BOOK EXTRACT: Promoting Prosperity: Early New Zealand advertising
Promoting Prosperity: The art of early New Zealand advertising is a 480-page coffee-table sized hardback by Peter Aslop and Gary Stewart (Craig Potton Publishing, $79.99).
The book examines early New Zealand advertising before colour photography and televIsion through 11 essays and 750 lavish full colour illustrations.
In the foreword, Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts says this era of advertising, from western colonisation to the 1950s, reveals some universal truths.
In this hyper-connected media-saturated Age of Now, advertising has reached levels of volume and sophistication unimaginable in genteel commercial days a century ago.
Today Four Square and Self Help are a location-based social network and a personal empowerment movement, not simply the names of grocery co-operatives founded in 1920s New Zealand.
It is difficult to remove our contemporary aesthetic and editorial filters when soaking up Promoting Prosperity.
While nostalgia is an anagram for ‘lost again’, there is merit in doing some time travel back to the early days of New Zealand advertising to reveal some universal truths. Time changes everything, and nothing. Namely, that then as now:
- people want to dress smart, enjoy a coffee, a beer and a chocolate bar, have nice teeth, a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast;
- governments want us to drive safely, not smoke, protect our borders and buy power companies;
- advertising reflects and even leads national identity: ‘fresh as a breeze, pure as the sunshine’; the bucolic beauty of Zealandia’s people and animals, living and producing in harmonious contentment; strong people winning from the edge with ‘the finest the world produces’; the silver fern still our most persuasive symbol of uniqueness;
- advertising and art flirt with each other. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans could have been New Century Salt, just one example of beautiful illustration and painting in this book. You can also see the banner ads of tomorrow in the eight colour print ads for Apples; and
- the best advertising makes things clear and simple to inform choices, form preferences, and ultimately make better lives – though the clothing proposition ‘Petone – it’s worth waiting for!’ won’t cut it in a Just Do It, Wassup world.
This book is a treasure trove of illustration, painting, typography, copywriting and studio production. There are several compelling brand names that could stand contemporary revival, including a Māori quartet – Kaka, Tekau, Tiki and Taniwha – and a trio of inspirational players: Victory; Ultimate and Arcadia.
Tonally, the messaging from the book’s images is conformist; normality-seeking; don’t rock the boat; Empire King & Country. Thank heavens Zealandia today is wonderfully diverse across ethnicity, taste and spirit. Rowdy and colourful. For me, Anchor butter morphs into Anchor Me. And Dick Frizzell’s essay is, like his painting, a welcome relief from the straight line.