Saturday, July 17, 2021

Karl du Fresne: Funding our own indoctrination

A couple of weeks ago I was confronted by an unusually puerile full-page advertisement in the local paper. I say “unusually” because it goes without saying that a lot of advertising, on TV especially, could most charitably be described as less than cerebral. But this took infantilism in advertising to a new low.

The text was written as if intended for pre-schoolers. But rather than try to convey the tone of this nonsensical doggerel with a mere excerpt, I’ll reproduce it in its entirety:


What a stink as place that would be.
Trout would be grumpy.
Boating no fun.
And dirty ducks a sad sight to see.

Mean as manus wouldn’t be mean.
Showers a complete waste of time.
Bathrooms would be just rooms.
Togs just undies.
And our awa, all filthy with slime.

That’s why we’ve got a plan,
‘cos we’re water’s biggest fan.
So let’s make it better than fine.

The accompanying illustrations, crudely drawn comic-style, showed a pipe belching noxious-looking waste into a river, a duck swimming through sludge and a horrified child bather coated in muck, all eye-catchingly presented in full colour.

It finished with the inspirational slogan “Better Water is Better for Everyone”, complete with a Maori translation for the benefit of the many readers who don’t understand English.

You may have figured out by now that it was a government ad promoting the Three Waters project, and I now note that TV viewers are being bombarded with an animated version.

That’s right: we’re paying for an extravagant advertising campaign aimed at persuading us that the government’s grab for control over the nation’s water infrastructure is in our own best interests.

Even as the government is going through the motions of seeking endorsement from the 67 local authorities that stand to lose control over a crucial part of their operations, it’s trying to go around them by pitching directly to us – in effect, circumventing its own process. And we’re picking up the tab – in other words, funding our own indoctrination.

If nothing else impresses you about Jacinda Ardern’s government, you have to gasp at its sheer hubris. This is a government that thinks the public so passive and malleable that it can get away with anything.

Regardless of what you think about the Three Waters proposal (and my main concern, as with many of this government’s initiatives, is that it represents a further centralisation of power and erosion of local autonomy), it’s a breathtakingly brazen misuse of taxpayers’ money.

There might be a case for a fact-based information campaign (Ha! Faint chance, I hear you say) setting out the arguments for and against the plan. That might have provided some helpful context for the debate the country needs to have before deciding whether Three Waters is worth supporting.

But this campaign doesn’t pretend to explain anything. It doesn’t have so much as a fig-leaf of legitimacy. It’s targeted at the same gormless, credulous lot who swoon with admiration for Greta Thunberg. Not content with misusing our money, the government and its advertising agency (Who are they? They should be named and shamed) insult the nation’s intelligence with a propaganda campaign that’s thumb-suckingly fatuous.

And as long as we’re paying to subject ourselves to a blatantly politicised ad campaign, is it too much to expect that it should at least be semi-literate?

“Stink as” and “mean as” would make marginally more sense – only marginally, mind you – if they were written as stink-as and mean-as, indicating that the expressions were adjectival. And what about that culturally inappropriate “s” on “manus”? Why would the copy writer carefully omit the “s” when he/she pluralised the Maori word for river (awa), recognising that there’s no “s” in te reo, but leave it on the word for bird?

I guess this is the sort of confused mess that sub-literate advertising creatives (as they like to call themselves) get into when they try to ingratiate themselves with a target audience that never reads newspapers anyway. Then there’s “’cos we’re [plural] water’s biggest fan [singular]” – but now I’m starting to sound like a grammar Nazi.

The final affront in all this is the knowledge that the ad agency will have banked a preposterous sum of money for this juvenile dreck. How do I know? Because that’s what ad agencies do. The Three Waters campaign is further proof (not that it was needed) that in the advertising racket, there’s no ad too inane and no client too gullible.

Footnote (added July 11): I see $3.5 million has been budgeted for the advertising campaign. My case rests.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


DeeM said...

The main reason for rejecting The Three Waters Plan is that it was thought up by this government. That may seem shallow but I bet I'm right. They have produced NO successful policy initiatives since getting elected in 2017 so why would they start now - particularly with something so massive and important.

This will be an unmitigated disaster, even if it has some merit, because everything will be done incompetently, inefficiently, cost far more than it should, and be controlled by 15% of the population. That's enough to be going on with.

As far as advertising goes, Labour seems to excel at spending millions of taxpayers money telling us things we already know. Like the Save Energy campaign (to save the planet - what rot!). That's what your power bill and petrol bill tells you. You don't need some guy telling you not to do things you don't want to do - daah!
Just like Karl's example, they assume the public are stupid and can't figure out basic things for themselves.
Mind you, Minister Mahuta is leading the charge on this and she works on the KISS principle when getting briefings from her department - not too many words, lots of pictures!

Jigsaw said...

And the government adverts on TV keep coming thick and fast and boy are they thick - for the thick..... The one that especially irritates me (the sound is always turned off) has a couple trying to buy a car that was apparently built for dwarf contortionists and is often repeated three and four times a night. Apparently the government giving millions to buy the news organizations is still not enough and they get to run these government ads and rake in still more money in order to continue to pedal their leftist views.

Peter Bacos said...

Karl, it's not so much that there are no, 's's,' in Maori, it's that there are no plural nouns. The plural is indicated by changing the definite article from te to nga. It would have made more sense to say nga manu. When I read the poem I had no idea what manus meant, apart from mischievously thinking it might have some connection with anus. My Maori is quite good, as I have been studying Scotty Morrison's book all this year. There are so many English transliterations in the language that I can see why the language has no future. I'm sure you can guess what hipi and huka are. One is a popular Sunday roast and the other a sweetener.