Villain's visit worth the booty

High above Queenstown, a toothy Tolkienian villain adjusts his grimy hood and stretches his arms.

Behind him, whispy white clouds disolve above snow-capped mountains. Below him, the lake glistens in the sun. And in front of him, at the end of his outstretched arm, the scene is captured by a mobile phone's camera.

He later posts his selfie to Instagram, where it is "liked" by nearly 28,000 of his 436,000 followers. Some love the costume, some love the scenery. Someone calls it "heaven".

The man behind the lens was comedic US talk show host Stephen Colbert, who was in New Zealand for six days in October filming segments for The Late Show.

For the selfie, the Lord of the Rings super fan donned the Laketown spy costume he wore in Sir Peter Jackson's 2013 film The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

In the movie, he was a famous Tolkien groupie living his dream on the silver screen. On Instagram, the famous fanboy was an ambassador for New Zealand tourism.

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Laketown Spy Returns! #LSSCinNZ

A post shared by Stephen Colbert (@stephenathome) on

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invited Colbert to visit New Zealand when she appeared on his show last year. At the time, the offer was clearly a chance for some low-cost guerilla marketing.

The Late Show is the No 1 programme on late-night television in the US, boasting an average audience of 3.5million people - a market nearly the same size as New Zealand.

Ms Ardern and Tourism New Zealand were there to meet Colbert at the airport and his visit was breathlessly followed by local media keen to see what he might take back to his audience.

As it turns out, Colbert took back some selfies, some television footage and, in an around-about sort of way, the benefit of $104,000 in taypayer funding.

Opposition MPs were silent on what Tourism New Zealand spent hosting The Late Show team but as usual, many befuddled keyboard warriors called it an expensive way for the PM to rub shoulders with fame.

But what was most surprising was that anyone could be surprised by what was spent. After all, this is not the first time the Government has seized upon entertainment as a means to promote New Zealand.

Former prime minister John Key also appeared on The Late Show but, much more strategically, his government pledged nearly $100million to ensure the Hobbit movies were shot in New Zealand. It also rewrote labour laws to stave off an industrial dispute that would have derailed the movies, and it spent millions promoting New Zealand as 100% Pure Middle-earth.

Getting New Zealand before an international audience remains an important part of tourism promotion, and the paltry amount spent on Colbert should be seen as just the latest move in a consistent strategy.

When material is produced here, Tourism New Zealand suddenly has access to marketing opportunities and what it calls high-impact media channels to promote the country as a tourism destination.

Colbert is certainly part of a high-impact media channel in an American market that Tourism New Zealand figures suggest is visiting New Zealand in greater numbers on the back of increased air capacity and more direct flights. There are more than 45 direct flights a week between the countries, which makes New Zealand the best served of any other US long-haul market.

Tourism New Zealand estimates Colbert's visit and television show segments will provide advertising value somewhere in the vicinity of $5million, and marketing access to multiple markets.

That Colbert's visit dovetails nicely with a new Tourism New Zealand, Air New Zealand and United Airlines campaign to attract visitors from our third-largest tourism market is fortuitous. That campaign is part of a three-year, $30million push in a series of key international markets where, incidentally, The Late Show is also aired.

There is every chance Colbert's irreverent show will have a few laughs at New Zealand's expense - but there is little doubt the real expense of getting New Zealand to a wealthy market has been avoided.


 

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