How ghost chips became New Zealand’s favourite fast food


Who would have guessed that giving away ghost chips could save lives? The people behind the Legend don’t drink and drive advert could not in their wildest dreams have expected it to have become such a runaway hit.

That’s because the Land Transport Safety Authority advert aimed at young Maori male drivers (and others) has gone viral, taken on a life of its own and become a New Zealand internet meme.

Not only has it nailed its target demographic, it has become a popular cultural touchstone. The over 1,200,000 views on YouTube since it was posted on October 20 illustrate just how wildly popular it has become.



Ghost chips have even been sold on Trade Me and the You Know I Can’t Grab Your Ghost Chips Facebook page has achieved over 26,000 Likes.

Meanwhile, the election campaign has also given it legs in this version on the Labour Party’s Red Alert blog. And there’s this witty and satirical hip hop remash by The Cuzzies that has achieved 170,000 views and is becoming an internet smash in its own right.



Designed by Clemenger BBDO and directed by Steve Ayson, the Legend ad was first screened on television before the Rugby World Cup final last month. Its success is in part due to the different approach taken from the usual menu of don’t drink and drive themes that we have become accustomed to.

This time shock and horror are out. Instead the focus is on making a right choice – by “internalising a complicated situation” (another phrase that has also become a mini-meme) – a choice that doesn’t result in being haunted by a dead mate and his ghost chips.

Like other spontaneous New Zealand internet memes including Always Blow On The Pie and Nek Minnit, ghost chips are now part of the country’s vernacular.

It’s enormous fun watching memes multiply. This may be because clever memes make us laugh. People compete to come up with results that are more ‘out there’ and hilarious than those that came before. Memes also have a short life span. Try as you might, you can’t reverse engineer a meme. Make a meme, and more often than not, it will fall flat. They arrive unexpectedly, they multiply like an algal bloom and they die when the oxygen of relevancy runs out.

If you are still unsure about what constitutes a meme, see this Wikipedia explanation or better still, this segment of a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. It is encapsulated in this exchange between super nerds, Sheldon and Amy.

Amy: Are you familiar with meme theory?

Sheldon: I’m familiar with everything, but go on.

Amy: Meme theory suggests that items of gossip are like living things that seek to reproduce using humans as their host.

Sheldon: I am no stranger to memetic epidemiology. At Johnson Elementary School, the phrase Shelly Cooper is a smelly pooper spread like wildfire.

Amy: I should think so. That’s gold!

If an original theme that sparked a meme fest wasn’t embarrassing enough (remember Princess Beatrice’s hat at this year’s Royal Wedding?), topical enough (the Obama White House situation room) or clever enough (ghost chips), why would anyone get out the Photoshop and bother?

You could say that another way to describe meme theory is to say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The creators of ghost chips should be flattered because what they came up with is, in Amy Farrar-Fowler’s word, gold.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...


  1. Stewart Haynes Reply

    There is no doubt that this campaign has struck a chord with a cross section of Kiwis that are comfortable having a laugh at the expense of actors portraying a sub-set of uneducated, inarticulate Maori youth. Yes, many are sharing this on social networks and the brilliant one-liners from the campaign are being randomly repeated around water coolers for comedic effect. To this end the campaign is very successful and it has won many fans and accolades – but will “young Maori male drivers” see beyond the hard-case humour? And if we are honest – will this campaign really save lives?

    1. Thomas Scovell Reply

      Hey Stewart,

      I just stumbled across this article… coincidentally I did a presentation about memes, with specific reference to the Legends TVC on the day it was posted. I also addressed the issue of whether the ad was effective, or merely fun in that presso. 

      I’ll paste a section from the presentation that addresses your question below. It is from my notes, and may need some context but it gets across some of my thoughts.

      Disclaimer: I work for Clemenger BBDO in Wellington who created the ad with NZTA. But I didn’t work on it.

      Which is great – the ad is popular, we can see how it is helping the audience talk to each other, about all sorts. But is it effective?

      Let’s take closer look at one of the many Fan pages, “you know I can’t grab your ghost chips”. The owner of the page is posting all sorts of related items to keep the page’s audience entertained. But not only that, he is constantly bringing it back around to the message. Try this:

      “what’s everyone up to for the weekend and please no drinking and driving the only ghost chips we wanna look at are the ones on the LEGEND ad..oh and on the page of course much love to everyone for the likes..o for or sum lol”

      I had a chat with the page owner, he’s a 29 year old Māori chap from Waikato. This was the first time he’d created a Facebook page. He was compelled to because he felt the message really resonated with his community, and young people like them, and wanted to see that it reached them as well as possible.

      In his own words he wanted to, “portray a positive message while using the advert and it’s quotations to help people on the page realize the importance of drink driving”.

      He appears to have no formal training in marketing or digital but has been using the Facebook page tools well, including using the analytics tool to determine what type of posts his page’s followers respond to. He posted publicly his goal was to create the highest quality page (the most relevant and entertaining to the target audience) rather than gain the most fans.

      He natively understands the use of memes to carry messages.

      He seems like he’d be the big brother of the advert’s audience, looking out for them.

      Looking at another page, “i’ve been internalising a really complicated situation in my head.” Off their own bat, the owner of that page ran a poll, “does the humour of the ad distract from the message”. 90% agreed it didn’t.

      In an answer to the poll a fan described how a meme can both be used by the audience in their life, and still carry a businesses message,

      “How many guys are going to pull up there mate and be all ‘Bruce, I’m concerned you’re going to drive drunk.’ But they may go ‘Bruce – you drive tonight and you better not give me your ghost chips!’. It starts the ‘don’t drive drunk’ convo.”

      Or another way. If one of the advert’s target audience are at a party. certainly the TVC’s message will be in their head somewhere, but it is when someone makes a crack about ghost chips, or they reach into a packet of chips, that the message is triggered.

      The advert has given the audience a way to talk about not drinking and driving that is comfortable, and has given trigger moments that make these conversations and thoughts happen. The way people speak and spread memes in digital spaces has helped to reinforce these trigger moments.

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