The New Zealand government contracted a marketing company to the tune of $500,000 to make memes for three weeks during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been reported.
Advertising agency Topham Guerin was contracted by then Police Commissioner Mike Bush to produce 40 to 50 memes daily, warning people about the virus.
Memes circulated on social media included a black and yellow kiwi with the words "Be kind, stay home, save lives" that was posted and retweeted by celebrities and influencers.
But, according to RNZ news, many of the memes were thought to be confusing and the agency’s three-month contract was terminated by the Prime Minister’s department after just a few weeks.
"The content was confusing - it lacked a consistent style that a considered communications campaign would have - or it was just plain boring," a former communications adviser who worked on the government response told RNZ.
The adviser said memes urging people to stay home were set against beautiful pictures of the outdoors, which confused people.
One meme featuring a picture of Hobbiton was binned after police realised staff there had just lost their jobs. Other memes were not used at all.
The agency had created 20 memes on the eve of the first lockdown and insisted that all of them needed to be posted to social media.
Police had felt “under duress” to work with the agency even though they didn’t believe the “shitty memes” were helpful.
"It was a serious job and their claim to fame were shit memes,” the advisor said.
The Topham Guerin agency is best known for its work helping British conservatives and the Australian Liberal Party.
“We spent more time trying to stop their content being posted than what actually went out."
But a spokesperson for Topham Guerin, based in London, told RNZ that: "Sometimes shitty memes are effective.”