The New Zealand flag should be more than a brand

Gareth MorganTreaty

The flag discussion is coming down to the wire. Unless the Flag Consideration Committee can get some innovative and intelligent flag alternatives into its final four, the rest of their routine will be a dead rubber – there will simply be no reason to change.

The current flag is an anachronism, tells a story about a colonisation which is now acknowledged as at odds with what was agreed in our founding document – that this is a shared land between tangata whenua and subsequent immigrants. So the flag of convenience, the symbol of British imperialism that currently is supposed to tell our story, has to be trashed.

Notwithstanding the sizeable swathe of the citizenry who can’t or won’t even get their heads that far into the issue, this is the easy part of the re-flagging exercise, itself just a step along the way reforming our constitution. The real challenge is what is the story that we want to tell, the story about who we New Zealanders are?

And this is where the John Key-inspired process is decidedly vulnerable. To begin with the Prime Minister just wants a logo – he is a child of the corporate world and as he keeps telling us brand is everything. Of the brands we have at hand – Zespri’s, Air New Zealand’s, Fonterra’s and the All Blacks’ – Key’s penchant for populism drives him to choose the All Black’s logo – reflected glory and all that.

To reduce the national flag to a brand has to be the most banal, vacuous attempt by Corporate NZ to take over our identity. It shows no respect for who we are, what our national identity is, it’s crass commercialisation, nothing more. He even has the gall to boast of the “billions” we’ll make if we Coca Colarise ourselves.

The Flag Consideration Panel assured us that they would consider all the requirements that a national flag should include – things like simplicity, a strong underlying story, and the use of colour and symmetry to strengthen the message. Despite these assurances their “Top 40” is hugely underwhelming.

Only four of the 40 don’t include at least one of the silver fern, the southern cross, or the koru. It is a jumble sale of kiwiana motifs. This is fine if we’re trying to agree on the latest tea towel for tourists to take away, but this is supposed to be a process to replace the national flag. At least the current national flag does tell a story, it’s just the wrong one.

What story does a silver fern tell? How far from simple is a brew of fern, koru and stars to draw? A child should be able to draw a national flag – this is one of the basic principles. And as they draw it they know what each of the elements means – that is the education that underpins a national flag, How many of us can draw a silver fern – and what does it mean anyway? It’s nothing but a logo for recognition.

The panel has to be joking, they clearly have not got their collective head around what a national flag is. They seem to be simply running a popularity contest from all the amateur contestants. They need to urgently pick up their act otherwise none of their final four will be worthy of replacing our present, admittedly unfortunate national flag. Thankfully, there is a glimmer of hope.

Apparently the panel still retains the right to commission new designs. They need to get on and do it urgently now otherwise most of us will be most definitely rejecting their work in the referenda coming – and with good cause. We must have an alternative that (a) tells the right story about us and (b) is simple – a child can draw it.

Design is not a game for amateurs, as the Top 40 list tells us in spades. We need help here, even if they commission foreign designers at the eleventh hour. But I think we have it within us – that there’s enough Kiwi design talent out there to come up with meaningful and simple, innovative designs that can inspire even the Panel members.

I have said it elsewhere but it’s worth repeating, the best flags tell a story. Those of Britain, the United States, and South Africa – all signify the particular national stories.

The Union Jack is a clever compilation of the crosses of three members, the Stars & Stripes tells how 50 states emerged from the original 13, while the Rainbow Nation acknowledges the plethora of tribes that built South Africa. Now compare those to the Canadian maple leaf – it’s very pretty and instantly recognisable much as many corporate logos are. But what an opportunity lost – there is no underlying story, no mention of where those folk came from, who they are, where they’re going. It’s nothing more than a brand.

We don’t want that.


The New Zealand flag should be more than a brand was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.