Clemenger BBDO Wellington 21 Gladeye 47 Glue Society Revolver OMD Beatworms CODEWORDS

  • Pou Auaha / Creative Directors
    Brigid Alkema, Mark Dalton
  • Pou Rautaki / Strategic Leads
    Andy Graham, Lisa Divett
  • Ringatoi Matua / Design Directors
    JP Twaalfhoven, Alex Metson, Frances Cooke, Pete Baker
  • Ngā Kaimahi / Team Members
    Gus Benger, Tim Thach, Mike Gwyther, Steve Hansen, Alana Allen, Sally Hooper, Tane Morris, Christina Hazard, Carne Godfrey
  • Kaitautoko / Contributors
    Derek Henderson, Cam Ballantyne, Jason King
  • Client
    New Zealand Defence Force

Brief and Context

For 18–24yr olds, the idea of a military career often jarred. They didn’t see a place for themselves in NZDF. It represented a loss of identity. A place where they wouldn’t belong. Fuelled by Hollywood, their parents, and assumptions.

And post-pandemic, more than ever, rangatahi are searching for connection.

Reality is, NZDF can help them forge bonds like nowhere else. We needed to show that the connection our audience was seeking could be found there in spades.

The Idea

CODEWORDS: unexpected words that unlock the deepest of mateships in NZDF.

We showcased the strength of bonds in NZDF, by feeding pairs of mates a word only they would recognise live on camera – sparking real, emotional, funny, epic shared stories. The 15 CODEWORDS were then teased to our audience to discover their unexpected origins.

Wrapped in a social and digital-first campaign fit for how our audience consume content, our mobi-first site gave our audience an unfiltered insight into the depth of connection that life in NZDF could offer – and the extraordinary experiences that forged them.

· Highest ever Tik Tok engagement for a government campaign: 1,300% above benchmark
· 9.11% CTR
· Registrations: +66%
· Web conversion rate: +99%
· Average time on site for engaged viewers: 7.5mins

User Experience

We stepped away from traditional recruitment advertising, designing it for how our audience consumes content.

Short and sharp is key to hooking our audience. Our first phase teased our CODEWORDS. Bite-sized TikTok teasers got viewers tapping. Cryptic street posters got them scanning. Embracing dual-screening, scannable cinema and VOD spots were gamified to getting people scanning, fast.

Deep dives:
Our audience deep dives when the content is relatable and relevant. Tapping or scanning led them straight to each story, housed on a bespoke mobi-first site that fed more stories, while letting us capture leads.


Our audience lives on their phone, so CODEWORDS was shot for vertical. An off-white panel became the vertical frame for our stories to told within. The military environment became the border, framing the context of each story. Photography references the street-fashion world, keeping our talent heroic, yet relaxed. Styling broke military convention: rolling sleeves; ditching caps; shaking the stiffness of uniforms. Casual poses told the story of connection. All making it real and relatable.

Our CODEWORDS celebrated connections of every form – across culture, gender and beliefs. Māori and Tongan CODEWORDS were left without English translations. Typography is clean and contemporary, heroing each CODEWORD and QR code ­– an inherent call-to-action that trusted our audience’s savviness to scan to find the meaning.


We found 13 pairs (and one trio) of inseparable mates – who’d grown to form some of the deepest bonds of their lives through their work.

We pre-interviewed them to uncover a single word that unlocked their story. Then filmed them live as they were fed their CODEWORD – capturing all the banter, emotion, and authentic connection it sparked.