After seeing the latest government funded Tourism New Zealand ‘100% Pure’ advertisement of two tourists enjoying the best this country has to offer, I, like many others, was shocked to see at 1 min 20 seconds one of the tourists cup her hands and lift them to her face as if to drink river water.

Although the next shot transitions before you can see her drink, the message portrayed that tourists can drink straight from our rivers is all too obvious.

While the alpine sourced Blue Pools at Haast are fine to drink from, this advertisement is misleading considering 61% of monitored waterways are too polluted to swim in, let alone drink. The advertisement also does not contain any reference to the location at which she drank the river, opening the possibility for tourists to mistake polluted rivers for the river they saw in the video.

Given the potential harm this advert could cause to tourists who believe it is fine to drink from our rivers, I decided to file the following complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA):


“At 1 minute 20 seconds during the 100% Pure New Zealand’s advertisement, it shows a woman drinking water directly from the river.

‘Principle 1 – Advertisements making an environmental claim should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.’

The claim being made in this advertisement is that New Zealand rivers and waterways are safe to drink from. This is completely misleading and dangerous given 61% of monitored waterways in New Zealand are unsafe for swimming, let alone drinking. The social responsibility of TNZ is to be honest with tourists both within New Zealand and overseas about the dangers of drinking river water. About half of river sites monitored for E-coli nationwide had median levels unsafe for livestock to drink, let alone humans, according to data from the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment. This is widely accepted in the scientific community.

‘Principle 2 – Advertisements making environmental claims should not contain any statement or visual presentation or create an overall impression which directly or by implication, omission, ambiguity or exaggerated claim is misleading or deceptive or is likely to deceive or mislead the consumer.’

This visual presentation gives the overall impression that tourists can drink straight from rivers, which is an exaggerated claim given most waterways in New Zealand are low lying and polluted, especially in and near cities where most of the population resides. This is misleading and deceptive and could cause physical harm to tourists. An example being if tourists watched the video, drove for an hour out of Christchurch and decided to drink straight from the Selwyn river, which would guarantee a hospital visit and possibly even death. Given the nature of tourists to go off the beaten track in NZ, and the lack of signs along all our river lengths, this has the potential to cause serious harm.

‘Rule 12: Safety – Advertisements should not, unless justifiable on educational or social grounds, contain any visual presentation or any description of dangerous or illegal practices or situations which encourage a disregard for safety.’

As mentioned above, this advertisement jeopardizes the safety of tourists within New Zealand. Tourists aren’t expected to research water quality in NZ and this may be the only piece of information they see in regards to the health of our waterways and the potential for harm if consumed.

All advertisers are bound to be socially responsible for messages implied within their marketing, and this should be judged based on what message someone who is not aware of river health in New Zealand receives. The question “does this advertisement lead you to believe it is safe to drink from rivers in New Zealand” should be asked.

Based on Basic Principle 1 and 2, and Rule 12 of the Code of Ethics being broken and the potential harm this visual imagery could cause to human health, this ad should have the drinking of river water removed so as to not mislead and potentially harm tourists within New Zealand.”

The ASA did not uphold the complaint based on the following ruling, which I do not agree with.

I have decided to appeal this decision based on a number of errors in ruling and will post an update article once I have a result.


About The Author

Kyle is a Christchurch based freelance writer with a passion for investigative journalism and thirst for the truth. He's also an avid environmentalist and tiny house dweller.

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