Air New Zealand’s Pete the Kiwi Hopes to Be Advertising’s Next Beloved Spokesbird

Voiced by Sam Neill, mate!

Who says kiwis can’t fly?

Sure, these particular birds don’t have wings and are a flightless as Samsung’s ostrich. But that doesn’t deter Pete, the feathered free-spirit introduced via CGI in Air New Zealand’s cheeky first global brand campaign from True Limited.

Voiced by actor Sam Neill, our hero hops a plane in Los Angeles and turns on the charm to plug the carrier’s service and amenities, while acting as an animated brand ambassador for his homeland:

Shouldn’t Pete be crated up in the cargo bay? Ah well, he’s less foul than most folks you can wind up sitting next to on a plane. (Speaking of which, that’s a cute in-the-flesh cameo, Sam Neill. But you’re basically talking to yourself all the way to Auckland, mate!)

“Despite the desire to visit New Zealand, one of the greatest barriers to travel is the perception of distance, with some consumers thinking it’s more than 20 hours away,” Jodi Williams, general manager of brand and content marketing at the carrier, tells AdFreak.

The new work “aims to bust those myths and reinforce Air New Zealand’s key differentiator—an innovative in-flight offering enabling travelers to sit back, relax and enjoy the 12-hour direct service (from L.A.),” she adds.

Memorable marketing has long been on the airline’s flight plan, ranging from an epic Hobbit-themed safety video to “Cockpit Karaoke” with James Cordon and an Australian campaign starring Pete’s predecessor, Dave the Goose, voiced by actor Bryan Brown. (Both owe a debt, of course, to John Lewis’ infamous Monty the Penguin.)

Following Dave’s success “it seemed appropriate to develop a new character based off our national native bird,” says Williams, “and he’s flightless, so of course he’s going to enjoy flying Air New Zealand.”

Indeed, kiwis are famously emblematic of New Zealand, making Pete’s appearance feel especially on-point and organic. (We don’t affectionately refer to New Zealanders as “geese,” now do we?)

For viewers, there’s plenty to enjoy in Pete’s premiere. Neill’s voice work is top-flight—warm and playful, but not cloying or overly cute. Plus, there’s a wealth of fun details and jokes, such as Pete taking silly tourist selfies in the U.S., and informing a cabin attendant that he won’t need a straw for his beverage right before he starts slurping with his long, slender beak.

“Working with an animated character is always going to have its challenges, the biggest of which is that the main character is obviously not on set when you’re shooting,” Williams says. “You still need to ensure you get great reactions from the other talent, that they laugh or smile at the right moments and, particularly with a small bird, that their eye-line is correct. So this is where it becomes really important for the director to paint the picture for the talent and describe the way he moves and how they should react to him.”

Luckily, Plaza Films’ Paul Middleditch rises to the occasion. (You might recall that he went on the lam to skewer colonialism a few months back for Meat & Livestock Australia.)

“While CGI has its challenges, working with an animated character has also opened up a number of opportunities for us and created plenty of efficiencies,” says Williams. “We can have Pete talking in Mandarin or Spanish, for example, in our different markets, and repurpose some of the existing shots we used in the Australian ‘A Better Way to Fly’ campaign featuring Dave the Goose, but replacing him with Pete.”

Sounds like that goose is cooked. Later, Dave.

Of course, Pete is a new arrival on the Australasian airline ad scene, following in the furry footsteps of Qantas’ comically complain-y koala, who became a pop-culture icon of epic proportions. It’s too soon to say if Pete will soar to similar heights, but Air NZ is clearing him for takeoff in a major way.

“This is just the start of a three-year campaign, so you’ll be seeing a lot more of Pete in the coming months,” Williams says. “We’ve also created a number of shorter videos [you can watch them below] which talk more about our products, such as the innovative Economy Skycouch and Business Premier, or how easy it is to transit through Auckland on your way to Australia. This is where you’ll really start to see Pete’s lovable character develop. That said, we won’t be looking into merchandising opportunities at the moment.”

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.