New Zealand, is it time for re-branding?

New Zealand, more than sheep and The Lord of the Rings? Picture: Aaron Chaleff, Flickr CC

New Zealand has been stuck in a perpetual identity crisis, but perhaps a solution is on the horizon. Taking inspiration from companies such as Apple and Starbucks maybe an image makeover is what this country needs to move forward out of their postcolonial slump. The proposed re-branding is to change the New Zealand flag, moving away from the Union Jack and Southern Cross constellation to a new image that reflects a modern New Zealand.

The postcolonial identity crisis is not a new issue, as many countries are still trying to find their unique selling place in the modern world. Since the fall of these colossal empires many nations have begun the process of forging their own identity. The small outpost on the edge of the British Empire is no longer the image that defines New Zealand. This small vibrant, but laid back nation that have embraced multiculturalism, has much more to offer than its British heritage alone. However, an identity crisis still remains and it is not surprising that New Zealand is currently in a flurry of discussions concerning what it means to be a Kiwi. This discussion goes beyond Lord of the Rings and the unusual relationship between shepherd and sheep. Maybe a new image, using a new flag could help ease the tensions between the old and the new.

New Zealand’s flag on the left, and Australia’s on the right, it’s easy to see why New Zealand wants a more unique national symbol.

The flag of New Zealand can represent a larger issue; locally know as the cultural cringe where the need to be unique in the western world has resulted in a stereotype that New Zealand feels leaves a lot to be desired. Flags are an important symbol of national identity and some believe that the New Zealand flag is too similar to Australia’s, and doesn’t show their independence from the United Kingdom. New Zealand has begun discussions about holding two referendums concerning changing their flag to reflect the modern New Zealand. The first will be in 2015 where they will vote on whether they want to change the flag at all. If the Yes vote wins, in 2016 they will vote on the designs. The New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key won the election this year, one of the premises being that he holds a referendum for a new flag. John Key raised the issue during a speech at Victoria University stating, “It’s my belief… that the design of the New Zealand flag symbolizes a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed. The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.” Independence from a postcolonial image can be achieved through a referendum and hopefully bring a sense of calm to the identity crisis.

In the past we have seen other British colonies use this tactic to promote a new national identity.  Canada moved away from the Union Jack to the famous and instantly recognizable maple leaf in 1965, resulting in a mental shift away from British colonial rule to a new identity as the overly polite Canada we know today. South Africa also used a new flag to promote unity after the ending of the apartheid in 1994, where all South Africans could embrace this new symbol of change. However, rebranding is an expensive business as the government expects the entire process to cost 25.7 million New Zealand dollars (20.3 million USD) over two financial years. Changing the flag is also an emotive issue as opinion polls among the country’s 4.5 million inhabitants are deeply divided and consistently changing. A poll taken in March 2014 showed that 53% of the population where against the proposed changes.

John Key may be excited about this change of image for New Zealand, however there are many people who are against the idea. The cost alone is an issue and it has been argued that there are a number of community projects that could put that money to better use. The most common argument against the proposed changes is that it is disrespectful to those who fought and died under that flag. Sean Palmer who is chair of the lobby group Monarchy New Zealand has stated that it was a mistake to ‘try to conflate the question of the flag and constitutional status’.

The Silver Fern, suggested as a new flag design.

The big question now is: what would this new flag look like? A number of ideas have been suggested and the most common by far is the famous silver fern on a black background. This symbol is commonly associated with New Zealand’s Rugby team the ‘All Blacks’ and many see this symbol as being more inclusive than the Union Jack. If this does become the new flag of New Zealand it would be the first nation in the world to have a black and white flag.

A new flag may not be the solution that fixes the New Zealand identity crisis, but symbolism is an important aspect of national identity. A new national symbol that all New Zealand citizens can be proud of, and can identify with may go a long way to entrench a common identity in New Zealand. Re-branding has been used countless times before and at the end of the day if it works for Apple, why would it not work for New Zealand?

 Lauren McIntosh

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