In search of Mr & Mrs Jo Average

Five years ago I moved with my family to the Hawke’s Bay. We had no pretensions to grow grapes, become self-sufficient or milk goats on a lifestyle block. Instead we simply wanted to leave the rat race, relieve some pressure and take back control of our destiny. By and large, it’s worked.

There are lots of things I love about living provincially. I love the smell of fish and chips that still fills the main street on a Friday night (‘fish & chip night’). I love that people mow their own lawns and cut their own hedges. I love that on a fine Sunday afternoon driveways are full of cars being washed. I love that after about 5.10pm on a weekday you could let a shotgun off in the main street and not hit anyone. I love that people work to live, not live to work. I love that you can, 9 times out of 10, park right outside the store you need to visit. I love that shopkeepers want to have a yarn. I love that tradespeople tell you they’re frantically busy and “couldn’t possibly get to you before … oooh … 10.30am at the earliest”. I love that they don’t want payment there and then, and invoice you sometimes weeks later (sometimes never). I love that you know just about everyone in the street by name and that you have a street Christmas BBQ every year. I love that you feed the neighbour’s cat when they’re away, and they yours. I love that Neighbourhood Watch actually means something. I love standing on the ‘bank’ at a Magpies home game with a pottle of hot chips and a Tui. There’s lots to love.

But there are things I struggle with too – hair-curling racism, sexism and homophobia to name three of the most disturbing. Many locals refer to ‘The Gays’ as though they’re a marauding tribe (lock up your sons!). They refuse to pander to Maori pronunciation and deride those who embrace it. And you’ll always find the women folk in the kitchen at parties, while the blokes talk rugby and lamb prices on the terrace.

Welcome to ‘middle New Zealand’.

Living provincially has been a revelation to me. After years of sitting in Auckland creating advertising for ‘middle New Zealand’ (that phrase we’ve seen a million times in the target audience section of creative briefs), I’ve come to realise that my assumptions about what makes them tick have been way off the mark.

No amount of demographic and psychographic profiling, or sorting them into ‘tribes’, is as powerful as experiencing heartland New Zealand first hand: getting to know what they think, what they do, what makes them happy, what makes them mad and what scares them.

When you get out and get amongst the people you’re trying to reach – listening, talking, being part of their communities – you’ll find they think and act quite differently from us.

I’m not talking about catching the bus to work twice a week either (although it would be a start), but rather regularly getting out of your immaculately renovated villa in your leafy inner city suburb and into heartland New Zealand. You don’t have to relocate permanently as I have done, but you do need to make the effort to reconnect often.

Your work will be better for it. Mine is.

Author: Drew Ayers is Creative Director at justONE