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A holistic connection: how New Zealanders' relationship with nature has evolved, and how brands can market to this

Despite a rapidly changing world, Kiwis place huge importance on their natural surroundings – perhaps more so now than ever, as the world becomes increasingly digital. TRA head of strategy Colleen Ryan breaks down the evolving relationship between New Zealanders and nature, and how brands can best tap into this cultural code. 

Kiwi’s connection to nature is truly a special thing that remains resilient, despite the influence of a changing world and the impact on our priorities and potential alternative experiences.

But the world and our lives are changing, and the result has been a more overtly holistic aspect to Kiwi’s connection with nature. The desire to be close to nature drives cultural currents such as mindfulness, wellbeing and unplugging, which means that brands that understand this deep-seated Kiwi cultural code have the opportunity to reach New Zealanders more deeply and profoundly than ever before.

Where connecting with nature used to be primarily a physical challenge, today it serves emotional, spiritual and social functions more evenly. And these dimensions create different tensions that require different solutions. The core tension is that Kiwis fear a loss of connection with the environment which can play out in many ways – care for the environment, a sense of ownership, our legacy through our children, and a conduit for human connection and reconnection.

Though we feel this connection intuitively, we see it confirmed in what people say. DOC’s data shows that 85 percent of Kiwis say that connecting with nature improves their lives, and Statistics New Zealand’s general social survey (GSS) shows that people give a score of 9.1 out of 10 for the importance of ‘natural scenery and environment’ in their lives (this shares top spot with ‘freedom, rights and peace’ – a lofty partner with whom to share the podium).

1. Spiritual connection leads to a sense of ownership

Kiwis may now feel that nature is there more to be enjoyed than physically conquered, but the spiritual connection still runs deep which gives us a sense of ownership. A recent news story about a family unable to book one of the Great Walks has raised debate about whether New Zealanders should get first rights to booking oversubscribed walks. Yes, we get that they are one of the draw cards for visitors and, yes, we get that tourism is a source of income for the country and a significant contributor to employment – but how much are we willing to share if it limits our own access?

Care for the environment is linked to this idea – do Kiwis take better care than visitors? Freedom camping is seen as a fundamental right for Kiwis, but visitors weren’t brought up the same way, they didn’t acquire the unwritten behavioural codes as children and that creates tensions.

New Zealanders believe that the natural environment is deteriorating and while we may not have the chance to enjoy our country’s natural beauty as much as we’d like, Kiwis are anxious to see that it is protected for future generations. The recent ‘Keep New Zealand Beautiful’ campaign successfully talks to this, putting the problem to New Zealanders to solve or at least giving them a part to play. However, people also believe that business has a big role to play in ensuring our great outdoors survives for generations to come, giving companies a clear mandate to get involved to connect with nature and thereby with Kiwis.

2. Connecting to nature is also about social connection
 

In DOC’s survey, one of the main reasons (70 percent of people) for using recreational areas was spending time with family and friends. The image of the solitary southern man conquering Aoraki/Mount Cook has been replaced in people’s minds with friends getting off the grid and enjoying each other’s company, of parents sharing knowledge and behavioural codes with their children, of intimate unrushed conversations, even of struggles through adversity bonding people in shared experiences.

The Air New Zealand and DOC video ‘Golly what a day’ is a prime example. And of course the associated activity supporting the video shows not just individual children enjoying the great outdoors but also how they interact and share their experiences. It’s what every Kiwi parent dreams of for their kids.

Southern Cross Health Society is another example to hit this note with their ‘Take Back Life’ idea. The story champions the importance of stepping out of our busy lives to connect and engage with nature and with the important people in our lives. By aligning the two, they capture the social and emotional benefits of this embedded Kiwi code.

3. Emotional connection

One of the reasons connection with nature surfaces so highly with Kiwis is that we fear loss of connection. More people live in urban environments (73 percent) which makes them fear emotional distance to nature. But it’s a broader sense of the way we live not just where we live that disturbs us and that is often expressed as shortage of time (77 percent of people say that is the biggest barrier to making more use of recreational areas) and people feel that one of the reasons is excessive use of screen time.

A direct appeal to the emotional FOMO that Kiwi’s feel is seen in the McDonalds TVC ‘Timeless’. 

Through our work talking to Kiwis we saw that the highest peak of emotional FOMO was with parents. Parents genuinely fear that their children are not as connected with nature as their generation was, and that this atavistic connection may be lost in the next generation. The McDonalds ad speaks directly to this using nostalgia as an extra turn of the dial. Nostalgia isn’t the only way to signal that you get this code, but it is certainly one effective trope specifically because we fear our children don’t have the connection we have.

4. Connection to nature is still about getting dirty

Although the holistic model of connection to nature brings in social, spiritual and emotional components, there is still a physical element and there is some good work being done that relates to the idea of action and physical challenge.

Toyota’s partnership with DOC encouraging families to get outdoors and take advantage of 11 new and easy ways to access Toyota Kiwi Guardians sites is a great example of showing who you are as a brand by what you do. It’s about supporting kids to engage their senses, take risks and earn themselves a medal in the outdoors. It’s about getting outside into nature, reducing time indoors and in front of screens.

Another similar initiative is Wild Eyes: learn nature ninja skills, get crafty, hunt poo and discover amazing stuff outdoors. 

What all these examples demonstrate is a deep-seated understanding of what is important to New Zealanders – not at a superficial level. We aren’t talking about picture postcard views of the scenery, that might work for tourists but not for Kiwis. Nor is it the stereotypical man conquering nature, the tough rugged Kiwi losing himself in the wilderness.

It is about engaging with a much more nuanced and holistic sense of wellbeing through connection with nature – and specifically with our own nature, our unique Kiwi version that we own and have a common love for. Because that’s what a cultural code is. It’s how we know we’re from the same place without having to say anything.

The Kiwi Cultural Codes was a collaborative project between TRA and True.

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