Friday, 29 April 2011


I've cracked it. I've worked out how to solve the Middle East conflict. Forget local government boycotts, road maps, conferences and all the other hopelessly flawed hoopla. There is only one way to bring peace to the Middle East.
We do it with advertising. 
Here's my plan. We get each of the main players to do a proper ad campaign, selling the benefits of living in their countries to each other. Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinians - Hamas and Fatah will have to do two separate campaigns - Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait and of course Israel will all take part.
I bags working on the Israel account.
Here's how it works. Every country runs a series of full page print ads, backed up by tv commercials, radio spots, websites and letter drops - in other words a major, fully integrated campaign - throughout the Middle East. The point of the ad campaigns is to get people to fill in the coupon at the bottom of the page, or if they want, to apply online, to come and live in whichever country they choose, based solely on the ads. Anyone can go and live in any country they want to, but they can only pick one destination, and there is no changing your mind. Once you've chosen, that's it, that's your new life. So, for example, if you are living in the rubble of a burnt out block of flats in Benghazi you can choose to go and live in a swish apartment in downtown Al Khor if that is what you decide after falling in love with the "Where else but Qatar?" campaign. Or if you're at your wits end with life on the West Bank, apply online and you're off to a life of luxury in a high rise in Rhiyad.
There's only one catch. The ads have to be legal, honest, decent and truthful. That is to say, they have to meet all the standards that normal, everyday product ads are forced to abide by. No propaganda. No spin. Just the truth, told well; as McCanns would say.
You are allowed to run as many ads as you like, focussing on as many benefits as you like that you think will persuade people to come and live in your country. You may compare yourself to your competitors - for example, by contrasting your schools and kindergartens with those of your next door neighbors - but as with all ethical advertising you are not allowed to demonize the competition or make false claims about their brand. So unfortunately for numerous Arab states their government sponsored literature and news programmes claiming that Jews are all pigs who will drink the blood of your babies won't be admissible, because that falls under the heading of "unfair and misleading" which means it's a no-no. (I know they've spent squillions on such material but maybe they could pulp it all and recycle the paper.)  
The brief is an open one. So, for example, if you think you have a superior track record on women's rights, then say so. As a guide, here are some of the many topics I think the campaigns should address: universal healthcare, democratic principles, wealth distribution, women's and minorities' rights, gay rights, care for the environment, care for the elderly and disabled, primary, secondary and tertiary education, freedom of expression and employment opportunities. Ticking all these boxes in a positive way will go a long way to attracting the target audience (ie everybody, and don't forget that that includes women.) But don't be shy. If you think your legal system is vastly superior to everyone else's by all means spell it out - just bear in mind that the normal restrictions apply on what can and can't be shown on TV before 9pm. When advertising the benefits to the community of limb amputation for thieving, gang rape for apostasy, or death by stoning for adultery please ask your creative department to go easy on the blood and gore.
Lifestyle is important in advertising. You are permitted to use beautiful photography and eloquent prose to emphasize such "quality of life" issues as dining out, theatre, sport, retirement, the arts, musical festivals and other cultural attractions.
Financial and economic matters may appear at first glance a little dry. But don't hesitate to explain how your state reinvests it's sovereign wealth for the good of the whole community, with appropriate graphs and pictorial explanations. Just a note of caution: if you are not familiar with sharing the wealth of your nation beyond immediate family and friends, be aware that certain imagery can be misconstrued. Recent research throughout the region suggests that repeated references to billions stashed in private Swiss bank accounts accompanied by glossy pictures of lavish seaside villas, opulent palaces, fancy military uniforms, limousines and shopping trips to Knightsbridge - although at first glance extremely attractive from an advertising point of view  - tends to alienate, rather than reassure, key demographics.
Oh, and I almost forgot - no mention of religion. None whatsoever. Zilch. I know it's a big ask, but this is product based advertising and that's what the guidelines say. KFC manage to sell bucketloads of chicken without mentioning their fondness for the Disciples of Christ so why should it be any different for you? If your product's any good it will sell itself without relying on threats of eternal damnation or unsubstantiated claims of frolicking with virgins in the afterlife. 
I know I cheated and chose the easy brand for myself, but here's how I think things will pan out. Self-interest is a hugely motivating and powerful force. After having been exposed to all the ads, and having had time to absorb the benefits demonstrated by the diverse campaigns, self-interest will kick in. And based on mankind's universal and insatiable desire for personal freedom, opportunity for your offspring, liberty and equality; virtually every man, woman and child in the Middle East will want to move to Israel.
Impractical, I know. But it might make them a little less keen to blow the place up.

Copyright Rowan Dean 2011

Friday, 15 April 2011


You can tell everything you need to know about a product by the way it's being sold. As an advertising man, you quickly learn to recognize a dog of a product when you see one.

Thanks to its Unique Selling Proposition.

Advertisers have known for eons - it's the world's oldest profession, after all, pre-empting the other one by a matter of minutes - that consumers can only ever absorb one piece of information at a time about a new product. This one "fact" or single-minded thought will then become the way the consumer perceives the product, and the way they excitedly pass on the benefits of this new-fangled gizmo to others via word-of-mouth.

The new iPad is even cooler. The new Big Mac is a little bit fancy. The new Volvo is even safer. Nurofen works even faster. And so on.

But when the product itself doesn't actually work, or perform in the way it is supposed to, advertisers have become extremely skilled at concocting a new benefit with which to mesmerise the crowds. Otherwise no-one will buy it. The dodgier the product, the more outlandish the Unique Selling Proposition with which they tout it.

"You'll stand out in the crowd in our new car" actually means "it looks bloody awful." "Full of natural goodness" actually means "it tastes bloody awful." And "where the bloody hell are you?" obviously meant "nobody wants to come here any more."

"One million people will be better off" is the USP with which Greg Combet hopes to persuade the public to purchase his shiny new Carbon Tax.

I almost choked on my 100% natural grain Wheaties.

This really must be a crappy product.

There can only be one genuine and honest way to sell the Carbon Tax, and that is by advertising the fact that it will prevent anthropogenic warming from occurring. That's what the consumer wants. Full stop. Nothing else. It's like Mortein. I buy it because I have a nasty problem that needs eradicating - now! Excessive CO2 emissions around your home? Stop them dead with the new Carbon-Tax! Available at all good stores. Get your Carbon-Tax today and make pesky Climate Change a thing of the past.

It's instructive to think of how the GST was sold to a less than enthusiastic public.
Basically, it was the Castor Oil strategy - this stuff is going to taste slightly unpleasant, but it's going to do us all a power of (economic) good. And it worked. We bought it. Arguably, that is the only possible truthful and honest way of selling the Carbon Tax, too. Self-sacrifice for the greater good. In this case, of mankind.   

Yet despite all the hoopla and political shenanigans of the last few years (you soon lose count of how many U-turns, backflips and political stabbings have occurred in Canberra on the issue) and despite a massive teaser campaign across all media for more than a decade (rising sea-levels, end of the world, Al Gore, yadda yadda) astonishingly, “the greater good” isn’t the USP with which the government has chosen to sell this product.

Which must mean, to put it bluntly, that the product doesn't work.

Here's what happened behind the scenes. The advertising agency researched what a Carbon Tax might mean to people. They were seeking a single-minded proposition with which to flog it. To do so, they assembled typical groups of consumers - Mums and Dads, single parents, uni students; anyone, in fact, who was prepared to give up an evening for fifty bucks and some free food - and stuck them in groups of up to ten in specially designed research rooms in various locations dotted across the capital cities and outlying suburbs. These were the focus groups, and their every utterance would be observed, taped and scrutinized. The topic was Climate Change. To a man and a woman -apart from one or two irritating skeptics - the groups agreed "something must be done." The polite, well-spoken researcher then introduced the concept of a Carbon Tax. The focus groups were wary, but accepted the idea so long as it actually solved the problem of Global Warming. Sandwiches and pizza were handed around. The researcher then showed the groups numerous concepts that attempted to distill the idea that the Carbon Tax couldn't actually fix the problem in and of itself, but rather, was a pre-emptive action that would require many other changes throughout the world over which Australia has no control before any useful reduction in carbon emissions could or might occur. Things started to get a little sticky in the close confines of the research rooms. When, via a detailed analysis and discussion of variously spun phrases and carefully constructed catch-words the focus group cottoned on to the fact that the tax was not going to do what they hoped for, they became angry. And the advertising dudes, watching them from behind a specially built one-way mirror, became extremely nervous. At this point, the researcher, her hands sweating slightly, popped some different boards under the noses of the focus groups. These new concepts and phrases introduced the idea that some people, due to the structure of the rebates, would find themselves better off under the new tax. And suddenly the conversations took a dramatic turn. The focus groups became pacified. Heads started nodding. Then greed kicked in. And the more the focus groups became convinced that they as
individuals might be better off, the happier they became.

And forgot all about that pesky problem of eradicating Global Warming.

Meanwhile, behind the one-way mirror, the advertising folk and government consultants heaved an inaudible sigh of relief.

Now that they had found their USP, all they needed was a catchy phrase and the job was done.

One million people will be better off. You can't get any catchier than that.

copyright Rowan Dean 2011

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


It’s the most common question an advertising agency asks its new client. “How well do you know your own brand?” Knowing your own brand intimately – understanding its strengths and weaknesses, recognizing its opportunities and threats – is the most critical part of successfully selling your product. Conversely, altering pre-conceived ideas about your brand is a monumentally difficult task that carries enormous risks. In the recent NSW election, one famous household name attempted to do just that, and suffered because of it.

Pauline Hanson ignored her own brand.

The Pauline Hanson brand is one of the most potent, pungent and instantly recognizable brands in Australian politics. So strong, in fact, that its opponents will use it to smear each other when they’re feeling particularly desperate. In the past two years alone the “Hansonite” tag has been aggressively applied to all manner of Liberal, Labor and even Green policies.  It’s a headline grabber, and never fails to pack a punch. Which is because, like all-powerful brands, it generates an emotional as well as a rational reaction in the consumer. We love the Coke and Cadbury brands. They make us feel happy and joyful, evoking childhood memories. We admire the Apple and David Jones brands. They make us feel cool and affluent. We love or loathe the Hanson brand. It makes us fear or cherish who we really are, and dread what we might become.

But there is a big difference between the product and the brand. Bottles of sickly fizzy drink, bars of chocolate, malfunctioning iPods and rude DJ’s staff rarely live up to the promises of their much-loved brand names. The product all too often leaves a slightly empty aftertaste. But in the short term it doesn’t matter, because the strength of the brand means loyalists will keep coming back for more.

Pauline Hanson is no different. Over the years her product has varied in mass appeal, from attacks on Aboriginal welfare and Asian immigration, to a desire to dismantle injecting rooms and separate police powers from political interference. None of these products are of themselves compelling enough to account for the loyalty of her fans. That honour goes partly to her, the instantly recognizable spokesperson with the red hair and the unusual voice, but more importantly, it goes to her brand.

In a nutshell, the Pauline Hanson brand embraces political incorrectness. It flies in the face of accepted conventions, seeking to disrupt through provocative language and appeal to barely disguised base emotions. It aims to give voice to the unthinkable. By setting itself firmly in opposition to the status quo and the intelligentsia, it has huge appeal to the disgruntled and politically dispossessed. The phenomenal launch of the brand, at her inaugural parliamentary speech in 1996, was on a tectonic scale. The political ground shifted dramatically, and a tidal wave of fear and sympathy saw many of the pillars of conservatism severely challenged, if not swept away altogether. Despite having turfed her out of the Liberal party, John Howard, throughout his prime-ministership, laboured under the constant refrain from an indignant media that he had “stolen” or “adopted” Pauline Hanson’s policies.

Interestingly, despite lending herself and her values to the One Nation party, it is her own brand that has remained the most potent and most durable. Even though it enjoyed some initial political success, One Nation quickly spiraled out of control in a bizarre self-destructive parody of the whacky in-fighting that also destroyed their ideological polar opposites, the Democrats.

With only two weeks to go before the polls, Pauline Hanson launched herself into the NSW State Election. Her product was un-inspiring. But that needn’t have mattered. She was the instantly recognizable spokesperson, the face we all know, as irritatingly familiar as the Brandpower lady, or the Easy-Off BAM man. Clearly, she had no awareness or recognition problems to worry about.

The real folly was that she ignored her own brand, and instead of playing to her brand strengths, she attempted to shift perceptions of that brand.

Eager to appear reasonable, trustworthy, unthreatening and acceptable to the mainstream, she appeared to go out of her way to avoid controversy. I believe it was a mistake.

With limited airtime, and limited room to engage with the public, Pauline had only one real option. To re-ignite an emotional response to the brand. To let the brand sell her.

Pauline needed to provoke fear. She needed to be politically incorrect. She needed to scare the wits out of the intelligentsia. To rile and rattle. To challenge the accepted wisdom.

The issues were already there in abundance, begging to be grabbed. All she had to do was switch on talkback radio of an afternoon. Latching onto Eddie McGuire’s “falafel land” would have been a convenient starting point. Too many mosques in western Sydney? Anyone keen to ban the burqa? What about all those halal chicken burgers? Sharia law in Australia? Female circumcision? Already demonized as a racist beyond redemption by her political enemies, including the Prime Minister, the Pauline Hanson brand would have thrived and dominated the airwaves in the inevitable ferocious backlash.

Instead, by playing safe, she allowed herself to be ignored. She was a harmless, irrelevant distraction to the main game of removing the NSW ALP.

In an election where everybody, not just the “bogans” and the “rednecks”, was feeling disenfranchised and angry at mainstream politics, a provocative, politically incorrect Pauline speaking the unthinkable, daring to say the unsayable, would, I suspect, have easily won the requisite number of disgruntled voters to nab the upper house spot that she so narrowly missed out on.

It may now be too late for Pauline. She’s lost too many elections. She isn’t scary any more. The fire appears to have gone out of the fiery redhead. Seeking respectability, she is watering down her brand identity and homogenizing her provocative and potent brand attributes.

Hers is an ugly product to sell, but an effective one from a compelling brand and a credible spokesperson. Throughout Europe, a new wave of conservative and far right politicians are successfully selling their message to traditional working class voters by capitalizing upon fears of multiculturalism, or “multi-kulti” as the Germans call it. Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the extreme right-wing fear-monger Jean Marie Le Pen, is dominating recent opinion polls, to the extent that the attractive, well-spoken blonde now stands poised to grab the keys to the Elysees Palace in next year’s elections.

Maybe Pauline should look to her own daughter, Lee. An ugly product from a powerful brand sometimes just needs an attractive spokesperson.

copyright Rowan Dean 2011

Wednesday, 6 April 2011



The quivering bottom lip. The demon twinkle in the eye. The long pause to heighten suspense. It was so good to see Australia’s most vindictive political wordsmith back where he belongs recently, in front of the ABC cameras at 7.30 preparing to skewer his latest sworn enemy with a verbal barb dipped in venom and vitriol.
I could barely contain my excitement as I settled down to witness the Master-of-the-Tongue-Lashing at work. Would this latest cruel turn of phrase – destined to enter the lexicon of Australian political invective - be as exquisitely patronizing as the sadistically observed “running around shopping malls tripping over television cables” or as vindictive as “scumbags” and “unrepresentative skill?” Only one thing was for sure, given the documented animosity between the former Prime Minister and his latest target, the next Leader of the NSW Opposition John Robertson, this one was going to be a vintage toe-curler. 
Only it wasn’t.
“Lacking in Moral Authority” was the lackluster phrase that finally lumbered forth. I stared at the screen in dismay. What on earth had happened to the famed poison tongue? Had it been cut off and left to wander around like the one in the beer ads? Had the author of every conceivable insult from “mangy maggot” to “perfumed gigolo” lost his way with words? Had the Lizard of Oz ever before trotted out a construct as dull, bland and unworthy of his own linguistic legacy as “Lack of Moral Authority?” 
I shook my head in disbelief as Mr Keating awkwardly fleshed out his argument. Apparently, we now learn, it’s not enough to crunch the numbers, bully the waverers, knife your opponents, and blackmail the doubters. Now, to lead a political party in Australia you must possess this shiny, new, and hitherto unheard of quality. Moral Authority.
Mentally freewheeling around the phrase itself I found myself conjuring up images of the Pope, Mother Theresa, Bobby Kennedy, Bob Geldof, Desmond Tutu and a host of other saintly figures. Without a doubt, they all possessed Moral Authority by the bucketload. Some of them practically invented it. I struggled to match these quasi-religious types with my pre-conceived notions of John Robertson (union thug), Barry O’Farrell (north shore accountant), Kristina Keneally (ivy league cheer leader), Nathan Rees (council gardener), Bob Carr (nerd), Nick Greiner (soccer dad) or Neville Wran (spiv). Nope. Moral Authority did not spring to mind as being a commodity found clogging the hallways of Macquarie Street.
Not to be dissuaded, I set out to track down any examples of Moral Authority associated with other Australian political leaders. According to Google, our second-longest serving Prime Minister John Howard never possessed it at all, not even a skerrick of it, and by all accounts Kevin Rudd lost his somewhere in transit. (On a baggage carousel in Dubai I suspect.) Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott both scrambled all over each other in a frenzied attempt to get their hands on the elusive little sucker in the mayhem following last year’s election, but it proved to be a particularly slippery object that managed to get completely lost in the melee. Perhaps Bob Katter picked it up and hid it under his hat.
So I headed back further in time. Did Bob Hawke ever possess it? The only thing that comes close to Moral Authority in Bob’s CV is his honest admission that he liked to “put it about a bit” and had decided to quit the booze and fags for a spell. Close, Bob, but no cigar(ette).
Then suddenly I thought I’d found it. Malcolm Fraser and Moral Authority at first blush appear like two peas in a pod. They even alliterate. Malcolm’s grasp on Moral Authority is awesome to behold. Alas, as I quickly realized it’s a phrase he bandies around freely when he’s criticizing everybody else for their lack of it – but I could find no evidence whatsoever of he himself ever having possessed the damn thing in the first place. Malcolm used to get extremely hot and bothered about The Lack of Moral Authority practically every time John Howard so much as sneezed. Iraq? Lack of Moral Authority. Aborigines? Lack of Moral Authority. Asylum seekers? You get the drift. Perversely, I’m not sure what the visual definition of a Lack of Moral Authority might be, but one can’t help feeling that the dubious image of a former PM stumbling around a dodgy Memphis hotel looking for his trousers probably fits the bill. Lack of Trousering Authority, perhaps.
Interestingly, Malcolm’s entire post-Prime Ministerial career appears to be one long, tragic quest – reminiscent of Monty Python’s search for the Holy Grail - to earn himself a dollop of Moral Authority, but no matter how close he gets to it, it will always elude him.
For one simple reason, according to Mr Keating. And that is that you can never possess Moral Authority if you’ve stabbed an existing leader in the back. In John Robertson’s case, that’d be Morris Iemma.
At this point in the interview we received - finally! - some vintage Keating imagery; “the dead men and women of Labor hung around John’s neck”. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. The old bastard’s still got it, I conceded to myself. Now I could relax. A few moments later there was other half-hearted stab at a classic Keatingism, involving Mr Robertson “jumping on and off buses”, but that was obviously just a poor cousin of the “tripping over television cables” quip, so no points there I’m afraid.
But back to the argument. If Leader Assassination disqualifies you from possessing MA then Malcolm’s quest is futile (we all know he wielded the knife on Gough, no matter how much he protests the opposite), as is Bob’s (just ask Bill Hayden), and Julia’s is an absolute no-no. Embarrassingly, as was quick to be pointed out by many a pundit, that criteria also disqualifies Paul Keating himself.
And what of John Robertson? Does he really deserve the epithet of Lacking in Moral Authority? Let’s face it; his notoriety rests on the day he took it upon himself to physically shut down the NSW Labor Government by all means necessary. Based on what we now know of that shambolic lot, you could argue that gives him all the Moral Authority he needs.