Monday, 23 April 2012

NO JOY IN CADBURY'S NEW MAGIC (Fin Review April 23)




Pity the poor ad man held hostage to a 600lb gorilla. Worse, imagine your most famous ad flouts every marketing principle you hold dear. Welcome to Cadbury’s.
Cadbury's wish to own the concept of ‘joy’, in the same way Coca Cola own ‘happiness’ and McDonalds own a combination of family ‘love’ and teenage coolness. Big brand marketers prefer to sell an emotion than worry about the calorific contents of the products.
So ‘joy’ it is then, plucked from a semiotics focus group as being the most consumer-friendly description of what you feel after devouring a bar or two of their latest offerings. (‘Bloated’ and ‘guilty’ might be two others, but unsurprisingly they never made it onto the whiteboard.)
But then it gets tricky. From an advertising point of view, depicting ‘joy’ in a compelling and insightful way is not as easy as it sounds. Even the most basic associations with the word quickly bring up both sex and religion, and we don't want to go there, so we come to more whimsical pursuits such as the joy of watching a toddler take its first steps or the joyful tears of an airport reunion. Hmmm. Not exactly riveting stuff, particularly since we know (but can’t admit) that attention-deprived, hormonally-driven teenagers are a large part of our target demographic. Music! Yes, music can definitely be a joyful experience, but one person’s music is another's muzak.
More importantly, how do you show joy and chocolate in tandem without showing people gorging themselves on the stuff? For several years, the answer in Australia was to show a world where everything was made of chocolate, including the people, all set to a catchy Beach Boys tune. Irritatingly tedious, the only joy to be had watching the ads was imagining the awkward conversations between animators and clients as they decided whether it was PC or not to have blond-haired kiddies with chocolate coloured skin.
After a series of international PR disasters that included salmonella poisoning and treasure hunts in graveyards, Cadbury's in 2007 were desperate to try anything to halt the decline in sales. Top UK creative agency Fallon convinced them that you couldn't rationally depict ‘joy’, you had to simply feel it in the ad. Emotionally. This goes against the grain of everything marketers are taught to believe in. Showing how desperate they must have been, Cadbury’s marketing team tore up the FMCG handbook and let Fallon creative director Juan Cabral (creator of Sony’s famous ‘Balls’ ad) go crazy.
Picking the precise moment Phil Collins’ drum solo comes crashing in midway through ‘In The Air Tonight’ may not be everyone's idea of joy, but it worked for me. And for millions of others, who eagerly downloaded the ad off YouTube, enjoyed the same thrill, empathized with the earnest ape and got caught up in the hype. Was the gorilla real? (No.) Was it Phil Collins in a gorilla suit? (No.) Over the ensuing months, sales apparently picked up by a healthy 9%. The ad won the Grand Prix at Cannes.
Cabral continued his creative revolution with a freakish ad that still resonates (certainly with my teen) as a firm favourite; the two kids with the dancing eyebrows. Traditional marketers were baffled.
Meanwhile in Cadbury’s marketing corridors, it is now clear, the counter-revolution was gathering pace. Where’s the reason to believe? Where’s the product shot? Where’s the consumer benefit? Usage? The insight? Disappointingly, Saatchi & Saatchi Sydney (in partnership with Fallon) have gone straight back to marketing 101, with a new campaign that ticks all the right boxes, oozes focus group approval, and is devoid of any spark of charm or originality.
Airily dismissing the Gorilla on his back as “a one off execution,” local marketing manager Ben Wicks launched his new campaign claiming it’s “a bigger idea than ever before.” Proud of its similarity to the 'Wouldn't it be nice' positioning, he boasts it’s an “holistic idea that will survive for many years.” 

Somehow I doubt it. Called “Welcome to Joyville”, it’s a weak copy in concept and execution of Coke’s “Happiness Factory” combined with dollops of Willy Wonka. “We are creating magic,”

 claims Wicks, serving up the tale of a fantasy factory, powered by carousels but no kids (musn’t encourage obesity), grumpy old men in flying machines and grinning purple Oompa Loompa rip-offs. ‘Joy’, we learn, is “the secret ingredient.” Perhaps, but it needs wit and humour to spice it up. It’s a familiar idea that was done more engagingly by Coke, Triple M, Intralot, and Hahn Super Dry.
Last November, Saatchi’s freshly installed team of CEO Michael Rebelo and ECD Damon Stapleton promised the "most audacious and progressive" creative work in Australia, words that happen to describe ‘Gorilla.’ Instead, they’ve given us a viewing experience that is – ironically – joyless.

GOOD SHIP LABOR HOLED BY TITANIC TAX (Fin Review April 20)



A fascinating new mini-series that was launched this week depicts one of the great tragedies of our time: the sinking of the “unsinkable” Australian Labor Party. Each new episode explores the calamity from the point of view of a different character.

Scripted by Sir Julia Fellowes (author of long-running popular period drama Downtown Canberra) the series aims to set the record straight for once and for all about the events that led to one of history’s most epoch-defining disasters.

Sir Julia, who controversially took over scriptwriting duties mid-way through the first draft because she was unhappy about the chaotic organization and directionless approach to the project, has now taken full responsibility for how it all pans out. “There will be no happy endings in any production I lead,” she famously (and accurately) maintained.
        
As the vessel heads inexorably towards the fateful night of the 2013 election, viewers get to repeatedly experience the extraordinary events leading up to those final calamitous moments as the Labor Party is struck by a gigantic, immovable Carbon Tax, and sinks without a trace into the darkness below. In the final horrific minutes, members of the party and fellow travellers attempt to scramble to safety, but are sucked downwards by the sheer force of the anti-Labor vote. Even those clinging to floating preferences or hoping to clutch onto the passing debris of a New England independent or inner-city Green get sucked under. Keen viewers will note that in one of the many flashbacks a canny character known only as Barmy Bob manages to slip overboard and swim to safety in Tasmania. Sadly, his paramour Christine suffers a very different fate.

Ignoring all warnings, the hapless pilot of the doomed ship, Captain Swan, steers the vessel directly into the path of voter anger and treacherous cash floes. On a moonless night, he seems stubbornly insouciant to the dangers posed by the sea of taxes, imposts, and wasteful spending, any of which could punch a hole in the ship at any moment. In one of the many fascinating historic details, viewers learn that the shipbuilders were forced to borrow a hundred million dollars a day just to keep the whole enterprise afloat whilst, incredulously, squandering billions more on an archaic Wireless Message Network, which fails to save them.

Although the script is fast-paced, involving everything from a huge surge of illegal immigrants found hiding below decks to a luxurious ballroom where prostitutes frolic with credit card fraudsters, the dialogue is particularly cheesy, with unconvincing lines such as “we’re all moving forward” and “he has my full confidence” sounding insubstantial and trite.

For a costume drama, it leaves much to be desired. Grey suits with blue or red ties are the norm, although one bizarre character inexplicably wanders the decks dressed in a long black robe and silk tie yelling at everybody to leave the chamber. Visual relief comes from the exotic array of suit jackets and skirts worn by the enigmatic character known only as “Juliar,” a tragic cameo role played by the scriptwriter herself.

The mini-series’ great strength - and weakness – is that its plot is pre-determined. Indeed we know within the first few minutes of the “Budget back in Surplus” episode that most of the diesel rebates and other crucial business lifeboats have been jettisoned, leaving small and big companies floundering in a sea of red and green tape. Meanwhile, vast sums of money have been wasted on extravagant projects such as wind turbines on the upper decks to try and keep the sinking vessel afloat, all to no avail.

The series’ overriding theme is an intricate study of the class prejudices glaringly prevalent at the time. The wealthy mining moguls who sip champagne on the western deck spend most of their time buying newspapers and even radio stations. Loud and boorish, they concoct all sorts of fanciful plots about CIA involvement in sabotaging coal supplies. Meanwhile, the working classes struggle to earn a crust below decks, their suffering only relieved by generous “compensation” packages that in the end still don’t save them from drowning under the sheer weight of their energy bills. The insidious class conflict, a device contrived by the script doctors for purely narrative purposes, is overworked and soon wears thin. Nonetheless, crew members Wong, Shorten, Carr and Combet continually resort to class-ridden clich├ęs, attempting to portray themselves as heroes of the embattled workers whilst blaming everything that goes wrong on the one vaguely credible character who toils away in the boiler-room wearing nothing but a hard hat and a pair of speedos.

Critics have compared the series with film-maker Doug Cameron’s 2007 blockbuster epic – unsuccessfully re-released earlier this year – in which Captain Rudd heroically steers the vessel to safety and is greeted at the docks by cheering throngs of Gold Coast school kiddies.

COUNTERPOINT INTERVIEW March 26

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/counterpoint/rowan-dean/3909192

COUNTERPOINT INTERVIEW April 23

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/counterpoint/mad-men/3962716

BOB DOES A BOB




There was something unsettling about watching Bob Brown ask Bob Carr his first questions in the Senate several weeks ago, but it only became apparent why it was such a creepy experience with Brown's abrupt resignation last week. The reason, of course, is that these two characters are so similar. It was like Tweedle-di-dee criticizing Tweedle-di-dum. Like B1 having a go at B2. Or Herge’s Thompson and Thomson trying to outfox each other. Oddly unconvincing. So it came as no surprise that Bob-with-a-B decided to exit the political fray in precisely the same manner as Bob-with-a-C so deftly did all those years ago. Brown’s departure uncannily mirror’s Carr’s. Bob did a Bob.

The key to successfully doing a Bob is accurately gauging “the tipping point” (no, not that one) that occurs in all political stories. This is the moment just before the chickens come home to roost; where your achievements have yet to be recognized as hollow, self-serving shams that have done far more to harm the economic well-being of your electorate than any possible long-term good. If you jump at the right time the failures that you have instigated will be sheeted home to one – or indeed all - of your hapless successors. Doing a Bob requires a sense of timing as acute as that of any actor or sportsman. Nail it, and your threadbare achievements will be eulogized and your numerous errors glossed over, leaving a glowing legacy that you can put to good use while the electorate pick up the hefty bill.

Not surprisingly, both Bob's share many of the same physical and political traits, which they have used as powerful tools in their respective careers. Their height, the deep voices and the ramrod stance have given them both an air of statesman-like gravitas that their policies belied. The well-honed soundbites and attempts at humour have seen them both labeled as "good communicators." Yet both are awkwardly unfunny. Think of Carr’s tortuous “cheap hypnotist” routine, delivered in poor taste at a press conference on the Afghanistan massacre, or Brown’s “here comes the washing up” shtick. Strangely, their deadpan expressions, ponderous pontifications, quirky obsessions have been confused by fans as “charisma” or “intellect.” Neither man has ever shown any understanding of the hum-drum concerns of average working men and women, or the tedious nuts and bolts of a functioning infrastructure that the vast majority of the population rely upon for a satisfactory existence. Rather, the two Bob’s like to imagine themselves as out-of-this-world figures, saving the oceans and, of course, the planet. Alien civilisations, on this earth and elsewhere, are of great concern to them both. Bob’s role as a peacemaker in the centuries-old schism with Islam is only matched in self-delusional silliness by Bob’s role as intergalactic seer. The United Nations is the latest hobby of one, whilst a One World Parliament and expanding the Greens into Africa are the fantasies of the other.

When doing a Bob make sure you leave a crippling tax or two in place after you’re gone. For Carr it was the land and payroll taxes, which milked the boom years and have hampered NSW productivity ever since. Brown, of course, has gone much bigger. Interestingly, when you successfully do a Bob you yourself can side-step the irksome imposts you have inflicted upon everyone else. Carr quickly bought his second home in New Zealand, out of reach of his own Treasury, whilst if Brown pursues his global dreams, they’ll be unburdened by his own carbon price.

Both Bobs hate dams. Bob Brown’s saving of the Franklin may be the shiny spot on his CV, but it led to the demonizing of dams in this country, with hugely adverse effects on farming, industry and clean energy generation. Bob Carr was responsible for killing off the Welcome Reef dam, thereby condemning Sydney to water shortages and the farcical two billion-dollars wasted on the Kurnell desalination plant. Both Bobs have saved a lot of trees, but at a significant cost, with the Greens agenda and Carr’s own national parks leading to increased bushfire hazards and, obviously, unemployment.

In order to do a Bob, you must make your decision to step down appears spontaneous and unplanned. For Carr, it was “over a bottle of Chardonnay” that he chose to “spend more time with my wife” and get “more recreation.” "I've got no plans, no job offers," he claimed, only to quickly snaffle up a lucrative job offer from Macquarie Bank.

For Brown, it was “during a trip to Africa” that he decided he needed to “get out more with Paul” for “bushwalking and photography.”

Catching the commentariat and press gallery unawares allows you to write your own legacy. "This has been a solid chapter in the Australian story,” claimed Carr, “the Olympics, the environment, the massive capital works, the focus on education, comforting the families of the Bali victims and (securing) NSW against such an attack.” Er, if you say so, Bob.

Brown boasts of “fairly taxing the resources boom and carbon polluters, to uniquely enable (funding) of a national disabilities insurance scheme, the Gonski education reforms, Denticare, renewable energy businesses, (and) a High Speed Rail linking our major cities.” Really? We shall see.

The good thing about doing a Bob is that what politically occurs after you’re gone is irrelevant. If your less-talented colleagues start fighting amongst themselves, it only makes you look better. If they do badly in the next election – which by definition they will - it only makes your wins more impressive. Which is, of course, the key point in doing a Bob. What this apparently selfless and generous tactic enables you to do is to go out never having been voted out, thereby setting yourself up for the inevitable heroic comeback further down the track, preferably straight into a cushy job of your own choosing at the taxpayers expense that offers you a chance to indulge your fantasies on a far grander stage.

Want the world at your feet? Do a Bob.











WHEN FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION (Spectator leader April 20)




"All political lives… end in failure." Not so. We are delighted to say that in Australia there are a few notable exceptions to this rule. Bob Brown is to be congratulated for joining Bob Menzies  in defying Enoch Powell’s iron-clad law of political survival by resigning, like them, at the peak of his powers. Knowing when to jump is the one sure way of ensuring a satisfactory political legacy in these treacherous days of Prime Ministers being stabbed in the back by their own parties, or being unceremoniously bundled out of parliament by their own constituents.

Although Bob Brown never made it to PM, he came as close as a minority party leader ever can. Uncomfortably close, as the country is about to learn with the introduction of the unpopular carbon tax, the pointless mining tax, and whatever other rotting bones Wayne Swan intends to throw to the rabid Greens in his imminent “back to surplus” budget.

Less than three hours after our editorial last week had hit the newsstands – in which we called for the mainstream media to take a closer look at the more extreme and damaging aspects of Brown’s ideology - the Senator had run up the white flag and decided to call it quits. We’d love to take the credit, but the more likely explanation is that Brown, having sifted through the entrails of the Queensland election, realized that the Greens have peaked and its downhill from here on in. The threat from Katter in the senate and unwavering polls pointing to a Coalition victory would have been ringing in his ears as much as the pleas from his partner for them to spend more time together. Clearly, Brown has no desire to be branded a failure.

Enoch Powell and Robert Menzies would be impressed.


MINING - MADONNA OR WHORE? (Fin Review April 16)


Two ads released last week neatly expose Australia’s Madonna/whore relationship with the mining industry. In the first campaign for the Minerals Council of Australia, mining is our great provider, nourishing us with all that we desire. In the other campaign, from the Hunter Valley Protection Society, mining is a trashy callgirl whose solicitations will corrupt our way of life.

Reprising their successful 2010 “Keep Mining Strong” campaign style of punchy headlines, bar graphs, long body copy and unstylish art direction, the Minerals Council of Australia hope to pre-empt any further imposts or taxes in the upcoming budget. “Australian Mining. It’s not a bottomless pit” is a great headline, and the copywriter is no doubt patting himself or herself on the back. It neatly nails the new strategy, which has shifted subtly away from the campaign that helped bring down Kevin Rudd. (In one of the great advertising ironies, the campaign was masterminded by Neil Lawrence, also responsible for the Kevin07 campaign that brought Rudd to power.) Implicit in this latest headline, however, is a subliminal acceptance of the recent idea that mining is in a special category all of its own – not like all those other everyday businesses – and has a unique role to play as the nation’s chief bread-earner. Mining is the mother figure who will comfort and protect us from that nasty, cold economic world outside. Courtesy of the current resources boom, and the idea that mining “saved” us from the GFC, the accepted wisdom now appears to be that mining has a moral duty to share its bounty far and wide. This is a new idea, and one that comes from the near-hysterical criticism from Wayne Swan, Bob Brown and others that mining was hitherto not paying its full whack. Yet by happily acknowledging that mining is, if not bottomless, then at least a very deep pit the ad feeds back into this narrative and accepts, almost acknowledges, that it is the next best thing to a magic financial pudding. In doing so, it runs the risk of subtly undermining (resources pun intended) its own argument.

Already, Rudd supporter and ex-Union boss Senator Doug Cameron has drawn the same conclusion: "They may not be a bottomless pit but they are a huge pit," he said. "This is an industry that in 2009/10 made $51 billion worth of profits.”
Ex-fitter and welder Cameron presumably believes the higher your profits, the higher your taxation rate should be. The Scottish-born senator would have witnessed the success of such ideas throughout 1960’s Britain, with super wealth taxes of 99p in the pound, and a country brought to its knees as investment and wealth creators fled abroad. Yet thanks to his and others efforts, there is now an assumption that each and every one of us Australians “deserve” to get our hands on a decent slab of the mining loot. It is our birthright, apparently. Premier Campbell Newman has neatly twisted this concept to his own advantage, declaring that Queenslanders alone should benefit from Queensland mining wealth.
As this latest ad details, without actually using the phrase, the mining industry already is set to pay more than its fair share of taxes. What it now fears is deductions on exploration and on depreciation of assets will also be removed, threatening investment. As Mitch Hooke has pointed out, this flies in the face of “what has been a fundamental platform of Australian tax policy– you do not tax business inputs.” Not so mining, it may soon appear.

Meanwhile, a new TV campaign goes head to head with APPEA’s recent “We want coal seam gas (CSG)” campaign. Only now we get “the real facts” from the Hunter Valley Protection Society. The argument is that CSG mining will destroy, rather than save, the Hunter’s existing businesses, job market and property values.  The wine and tourism industries, built up over 200 years, are now being threatened by the seductive but fickle mining industry, which only “has a life span of 15 to 40 years.” The ad also claims the government can’t assess projects properly because “most scientists in the field work for the mining industry.” Mining, in this instance, is a flighty, destructive interloper responsible for all sorts of nasty spills, leaks and explosions. Although the ground may well move for you (literally) if you fall into this harlot’s “pockmarked” embrace, the ad concludes that CSG mining will “be the death of the Hunter valley.”

It appears we are keen to help ourselves to the mountains of cash that mining earns so long as we don’t actually have to get into bed with her.