Saturday, September 23, 2006

Parlez vous Ocker?

Television commercials in New Zealand run the gamut for great to awful, with the vast majority somewhere in between. They are, in other words, just like America’s—sometimes literally.

In this era of globalisation, advertising is increasingly “international,” which ad people would tell you means it’s universal and can be used in any country. More often than not, however, it means American ads are used overseas.

Here in New Zealand, we get commercials made here as well as in the UK or Australia. But we also get American commercials, and here’s where it gets truly weird.

Sometimes, American (and probably other) commercials are dubbed by Australians so there are Australian accents. It’s sometimes pretty obvious, with lips and words out of sync like an old Japanese Godzilla movie. Most of the time, however, they’re just slightly out of sync, so it’s noticeable only when paying close attention.

I first noticed this when I arrived in New Zealand and saw familiar American commercials with new voice-overs. Since then, I’ve become fascinated by it.

Some Kiwis have told me that Australians are so provincial in their world view that they don’t like English-language commercials that don’t have Australian accents. I’ve never lived in Oz, as Australia’s often called in this part of the world, so I can’t personally verify that. However, I do know that in general Ockers (Australians) are much more into buying products made in their own country and supporting Australian-owned companies, than either New Zealanders or Americans are into supporting theirs.

Part of that is a kind of fervent Australianism, a mix of patriotism and nationalism that can, at times, be so over the top that it could make an American pentacostal Republican blush. Australians are damn proud of their country (if you don’t believe it, just ask one, they’ll tell you). To them, it’s “the Lucky Country.”

While many Americans can relate to Australians’ patriotism, most New Zealanders can’t. Here, people are much more laid back and less prone to waving the flag. We have no equivalent stadium chant like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” or “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!”. The closest thing at a Kiwi international sports event would be a kind of sing song “KEEEE weeeee”.

Still, New Zealanders are patriotic in their own way, and if we don’t all know the words to the national anthem, well, many Americans don’t know theirs, either. Kiwis are in general less “in your face” about their patriotism than either Americans or Australians. That’s not inherently better or worse, just different.

In New Zealand’s multi-cultural society, no one takes all that much notice of the accents of the people in television ads. Whether we’re interested in the product or service has far less to do with the voices heard than with the effectiveness of the ad itself. Personally, I think that’s the way it should be.

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