Noticed anything different about TV commercials lately?
Take a look at the people in them. They used to be overwhelmingly white – in fact almost blindingly so. Not anymore.
From being virtually invisible in TV advertising, ethnic minorities – Maori, Pasifika, Indian, Chinese, African – are now highly conspicuous.
We’re seeing other types of diversity too, with hints that some of the characters in our TV commercials are gay and lesbian. Nothing too overt, mind you.
This is not, in itself, a bad thing. We’re now seeing commercials that more accurately reflect New Zealand as it is.
We live in one of the world’s most diverse societies. In the last Census (2018), 1.2 million of us - that's 25 per cent - were born overseas. New Zealand is home to people of more than 200 ethnicities.
The number of New Zealanders who see themselves as European is in steady decline – down from 74 per cent in 2013 to 70 percent in 2018. It seems ad agencies have only recently woken up to these facts.
If anything, the ad industry has swung from one misrepresentation to another. Ethnic minorities that were previously ignored are now centre-stage, but they're still minorities - so the society we see reflected in TV commercials in 2021 is probably no more an accurate mirror of reality than the one we saw when white faces predominated. It’s the old, familiar pendulum effect.
What’s driven this change? Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a simple case of ad agencies belatedly realising that the people shown in TV commercials no longer reflect New Zealand as it really is.
If that were the case, the worst they could be accused of is being slow off the mark, and perhaps trying to atone by over-correcting. But I think there’s something else going on here.
I suspect that ethnic minorities are suddenly being showcased not so much because it’s the right thing to do, but because the advertising industry is terrified of being labelled as racist, white supremacist and insufficiently inclusive. In other words, the change is probably driven by fear of the aggressive ideological phenomenon we know as wokery.
What gives the game away is the speed with which this has happened. It’s not as if the transformation of New Zealand society, from overwhelmingly European to vibrantly multicultural, happened suddenly; it’s been going on for years, if not decades, under the industry’s noses.
What has suddenly changed is the slavish, craven and witless embrace of identity politics that has swept through government, academia, the media, the arts, the corporate sector and even sport. In effectively signing up to this woke agenda, the advertising industry is playing it safe by going with the crowd.
This should surprise no one. The advertising business likes to celebrate itself as edgy, idiosyncratic and anarchic, but it strikes me as deeply conformist, risk-averse and prone to groupthink. Its suspiciously abrupt, across-the-board conversion to the virtues of diversity suggests much the same level of fearlessly independent thought as you’d find in a mob of romney ewes.