Creativity study: Symphony, Facebook & Tourism NZ

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Tourism NZ broke new ground this week when it unveiled a global partnership with Facebook aimed at bringing more visitors to NZ. The idea had its genesis at Auckland shop Symphony, which describes itself as a script-to-screen production agency. Here’s their story:

Symphony was formed from the group who wrangled, wrote and produced the National Party 2014 election campaign.

While the Rowers TVC received most of the nationwide attention, they also made a dozen policy and attack ads, a convention video, and the 15-minute opening and closing party political broadcasts.

With the landslide result behind them, the group thought if they could find the right client with the right brief then they could do it again, offering the same production value, from strategy to dispatch, all in a single, seamless package.

Late last year, Glenn Jameson and Iain McLean approached Tourism NZ and pitched the idea of turning their spectacular travelogues into a story, selling both the vistas and the romance of the journey. In early February, Peter Moore received a call from TNZ and it was all on.

The Kombi Diaries
The Kombi Diaries is a series of five short films written, directed and produced by Symphony for Tourism New Zealand.

“Research by Tourism NZ revealed a serious barrier for travellers who were actively considering a visit to New Zealand,” says Symphony strategist and client liaison Peter Moore. “While they were attracted to the breathtaking landscapes and exciting activities, they worried that our sparsely populated country lacked the infrastructure to actually get to any of them.”

Creative Director Glenn Jameson worked closely with the Facebook Creative Shop to develop a campaign that would hook prospective travellers, and keep them interested while demonstrating just how accessible New Zealand’s diverse attractions really are.

“The brief was clear and exciting — and a colossal challenge,” he says. “The budget wasn’t titanic, but on the flip-side we were given free rein to tell a story without the constraints of a prescribed length or a million advertising mandatories. It was very experimental.”

Jameson then wrote an adventure about two American tourists who miss the train and embark on an epic 1700km road trip from Auckland’s Piha to Paradise in Glenorchy. “I figured if you could make it there in a 45-year-old Kombi, then you could make it everywhere.”

Stories were sketched for each of the five tour destinations, but left largely unscripted to accommodate the magic of the unexpected, and to keep the characters’ interactions with the locals as authentic as possible. The only actors in the films are the two leads, who experienced the adventure of discovery as it happened. The rest of the cast were found on the day, in their roles as ordinary Kiwis. “I was writing it in my head as I drove the Kombi to location,” Jameson says.

The five films were shot over 12 days, and cut to a little under three minutes each. “It was quite extraordinary,” recalls Jameson. “The offline was just shy of 15 minutes, and the Tourism NZ team didn’t request a single change.

“Best client ever, without a doubt. They really let us preserve the integrity of the films. The Facebook guys were a great help. Stephen Vallera wrote the theme music on the road, and Facebook Sydney’s Gavin Carver gave us great guidance.”

Tourism NZ and Facebook are thrilled with the result. “The Kombi Diaries is among the best content I’ve seen created for Facebook, globally,” says Gavin Carver, creative strategist at the Facebook Creative Shop.

“Peter and Glenn understand the new media landscape better than most, and know how to create stories and films that wrap a brand’s message and keep audiences engaged. This collaboration was a career highlight.”

Targeting specific Facebook and Instagram audiences with authentic, entertaining films, and integrating them into a global promotion strategy, has become the new way of telling a brand story, Jameson says.


Agency: Symphony
Account Wrangler: Peter Moore
Writer: Glenn Jameson
Co-Directors: Glenn Jameson & Iain Mclean
Cinemaphotography: Daryl Habraken
Sound: Andy Farrant
Producer: Bali Virk
Art Director: Katie Oh
Wardrobe, Hair & Makeup: Celia Walshe
Editor: Glenn Jameson
Online Editor: Connie Foster
Colour Grading: Sean Jameson
Audio Engineering: Sales Street
CFO: Julian Sydney


Peter Moore: “Nothing and everything has changed really. It’s still about telling great stories, but what has changed is there are many more channels and most, like Facebook and Instagram, have consumers who are emotionally engaged with them, which is a huge head start. A great TVC will stop the fast forward button but the opportunities to tell longer and deeper stories in the “new” mediums is a huge opportunity for the current generation of  brand story tellers.

Currently I think the media departments get how powerful and engaging these new channels are but they haven’t sold their creative departments, or the suits can’t get the client budgets to deliver great ideas. There seems to be a lot of, yes we have done something in social media so tick the box type of approach. That needs to change and what has been created in social media and other content channels needs to be judged with the same rigour that is applied to current mainstream media because my bet is You Tube, Facebook and the like are the current mainstream for anyone under 25.

Glenn Jameson: I figured if you could make it there in a 45-year-old Kombi, then you could make it everywhere. Turned out to be touch and go. The old girl’s gearbox shredded heading down Arthur’s Pass, which might have been okay except the breaks were shot as well. I was standing in for Roy Oraschin, with his co-star Helen Middlemass next to me in the passenger seat, clinging to the dash and staring into a 300-metre drop onto jagged rocks.

To make matters worse I’d just broken a tooth on a bloody pineapple lump and was driving on a faceful of codeine. No power steering, no turnoff, grinding teeth and metal, I was waving to Daryl Habraken filming the whole thing out the back of the camera car, to get the hell out of our way. Somehow I managed to find a gear just before we hit the tunnel. Fortunately we’d planned on a potential breakdown. Our Kombi guy had a spare “Miss Sunshine” in Christchurch, which we intercepted in Wanaka. Don’t look too closely at the curtains or the license plate continuity.


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