The lesson I learned when New Zealand voted to keep its flag…

A couple of days ago, we found out that the idea of New Zealand getting a new flag has gone out the window. The majority of people in the recent referendum voted for keeping the current flag as it is. Today, I would like to explain why this has taught me a major PR lesson.

I feel impartial in the debate whether New Zealand should change or keep its current flag. I liked the alternative propositions, but I also find the current one pleasing to the eye. I am also aware of the reasons why New Zealand had the idea of changing the flag to begin with. Overall, however, I found the idea of the referendum interesting and for the country itself – unprecedented.

However, there is one important aspect that the “let’s keep it the way it is” vote taught me in terms of PR. In this particular situation, the majority voted to simply do nothing. Ok, fair enough. Therefore, as the situation has shown, when seeking to change options and attitudes in my future career, not necessarily in terms of politics, I should not always primarily seek to change opinions, but to… fight people’s indolence.


image: The Telegraph

According to Andy Green, a leading expert in brand storytelling, “A key principle in communications and marketing is that people don’t choose what is best: they choose what appears to be least risk.” Also, what he suggests is crucial – is to make sure that the option one wants to represent is a one that also represents least risk. I couldn’t agree more. If a choice is given between choosing an option with least risk and one that is best and could potentially bring great results (but could also potentially bring a loss/danger), I am pretty sure I know what most people would choose.

Various really fascinating pieces of study seem to confirm that one of the most common human behaviours at times of important decision making/danger, is choose to do nothing and rely on others making important decisions. (check them out in the great post by A. Greene in CIPR’s INFLUENCE). This by no means suggests that the majority of the people are not clever enough to take action – but that indolence has been documented by science as a common behaviour at times of crisis or danger, or at times when a decision could potentially have a lot of weight behing itself.


Image: BBC

I think the biggest lesson for me here is that the purpose of PR activities (as well as the type of activities themselves) has to be carefully altered depending on circumstances and people we intend to communicate a certain message to. What some people often don’t realise is that there is no “one size fits all” and in some cases a difference between attitude change and presenting an option with least risk needs to be made. Often, what’s needed, is the ability to combat people’s unwillingness to put their opinions forward or take up an action themselves (rather, they’d prefer to do nothing and rely on other’s decisions). It’s a really interesting discrepancy and something I definitely need to learn in the future – to be able to decide whether I need to spark up people’s willingness to act or take a stand against / for something or whether my primary need is to alter people’s perceptions / show them a validity of a different standpoint.

And so, when next time we see a Yes-No vote (in any case, it could be a referendum or any other vote that enacts potential changes), we need to keep in mind that there is much more to people’s choices than just Yes/No. What’s important is what lies behind their decision making and why they vote the way they do. Indolence is high on a list of possibilities here.


BuzzFeed. New Zealand is Not Getting a New Flag. Available from:

Elections New Zealand. Available from:

Greene, A.  New Zealand votes against new flag – and for inertia. The lessons for all PR-led change. Influence CIPR. Available from:

Header Image: BBC


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