact that many people around the world actually recall many flags, other than their own and probably the US and UK flags, usually because they burn them in derision and protest.

Much of our problem is that many New Zealanders have trouble recognizing their own flag and lack a national self-confidence.

This is made obvious in Holmes next comment:-

At any sports meeting the flag of choice is the silver fern on a black background.

This is not a flag, it is a commercial emblem. Quite frankly, it is an example of the ludicrous and disproportionate emphasis placed on sport in NZ. To even consider adopting what was basically the NZRU’s sysmbol as a national flag is stupid and an insult to any intelligent person.

Even Holmes admits the commercial connotations are too much, that black is dull and that ferns are mundane and commonplace across the world.

So Holmes suggests that we adopt a flag such this design by artist Dick Frizzell:-

Flag design for NZ by Dick Frizzell

Now Frizzell may well be a noted artist, but to this blogger’s eye this looks like a rather unappealing fabric design for couch coverings. It does not look like an emblem of a nation.

Then of course John Key let himself be lured on TV this morning into saying he liked the silver fern design.

He like Holmes has fallen for the branding nonsense and more so in succumbing to the lure of the NZRU emblem.

We need to grow up and be more self confident, that will not come from adopting what is essentially a commercial symbol or alternatives which would look more at home as part of the living room upholstery.

The issue is not the flag, but a lack of pride in ourselves and self confidence. This will not be overcome by a re-branding exercise and the adoption of a new logo.

  1. crjc permalink
    15/02/2010 20:07

    Oh, fer God’s sake lads, take it from a Canuck….

    DON’T DO IT!


  2. Tony permalink
    11/02/2010 12:46

    Personally, I like our current flag but it is too similar to the Australian flag which is it’s major problem. Luckily for us the Australians are also having the same debate (on and off like here) and hopefully they will change theirs then we will be able to claim the southern cross on blue with a union jack “brand” as our own (most of the other similar flags are from even smaller countries).

    As for the Silver Fern, well I also quite liked it until a foreign friend asked why New Zealand had a “white feather” as an emblem when this is an international symbol of cowardise ?

    In the end I hope we stay with our current flag. If we are to change anything, please make it our anthem 🙂


  3. 10/02/2010 20:53

    You just like the present flag and that’s fine.

    But to rail against branding is to argue against every form of putting one’s best foot forward – be it by wearing nice clothes, being polite to customers or adopting a distinctive flag.

    If you don’t like branding, wear a Mao suit, close your business and go to North Korea. (No, that won’t work: Kim Jong-Il is a huge brand, as was Mao.)

    Branding isn’t evil, any more than rugby is evil. The Canadian flag, the Swiss flag and the Japanese flag give the lie to Holmes’s notion that a flag isn’t a branding device. Of course it is – or should be.

    Those three flags brand help brand their nations. They make people think favourably of them.

    When Roger Federer plays at a grand slam tournament (sorry to mention sport – I know how much you hate it), the crowd is festooned with red and white Swiss flags. The man’s a one-man tourism campaign.

    And what’s wrong with that?

    Our flag is also a branding device. But it’s a hopeless one. It says nothing and moves no one. No wonder so many people fly silver fern flags given half a chance.

    But having said all that, I’d rather keep the blue ensign flag than adopt the All Blacks ‘set of steak knives’ fern. Respondents to my latest poll of silver fern designs seem to agree.

    Vote for your favourite here


    • 10/02/2010 21:04

      Sorry, I see on your home page that you do, in fact, like sport. Or cricket anyway, which is a bit like a sport :-).


  4. 10/02/2010 17:54

    I don’t personally see any need to change our flag at present.

    I saw Holmes’ idea and had to wonder also. It’s a bit weird and altogether too safe IMHO. It almost looks like someone took the existing flag and mashed it up a bit.


  5. 09/02/2010 18:21

    I’d like a new flag, I also like your headline.


  6. 08/02/2010 18:35

    Spot on! I posted on the flag debate under the header “Grow Up!” for exactly the reasons you outline here.


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