Advertising, Politics

Back with ACT

UPDATE: For those who are apparently still visiting this page in 2011, this post relates to the 2008 election. As a recidivist resigner (as Paul Henry called me in a recent interview), I thought I should make it clear that I have no plans to return to ACT in 2011 — and I imagine ACT has even fewer plans to invite me to. But they should think about running an update of this ad.

OK, OK, so it’s been harder for me to sit out an election than I thought. In the end I just couldn’t say no to a cause I believe in.

This, then, is the World Premiere of ACT’s new press ad. It runs in the NBR tomorrow.

I think it sums up why we need ACT in these troubled times. I hope Rodney, Roger and John can find the money to run it more than once.

My thanks to my artistic partners Lance Tomuri, Mike Boekholt and Andrew Rundle-Keswick.

Advertising, Politics, Uncategorized

Ambulance ambience

Stephen Franks rang on Friday to say we’re providing a lot of enjoyment to the centre right, especially with the Helen and Winston Trusts billboard.

This turned into a drinks invite and a nice meal with Stephen and Cathy at St John’s Bar.

None of us had eaten there before, and all agreed that the fish dishes were exceptional.

I had been in the building before – on an outing from  Waterloo when I was a nine year old cub and St John’s was an ambulance station.

Advertising, Politics

Morning-after Report

After filming the Media 7 show, the guests and crew retired to the bar at the comedy club where it was filmed.

Some hours after that, I retired further to the London-something-or-other pub next to my hotel for a beer, a sausages and mash, and the final overs of Team Vettori’s jittery victory in Chittagong.

So my relaxation was well advanced when a journalist from National Radio rang wanting my comments on an anti-abortion campaign involving the nuking of Wellington.

This just a week after the Aftershock doco where my home patch was levelled by an 8.2 earthquake.

(It occurred to me that, the odd cockroach aside, only one creature could survive such a twin pummelling. But he’d have to win Tauranga first.)

Then a few minutes even later, one of her colleagues rang seeking my reaction to Labour’s Two Johns attack ad.

Great, suddenly I was the late night go-to guy on all things advertising. I suspect Mike Hutcheson put them up to it.

Anyway, as this idea was obviously derived from the Soap  radio campaign I did for Labour in 1987, I was happy to discuss it. But not while that happy.

Fearing I’d sound like Muldoon the night he called the snap election in 1984, I suggested he ring back early the next morning, thus ending any hope of a well-earned sleep-in.

In the eventual interview on Morning Report , mustering all the sincerity I could fake, I did my best to give a reasonable impression of a person happy to be alive.

Language, Trivia

Which airline bans apostrophes?

I thought it was oil we were supposed to be running out of, not punctuation marks.

Seems the dangling possessive is just the latest artefact to be restricted on Air New Zealand flights, along with cellphones, bomb jokes, knives that don’t bend,  laptops, liquids, legroom, and decent food.

As you can see from these four screenshots from yesterday’s Air New Zealand inflight quiz, the airline now has a zero tolerance policy towards apostrophes. 

Why this possessive prevention programme has been mounted is not immediately clear.

Perhaps Air New Zealand see themselves as stewards, not just of our cabin ambience, but also of our linguistic environment.

Perhaps it fears that environment becoming polluted by overpunctuation.

Or perhaps it’s more worried about the legal ramifications of its quiz writers developing a bad case of POOS (Punctuational Obfuscational Overuse Syndrome).

Either way, Air New Zealand, it’s not on.

Punctuation marks are navigation aids. They help guide readers on their  flight path toward the destination of understanding.

They’re our linguistic landing lights. 

You’re our airline. Please show more respect for our language.  

Advertising, Politics, Uncategorized

Kiwiblog spoof now real billboard

What began as an idle suggestion by me on Kiwiblog and a quick mockup by Whale Oil has now become a real billboard for the Free Speech Coalition.

It went up this afternoon in Auckland and, weather permitting, Wellington. 

Stay tuned for the Tauranga special 🙂

The bottom line, if you can’t read it, says ‘Authorised as demanded by LabourFirst’s and the Greens’ outrageous assault on free speech by David Farrar of the Free Speech Coalition…”

Advertising, Politics

On Media 7 tonight

I’m in Auckland to record the TVNZ7 show Media 7 about (what else?) political ads.

The recording was last night. It screens tonight at 9.30pm if you’ve got Freeview. Otherwise you can see it on the website.

We had great fun – ‘we’ being host Russell Brown, mayor/Labour president/ad-man Bob Harvey, political marketing lecturer Jennifer Lees-Marshment, and me.

It was my first TV programme outside of game shows, so I was a little nervous about the format. Would it be a lefty ambush?

If so, I was ready with my defence of Iwi/Kiwi (which I’ll blog some day).

But the reality was much more congenial.

Russell was a very fair host, Bob was great fun, and Jennifer I knew from having talked to her class at Auckland University in 2006.

The most openly partisan panelist was almost certainly me, as I couldn’t resist lampooning Clark’s outrageous ‘trust’ positioning.

But the producers seemed happy, and the audience laughed more than usual apparently. Producer Phil Wallington wants me to come back for a one-on-one some time over Christmas.

The programme is produced by Top Shelf Productions, whose owner Vincent Burke I recognized from my philosophy class at Vic in 1976.

While I’ve had a complete rearrangement of flesh and facial hair in the interim, Vincent’s still got the ginger pony-tail he had back then, and hasn’t changed a bit.

Politics, Trivia

Pub quiz humiliation

Went to my first Courtenay Precinct pub quiz last night.

I got to the Welsh Dragon Bar (AKA Taj Mahal) just before the 8.30pm start time. 

As one who loves listening to accents, I enjoyed the British pub feel of this bar jam-packed with Welsh paraphernalia and Irish and English clientele.

A husband and wife from Widnes were at the only non-full table. They kindly allowed me to join them, and even more kindly insisted on shouting me a beer. 

The husband explained I was helping them drain last week’s first prize. ‘We’ were the champions! Victory seemed assured.

The reality was a bit different. (Think the All Blacks the last time they played somewhere Welsh.)

Continue reading


Chinese speakers: WASH your English

I was the guest speaker at China Toastmasters in Taipei a few years ago.

My topic was The Crazy English Language.

I desperately wanted to be of use to these brave people. (Learning to speak in public is hard enough, let alone in your second language.)

So I sweated for three weeks to think of what I could say that would help them in their heroic efforts to master my mother tongue.

Nothing happened in my head that was remotely useful.

Then at 3pm on the day of the speech that was due to start at 6pm, it finally dawned on me what I should do.

I’d write a poem about the mistakes Chinese people make in English, and how they can avoid them.

I worked out there are four parts of speech that they typically scramble and cause us confusion: 

  • tense
  • article
  • number, and
  • gender.

Iris told me why.

It’s because they don’t use these devices in Chinese. 

For example, say a Chinese speaker is telling you about something happening yesterday, today or tomorrow. 

They’ll establish which day it is right upfront, at the start of the sentence.

Then they’ll just stick with the normal present tense after that.

They’ll say, “Yesterday I go to beach”.

They quite logically wonder why the stupid English speaker would want to bother with ‘went’ or ‘was going’, when ‘go’ is really all you need.

And if it’s tomorrow that you’re doing the going, why waste valuable brainpower putting together ‘I will go’ or ‘I will be going’?

‘I go’ works just fine there too.

(You’ll see they also see no need for a ‘the’.)

That, in short, is why Chinese speakers speak English in shorthand. They’re just being logical.

(Mind you, I’m not sure that logic always holds true. I had to politely correct my China Toastmasters introducer for saying, “Our next speaker, she is from New Zealand.”)

For those Taiwanese and Chinese friends who want to be more clearly understood in English, memorise this little rhyming checklist:

WASH your English

Was or will be?
A or the?
S or no S?
He or she?

© J Ansell 2004

If you’re a linguist with Chinese experience, you may wish to expand on this, as I’m by no means an expert.

Advertising, Politics

This morning’s Sunday Star-Times article: Labour plus the work of vandals

The following appeared this morning, minus the bit after the defaced blue billboard, which I’ve just added.


No dangling babies on red ribbons this time for Labour. But their first big billboards have no Helen, no logo, and no party vote message either.

Why this reluctance by both main parties to keep their leader’s mugs off the big sites?
Like National, Labour seem to be running two parallel campaigns. So much so that you wonder if they’re being done by two separate agencies.
The billboards (including the candidate ones) make full use of Labour’s glorious red and the powerfully emotive ‘Keep it Kiwi’ line.

Then you have the press ads, which feature a polished white-clad Helen on a white background with the Labour logo that’s missing from the billboard, and the slogan ‘This one’s about trust.’
In the ‘trust’ TV ad, Helen is so haughtily hypocritical she deserves a point-by-point response:
“National wanted us to go to war in Iraq. I said no – that’s not where New Zealanders’ values are at.”

(They’re in Afghanistan, so I sent us to war there.)
“This election’s about trust.”

(Or should that be ‘trusts’?) 

“It’s about who’s being straight up”

(like Key and Rodney)

“and who isn’t”

(like me and Winston). 

“Our actions”

(forging paintings, stealing public money for pledge cards, shutting down free speech, lying about donations, ten years of deficits)

“versus their words.”
But the production values are good, and the message is upliftingly nationalistic – though the PM looks like she’s got a bad case of myxomatosis with the light forcing her eyes into a puffy squint.
Labour’s candidate billboards are very simple and strong.

But all parties’ billboards are so devoid of entertainment that we’re reliant on the vandalised versions for our jollies.

One can titter sympathetically at Sue Moroney’s misfortune,

and perhaps less so at this Nelsonian’s attempt to turn National into the National Front.

I shouldn’t give advice to vandals, but this billboard is not just in appallingly bad taste.

It’s also overdesigned – like the National originals.

The perpetrators seem to have missed the obvious opportunity to blank out the B in Brighter. That would have been a bit clever. 

And if their goal was to echo the Nazis’ unquestioned flair for poisonously potent propaganda, they blew it by adding Party HARD.

It’s probably just as well I can’t quite make out the photograph.

Language, Poetry

My new Taiwanese national anthem

It was my wife’s homeland of Taiwan‘s 97th birthday on 10 October. (Double 10.) 

I don’t think their anthem does justice to their strong capitalist instinct. So, in honour of this dynamic fellow democracy, I took the liberty of composing a new one:

Taiwanta new computer
Taiwanta motor scooter
TaiwanTaiwantit now
To spit on Chairman Mao!

© J Ansell 2004

A warm welcome also to the new Taiwanese ambassador, Mr Charles Tsai.

(Note: if you are from Communist China and you are offended by the terms Taiwanese national anthem and Taiwanese ambassador in this post, I invite you to kindly get stuffed.)


Is anemone an enemy?

On Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? last night, both Mike Hosking and his contestant repeatedly pronounced anemone “an enemy”.

They did it so often I had to check that it wasn’t meant to be pronounced that way.

(It isn’t.)

This inspires me to compile a list of the Most Mispronounced Words in English. Right up there near the top would have to be pronunciation, which so many pronounce pronounciation.

Maybe the list should be called Mispronounciations?

Vunrable for vulnerable would be up there too.

 Feel free to contribute.

Language, Poetry

Nelson’s unhelpful column

Noticed this as we drove through a Richmond intersection en route to Nelson. Apologies to The Scrapbook Store – that lamppost has a lot to answer for! 

(Looks like a good shop actually.)

Further up the road is the recently-voted top provincial bookshop in the South Island, Nelson’s  independent Page and Blackmore.

One of the owners, Peter Rigg, was at the For the Love of Words book launch event and liked what he heard, so is going to push my book.

Language, Poetry

Painkiller poems

Writing rhymes with a twist in the tail can be a maddening pastime.


I like to get the scans just right, and often the words won’t come. Then the poem has to be abandoned.


Sometimes a poem will take on a life of its own, and you don’t know when it’s going to end.


Two in my book (In Defence of Egyptian Daddies and A Lake in Massachusetts – about the longest place name in America, Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagunggamaugg) took four months each to write.


But it’s all worth it when you get comments like this one that arrived today:

John’s poetry is a powerful antidote for pain, which I can personally vouch for.


I recently attended a poetry evening at Nelson Library at which John was performing.  I was in intense pain due to my rheumatoid arthritis, and was considering having to leave.


The pain was so bad I had beads of sweat on my forehead, and didn’t know how I was going to cope. I had an overwhelming urge to dig my nails into my friend’s leg to relieve some of the pain.


However, once John started telling his funny stories about the English language and reading his hilarious poetry, I began laughing so much that I had a huge reduction in my pain level, which was amazing and wonderful.


“Poetry for the people, poetry for the pain.”


Margaret A. Fearn, Nelson

I rang Margaret to thank her.  She’s had rheumatoid arthritis for 47 years.


It’s in her bones, lungs, joints, muscles – everywhere. Yet she has an extremely positive attitude to life – and writes poetry! 


It’s a great feeling knowing I made a difference to her, even if just for a short time.  

Poetry, Politics

Mr Hager replies

Dear John,

I think you see yourself as a principled wordsmith so I hope you will leave this reply on your site so others can judge whether I really misrepresented your poem.

I do, I will, and they can.

Below is my full introduction to your poem from chapter 12 of The Hollow Men. Readers will see that I did not in the slightest suggest it was you writing about Don Brash.

I would have thought “Four verses can serve as a tribute to Brash’s years as National Party leader. It is fitting that Ansell, who nearly got him into power, provides a well-crafted epitaph.” was more than a slight suggestion.

I explained it was part of a poem written generally about politicians from before you began working for Brash (note the “can serve as”, not “was written as”).

A fine legal distinction that Winston would be proud of.

Also, as anyone can read, I explained that it was part of fourteen-verse poem.

Yes you did.

I did not pretend that the four verses were a consecutive whole.

You printed them consecutively!  

That’s all you needed to do to create your desired false impression.  Who would assume they were not consecutive?

A ‘principled wordsmith’ would have inserted dots or a footnote to make it clear they were not consecutive in the original.

Here it is:

“A month before Ansell decided to return to advertising to help Brash, he published a book of poetry including a long fourteen-verse poem about politicians called “Political careering”. Four verses can serve as a tribute to Brash’s years as National Party leader. It is fitting that Ansell, who nearly got him into power, provides a well-crafted epitaph.”

Yes, it was cheeky to use your words to write about Brash.

I don’t mind a bit of cheek directed my way. (How could I with my track record?!)

But I did not misrepresent what I was doing nor misrepresent what your poem is about.

Didn’t you?

Well, let’s see…

Continue reading

Poetry, Politics

Hager’s hollow hoax

I want to show you in my customary left-right way how Nicky Hager operates.

Have a look below at how this self-styled truthseeker hollowed out one of my poems to create the exact opposite meaning.

The poem, Political Careering, from my book I Think The Clouds Are Cotton Wool – Rhymes Committed by John Ansell, is about the journey from lobbyist to disgraced PM of a Clark/Muldoon/ Peters type of politician.

By the time Hager had finished his gutting and pasting, it had become my epitaph to Don Brash.

You’ll see it at the end of the Iwi/Kiwi chapter of The Hollow Men. Page 74.

Nowhere did Hager admit that the four verses he fused together were not meant to be consecutive. They were, in fact, verses 3, 9, 12 and 13.

I think we call that a breach of copyright. (Not that a rich boy like Hager would have anything much to worry about if I sued him.)

And nowhere did he tell you that I had clearly dedicated the original to New Zealand’s fiercest political animals, Rob Muldoon, Winston Peters and Helen Clark.

He just allowed me to embarrass my boss and myself in public – something I felt compelled to apologise to Don for at the time.

(It was the last of Don’s worries, given the scale of the other misrepresentations he’d found.) 

If Hager can be so dishonest about a simple poem, what does that suggest about the rest of the tale? 

But you decide.

Here are the two versions side by side, so you can see how much of the truth Hager left out.





Dedicated to New Zealand’s fiercest political animals, Rob Muldoon, Winston Peters and Helen Clark.


…a tribute to Brash’s years as National Party leader. It is fitting that Ansell, who nearly got him into power, provides a well-crafted epitaph.

Working on a politician,

Lobby for a strong decision,

Lots of lolly on commission

As a lobbyist.


Working for a politician,

Always been a long ambition,

Dominate a strong division,

Party activist.



Wanna be a politician,

Follow me I’m on a mission,

Gotta get a strong position

On the party list.


Wanna be a politician,

Follow me I’m on a mission,

Gotta get a strong position

On the party list.


Gonna be a politician,

Gotta be on television,

Shot of me in each edition,

Babies getting kissed.



Finally I’m a politician,

What a battle of attrition!

Sock it to the Opposition,

Then I’m getting pissed.



Up and coming politician,

Got a lot of recognition,

Tons of perks and tunnel vision,

No expenses missed.



Double-dipping politician,

Higher Salaries Commission,

Should decline, but what they’re dishin’

Out I can’t resist.



Party’s leading politician,

Not a lot of competition,

Clobbered ’em into submission

With my iron fist.



Leader of the Opposition,

Keeper of a strong tradition

To articulate a vision

People can’t resist.

Leader of the Opposition,

Keeper of a strong tradition

To articulate a vision

People can’t resist.

Country’s leading politician,

Blunted by the coalition,

Hunted by the Opposition,

Wish they would desist.



Country’s leading politician,

Made a rather odd admission,

Order ’em to block transmission,

Really must insist.



One embattled politician,

I’m a picture of contrition,

Honestly to God I’m wishin’

I did not exist.

One embattled politician,

I’m a picture of contrition,

Honestly to God I’m wishin’

I did not exist.

Soon-to-be ex-politician,

Step aside on one condition:

“Leaving of my own volition”—

Think you get the gist.


Soon-to-be ex-politician,

Step aside on one condition:

“Leaving of my own volition”—

Think you get the gist.


Sick of being a politician,

God I made the wrong decision,

Damn it all, I’m going fishin’ —
Get me out of this!


Advertising, Politics

Green there, done that, got the press ad

I like the Greens’ little girl poster. But I knew someone had done it before. My old art director Elwyn Pugsley reminds me it was us! – for the Board of Trustees Election campaign 20 years ago.

1988 – Department of Education

 2008 – Green Party

I’m not accusing the Greens of bubonic plagiarism. (A phrase I pinched from Austin Mitchell.) Most creative people are too proud to steal ideas.

More than likely, it’s just a case of two people downloading from the ether the same logical solution to a similar brief.

I remember our little girl was found by director Gaylene Preston for our TV ad. She’d now be old enough to be the Green girl’s mother. It looks like she might be! Continue reading


Welcome ablog

I’ve been blogging for a couple of weeks now without telling anyone.


But I can delay no more. This morning’s Sunday Star-Times is publishing my address, so it’s time to open for visitors.

Please go for a scroll and post a comment or three to show me you’re there. 

Being the political season, there’s a lot of political stuff in here, but I plan to include more quirky info about words, silly rhymes, and my mission to simplify the world so I can understand it.

Have fun.



Hel’s teeth

Remember: this election is about trust 🙂 Below is the original version from 2005. 

I felt old when I had to explain to a 20-year-old office assistant who the cheesy chap on the left was.

When I said Richard Nixon, she replied, “Wasn’t he that actor guy?”

Thanks to the anonymous friend who had the bright idea of replacing Tricky Dicky with Wicked Winnie.


Rodney serves Winston right

Just after the Winston contempt verdict, I put out the call on Kiwiblog for someone to render up this idea. 

Now a journalist has sent me this. It was done by a commenter called willnz.

The head is even better than I’d imagined. (Though as willnz himself says, Rodney would have looked even better in his yellow jacket.)

If you’re reading this willnz, please get in touch. I’ve got a few other concepts you might like to help with!

I hope Rodney and ACT are rewarded for bringing Peters to some sort of justice. Sending this to your  swinging voter friends could help.

Make sure they know that Rodney’s got Epsom in the bag, so every ACT party vote will help drive out LabourFirst and stiffen National’s spine.


Nelson word lovers’ event this Friday

If you’re in Nelson on Friday 10 October, you’re warmly invited to For the Love of Words, a triple book launch-cum-celebration of wordcraft.

The idea came from poet, children’s author, social commentator and organiser extraordinaire Amy Brooke of Summersounds Symposium fame.

Amy’s got a poetry book to launch, Deep Down Things. 

And she very generously thought, why not make it double as the South Island launch of I Think The Clouds Are Cotton Wool – Rhymes Committed by John Ansell?

(Which is good of her, since the North Island launch was five years ago.)

Add to the mix Nelson poet Mark Raffills, who is christening his latest volume Loved, Mis-loved and Loved Again, and it promises to be a revealing and  ‘edutaining’ night for word lovers.

Nelson Library, 5.30 – 7.00pm.

No charge. (Thanks to sponsor Nelson Institute.)

All ages welcome.


Can you cure my sloppy ‘speech marks’?

Anyone know how can I stop words beginning with ‘s’ from coming out with the opening speech mark the wrong way round?

There, it did it again.

The open-quote mark is meant to look like a ‘6’ or a ’66’, not a ‘9’ or a ’99’. 

(Hmm… I see we’ve got some consistency issues in that last line too. I knew there were two kinds of speech mark – the curly and the straight -but I didn’t think they’d top-and-tail the same quote.)

Seems my computer – or maybe just this blog program – can’t tell a speech mark from an apostrophe.

Is there a secretary in the building?


One death is a goat song

Woke up yesterday to a sombre Paul Holmes breaking the news of the sudden death of singer Rob Guest.

It was quite a body blow to those of us who remember the eternally youthful Rob from ’70s pop shows.

It was one of those ‘I remember where I was when I heard’ moments.

Others in that category for me were the shock deaths of Norman Kirk (I was babysitting the neighbour’s kids in Woburn), Elvis Presley (driving along the Hutt Road), John Lennon (at home in Newtown), Princess Di (on the phone in Kent Terrace), Steve Irwin (at Christchurch airport) and Rod Donald (driving through the Paremata roundabout). 

Now perhaps the first word that leaps to mind at such times is tragedy.

But just be careful there.

Because to call any death a tragedy is to dice with a wholly inappropriate emotion, comedy.

You see, the word tragedy means ‘goat song’.

It’s from the Greek tragoidia.  (Tragos = ‘goat’. Oidia = ‘song’.)

Clear as muck? 

Well, it so happened ancient Greek plays were semi-religious affairs. And naturally, this meant a goat had to be sacrificed. (To the god of wine, of all people.)

Then the chorus would sing a song of sacrifice.

A ‘goat song’.

Some actors would act the goat too.  Or half the goat anyway. They’d dress up as satyrs. These were men from the waist up, and goats the rest of the way down.

For a reason that’s now lost in the mists of time, the main event took on the name of the curtain raiser.

And so, as we mourn New Zealand’s finest exponent of musical theatre, it might be more respectful – or at least more etymologically correct – to call the passing of Rob Guest a tremendous loss rather than a tragedy.