WorkSafe's danger-detecting meerkats in latest health and safety campaign cost $400,000 to develop

The computer-generated meerkats cost $400,000 to develop, the Herald on Sunday has revealed.
The computer-generated meerkats cost $400,000 to develop, the Herald on Sunday has revealed. Photo credit: WorkSafe / YouTube

Digital meerkats featured in WorkSafe's latest campaign came with a hefty price tag, according to reports - the computer-generated creatures costing the taxpayer $400,000.

The meerkats are the stars of WorkSafe's latest advertisements, which have appeared across multiple platforms since October. In the ads, the meerkats - a creature with an incredible ability to detect danger - pop up to signal looming peril in the workplace. 

The premise of the campaign is that workers, like meerkats, have the ability to sense danger - and should be using their instincts to sniff out possible threats to the safety of their colleagues. The $2.7 million 'You Can Sense It, You Can Stop It' campaign aims to improve awareness of risks in the workplace, the health and safety regulator explained in October

However, the Herald on Sunday has now revealed the bespoke, computer-generated critters cost $400,000 to develop - a revelation that prompted ACT Party leader David Seymour to question the use of taxpayers' money.

"When I find out which minister was responsible for this idiocy, they will need to upgrade their workplace safety plan," he told the Herald.

"Every hard-working taxpayer, worker, and employer who's ever been browbeaten half to death by Worksafe will be ropeable."

Advertising agency FCB pitched the meerkats as a "physical manifestation" of the ability to sense danger, a basic human survival instinct.

"We want people to notice workplace incidents before they happen. To spot the risk and imagine the potential harm, even when it's not obvious. Then say or do something to stop it," FCB said in its pitch to WorkSafe. 

"We all have a feeling if something's not right, or something bad is about to happen."

The project received approval from WorkSafe's board after three focus groups, spanning 22 people, were held in Auckland to test the meerkat concept, the Herald reports. The respondents understood the symbolism of the meerkats and the underlying message, which gave the regulator confidence to proceed with the idea.

WorkSafe chief executive Phil Parkes told the Herald on Sunday the meerkats will be featured in an upcoming seatbelt campaign, as well as other messaging in the future. He said the CGI work on the meerkats was separated from the advertisement production, as the regulator intends to use the critters in a variety of formats.

"We are confident the benefits of the expenditure considerably outweigh the amount spent."

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood told the Herald he thought the $2.7 million budget was "reasonable", considering WorkSafe's status as New Zealand's primary health and safety regulator. He said the regulator has a responsibility to communicate and promote safe workplace practices, sometimes in "unexpected, attention-grabbing ways".

He also responded to Seymour's take on the campaign, claiming the Epsom MP wants to return to the "pre-Pike River days before WorkSafe existed" and put "even more New Zealanders at risk".

In the last five years, WorkSafe has recorded 363 workplace deaths and more than 120,000 workplace injuries resulting in a week away from work.

A formal evaluation of the campaign will be carried out in May.