Saturday, 23 July 2011


If you want to win lots of international awards and make a name for yourself in the advertising world, there's nothing better than knocking out a quick scam ad. Scam ads are ads designed to be highly provocative, to whip up controversy and to make the authors famous. The problem is, they are also fakes.

Trendy inner city lefties and Greens have now cottoned on to the 'scam ad' trick. Deprived of anything serious to protest about, a trio of frustrated "peace" activists have come up with a brilliant scam ad of their own: joining the Freedom Flotilla 2 for Gaza.

Sylvia Hale, a former Greens member of the NSW Parliament, Vivienne Porzsolt of Jews Against the Occupation, and Michael Coleman, a Catholic youth worker - all clearly suffering from relevance deficit syndrome - are heading off to join a ragbag collection of international publicity-seekers bound for Gaza with the aim of... well, we'll come back to that bit in a sec.

Firstly, this intrepid trio enjoyed a celebratory night of poetry, music, film and hip-hop to draw attention to and raise funds for their heroic venture, followed by a tax-payer funded send-off in the Jubilee Room of Parliament House.   

With the blessing of David Shoebridge MLC and the NSW Greens, the three individuals will soon be taking their berths on what can only be described as not only a ship of fools, but a flotilla of them. 

Their goal? To provoke an utterly futile and pointless confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces in order to big-note themselves. With any luck (and I say this not from my point of view, but clearly from theirs) somebody might actually get hurt, or even better, killed.

Why? Because this protest has no logical or intellectual underpinnings. It is a scam. It is designed solely for the purpose of attempting to recreate the outrage that occurred when last year's flotilla was intercepted by the Israelis and, in the presence of breathless reporters like Paul McGeough, a firefight was provoked that resulted in the tragic, awful and pointless death of nine activists.

So, hey, let's do it again and see what happens! 

But there's one big difference to last year that the scammers have chosen to overlook, which makes the very premise of Flotilla 2 a fraud. Thanks to the Arab Spring, the Egyptian border with Gaza is now wide open. Any and all legal goods can cross freely. In fact, the main organiser of the new flotilla, IHH Head Bulent Yildirim admitted recently to the Turkish daily Hurriyet that "had they told us before our departure last year that they would (have relaxed the embargo) we wouldn't have gone." And he then went on to explain how the "martyrdom" of last year's activists was justification enough for this years flotilla. 

If Vivienne, Sylvia and Michael are genuinely interested in providing goods and services (and comfort) to the beleaguered Palestinians in Gaza all they need do is fly to Cairo, hire a combi from Hertz, fill it up with whatever goodies they want and drive in unimpeded through the Rafah Crossing. As many times as they like. Maybe take in a day trip to the pyramids while they're at it.

But no. The purpose of this venture is a dangerous attempt to drum up notoriety for the individuals involved and to pursue the popular Marrickville pastime known as Jew-baiting (sorry, I mean "protesting against Israeli aggression and Zionist expansion.")

Vivienne claims on facebook that she "adores the process of mediation" because "it is SO positive" and "has no time or inclination for paid employment" because she is too "busy with a range of activities mostly connected with peace and justice in Israel Palestine." Really? Well, she's in for a rude shock if she thinks that the goal of the flotilla is "peaceful", "positive" or involves "mediation." Huwaida Arraf, another of the organizers, gave the game away when he said: "If Israel wants to use force against us and kill people like they did last time, then let that be out there for the whole world to see."

This is a dangerously provocative publicity stunt, pure and simple.

The blockade of Gaza by the IDF for the purposes of preventing weapons and munitions being smuggled ashore is, whether we agree with it or not, entirely legitimate under international law. Hamas, who control Gaza, are in a self-declared state of war with their Jewish neighbours, frequently launching rocket attacks across the border. Israel maintains that as soon as there is a credible system of verifying weapons are not coming in by boat the blockade will be lifted. Pretty straightforward, really. And plenty of room there for Vivienne's "positive mediation." But not good enough, clearly, for those who yearn for drama, violence, and possibly death to spice up their political activism.

The awful truth about the Freedom Flotilla 2 is that it's only worthwhile if it makes international headlines, and it will only make headlines if and when people get hurt.

It is laudable that people donate their time and talents in the hope of helping the Palestinians of the Gaza strip. But in this instance they have been duped. The objective of this exercise is confrontation, not mediation. Violence, not peace. Fame for those on board, not freedom for the Palestinians.

It's a scam.


Julia Gillard can save herself the $12 million. I’ll write her Carbon Tax ads for her for free. Here’s how they go. Cue suitably sincere, positive-sounding Voice Over: “The Carbon Tax not only offers a better future for the Planet, but also offers a better future for us all. Most of us will be financially better off. Businesses will be compensated, along with hard-pressed families. Dirty, filthy polluting industries will disappear, while a vast array of wonderful, new environmentally clean industries will now have the necessary funding to flourish. New jobs will be born, as we enter a clean, happy, financially secure new world. The Carbon Tax. A better future for us all.”
The visuals will feature very real people, although they will be actors, but hopefully ones you don’t recognize from other ads. There’s nothing worse than seeing an attractive young woman (representing our future) living in a bright, carbon-free world and then suddenly popping up with a heavy period or irritable bowel syndrome in the next ad break. The scenarios will also look desperately authentic, although not too down-market. Striking the right balance between depicting people who are ‘poor’, but not making them look like total povos, is something we will have to keep our eye on.
But one thing we all agree on. NO FAMOUS NAMES. We don’t want a repeat of the Cate and Michael drama.
Finding a few familiar renewable schemes – windmills, solar panels and so on – will be important, although we might give Kevin’s roof insulation fiasco the big miss.
Instead, we’ll have lots of fun showing the jobs that will be created in the future by the proceeds of the Carbon Tax, because they don’t actually exist yet, so we pretty much have creative licence to show whatever we want.
And therein lies the problem.
I’m sorry, Julia, but I have to come clean. Our ad campaign ain’t gonna work.
Why? Because you can’t advertise the benefits of something that doesn’t exist. Imagine if McDonalds were to come out with an amazing ad all about their new, healthy, fat-free, cheap-as-chips, awesome-tasting burger and then when everyone was salivating like crazy they admitted that the kitchen was still working on the recipe. Not only would they would be in breach of every piece of legislation regarding the advertising code and ethics, but quite rightly they would be the laughing stock of the fast food industry.
The Carbon Tax ads will be every bit as dishonest and deceitful. The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee has yet to reach a consensus on the specifics of the tax. Without the details, the intentions are meaningless.
The brutal truth is that if you have to rely on advertising to persuade the public at this stage in the game, you’ve already lost the argument. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the government’s announcement that they have awarded $12 million to an advertising agency to spruik the not-yet-finalised Carbon Tax. It’s a desperate NSW Labor style attempt to dress up pure spin as legitimate advertising.
Tony Windsor was quick to bell the cat. Displaying a praiseworthy (and hitherto well-camouflaged) sense of propriety on this subject, the member for New England very accurately labeled the decision as unacceptably “spending public funds for the purposes of propaganda.” Rob Oakeshott, (also displaying the equally hitherto unseen qualities of brevity and conciseness), cut to the chase: “This is a dumb.”
Governments love advertising. But the justification has always – rightly – been about the necessity to inform the public on the minutiae of policy outcomes; in other words, letting people know specifically how certain projects or laws apply to their particular circumstances. This is the only acceptable criteria for government (as opposed to party political) advertising. There is no point passing complex legislation that people either don’t understand, or aren’t even aware of. Whether it be the ill-fated Workchoices campaign, the more successful GST ads, campaigns about government rebates, tax concessions or whatever other legislation has passed through parliament, advertising is a worthwhile tool for imparting the right degree of information in a palatable format. Of course, the rules have been cynically bent over the years, by all governments, so that a political (or persuasive) narrative is allowed to creep in, blurring the lines between what is partisan political ideology and what is practical, objective information.
The worst offenders have been, thus far, the former NSW government. Two years ago,  before they had even put a shovel to the bitumen, they were busy asking half the advertising agencies in Sydney (mine included) to pitch on a campaign to sell the wonders of their new multi-billion dollar Metro. Selling its benefits before it evn existed. Sound familiar?
Describing in advertising terms why the consumer needs such-and-such a new tax, or law, or rebate is where that threshold from advertising to propaganda is crossed. The ‘why’ is the job of the politicians, and to a lesser extent, of the media, to convince you of. The ‘how, what, when and where’ is the legitimate job of government advertising.
Party political advertising, on the other hand, is entirely about the “why” and to a lesser degree the ‘what’. It is about forging an emotional connection to a candidate or a party, based on shared values and a vision for the future. “Kevin 07” was a marvelous piece of advertising because, much like Gough’s “it’s time” campaign, it captured a sense of the excitement and optimistic mood of the nation.
And this is what, inevitably, the Carbon Tax ads will attempt to be. They will seek to persuade the consumer why a Carbon Tax is a good thing, rather than how a Carbon Tax will work. Naturally, the ad agency will go out of their way to dress up an overtly political message as an informational one, but in doing so they will fall into the trap that successive New South Wales government campaigns repeatedly embraced. An emotional, feel-good message that unacceptably crosses the line from governmental information to political spin.

Friday, 22 July 2011


So that's what it all boils down to, then. Jobs for people building wind farms and installing solar panels. Phew. For a moment there I thought we were going to start saving polar bears again.

The government's ad agency, apart from happily trousering $12 million, have been quick to recognize that hyperbole, pontificating celebrities and overblown promises do not cut it with the average battler. What turns Aussies on is jobs - and lots of them. Preferably for themselves.

So this week, with the help of the un-scripted testimonials and musings of "real" working Australians, we finally get an advertising campaign that does what advertising does best - cunningly matches a potential benefit of the product to the consumer's self-interest. A unique selling proposition designed to have broad appeal. 

This is the third and final proposition with which the government or its proxies have tried to persuade a bored and cynical audience, who long ago made up their minds on the issue and have now switched off, to buy their whiffy Carbon Tax plan. First we were told that "millions would be better off", but nobody really bought that line, so Greg Combet dropped it faster than a hot chunk of coal. Next thing you know, up popped Cate Blanchett and Michael Caton hectoring us to "do something positive" about climate change, but the premises they relied upon were as flimsy and wonky as the cardboard cut-out sets they'd built. Viewers looked away in embarrassment.

So now we get the truth - or rather, a highly varnished version of it. 

The real winners from this whole kerfuffle are those who work in renewable energies. Bingo! If you happen to have a job building wind farms or installing solar panels, the future looks pretty rosy. Because we are certainly going to need an awful lot of them if we're to have any hope of turning off the coal powered generators that our jobs, lives and economy all rely upon.

If you happen to work in practically any other industry, particularly ones that rely upon cheap energy, you're pretty much buggered, however. Needless to say, the ads conveniently skip over this tiny detail. We can presume it wasn't part of "the brief."

Forget about receding shorelines, melting glaciers, dead starfish, flatulent wildlife and all the rest of it. The public fully understand that moving longterm to sustainable energy is "a good thing." That's a no-brainer. What makes them suspicious or distrustful of the Carbon Tax is the quasi-religious, holier-than-thou preachings of the climate change "believers" and their guilt-laden doomsday prophesies. Oh, and they're also not crazy about pollies who say one thing before an election and the opposite afterwards.  

The advertising agency who won this account knew that they'd been handed a stinker. The opinion polls already told them that. But their planners and creatives have done a great job of, as they say in the industry, "polishing a turd." Soft, reassuring music. Beautiful lighting and photography. Gorgeous landscapes and visuals. Clouds racing by over a beautiful sunrise. Reasonable, down-to-earth characters. Everyday Aussies, in fact, talking about their everyday jobs, in typical everyday Aussie cities and towns. What's to argue with?

Well, quite a bit actually.    

“For a long time coal will remain a significant proportion of our (energy) generation," proclaims Miles George, the everyday Managing Director of Infigen Energy, in his everyday leather jacket. Hang on. "For a long time"? How long? Years? Decades? And what is "a significant proportion"? 50%? 70%? I thought the whole point of the Carbon Tax was to get rid of the bloody stuff altogether.  

“Putting a turbine up in the air and letting wind give us power has to be a better option," says Wendy Moloney, another everyday Aussie woman who also happens to work for, er, Infigen Energy. Are you sure, Wendy? Go to Europe and you'll find wind farms are hugely controversial, with farmers, nature lovers and whole communities actively protesting against their noise, visual pollution, exorbitant running costs and inefficiencies in supplying energy when and where it is actually needed. 

“Other countries around the world are... building huge industries, and those jobs could just as well be here," opines Lyndon Frearson, the everyday General Manager of CAT Projects, a firm who, incidentally, are currently hiring more staff. All very well, but as Lyndon (whose firm fit solar panels to beach resorts and the like) makes this laudable claim the ad shows a gigantic hydro-electric dam under construction. Are we suddenly about to start building more dams? Has anyone told Bob Brown?

“We see the amount of money that Germany’s thrown towards research and development of solar power… and they’ve got stuff all sun!” exclaims uber-ocker Rede Ogden, who looks and talks like he's in a meat pie ad but in fact, along with his wife Renee (the ad agency must have cracked open the bubbly when they found these two) owns a solar panel installation company. He's right, though. Countries all over the world have thrown an awful lot of money at renewables, but they still only account for a fraction of energy output. 

So they're going to need to throw a lot more. Their ludicrous, legislated emissions reduction targets demand it, much to the chagrin of those long-suffering households who have to pick up the ever-increasing bill each month.   

“Internationally the investment in clean energy is rivalling fossil energy today.” boasts everyday Aussie Seb Henbest, who happens to work for, um, Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Yep. Again, he's right. There's big bucks to be made out of renewables. For Seb in particular.

Which is why, uncannily, the Carbon Tax ads look more like corporate recruitment ads for the renewable energy industries than a plausible justification for this hefty new tax. 

Might be time to think about switching jobs.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


And so it begins. "Voluntary labels" mentioning ill-defined health risks, the inevitable harder-hitting government warnings lurking in the wings, and before too long the cry goes up for plain packaging legislation. Of bottles of booze.

Hilariously, the DrinkWise body who this week announced the new industry labeling campaign for alcohol products claim their intent is to start a "national conversation" about the negative effects of excessive consumption. I can save them the bother. The conversation already takes place every Saturday and Sunday morning in bedrooms and kitchens across the land and goes something like this: "That's it! Never again! I'm never touching another bloody drop." Unlike tobacco, where the health risks can take years to manifest themselves, alcohol comes with its own in-built gauge and warning system letting you know that over-indulgence isn't such a flash idea. It's called a hangover. It's so popular as a concept that it's even spawned a couple of Hollywood blockbusters and last month's highest grossing flick.

Vomiting, migraines, memory loss, aching kidneys, blurry vision, dry throats and desperate feelings of remorse are, apparently, insufficient roadblocks to convince us to slow down on the grog. What we really need, we now learn, is a bunch of oblique and idiotic phrases cluttering the familiar brand designs of our favourite tipple followed by a "national conversation" to persuade us to amend our wicked ways.

Um, I think perhaps someone is having themselves on. DrinkWise chief Trish Worth, perhaps, who maintains that "Our aim is generational change in Australia to a culture where consuming alcohol too young; and to excess is undesired. We aim to prepare parents to engage in discussions on alcohol with their kids, on the basis that this can make a difference." Really? With such limp and self-evident phrases as "Kids and Alcohol Don't Mix," ''It is Safest Not to Drink While Pregnant," and "Is Your Drinking Harming Yourself or Others?" to show for their earnest efforts, I'm not convinced Trish is being totally straight with us.

Does she seriously believe that a phrase such as "It is Safest Not to Drink While Pregnant" - which is about as earth-shattering as proclaiming that "it is safest not to cross the road blindfolded when there is a lot of traffic about" - is of any genuine social value whatsoever?  

More likely, the DrinkWise campaign is a desperate (and probably forlorn) attempt by the alcohol industry to stave off this government's relentless desire to interfere in the legitimate marketing of legal products and brands. The hope is, presumably, that by doing something visible and newsworthy they can pre-empt the push by those keen to see our nanny state switch its insidious gaze back onto booze.

And meanwhile the art directors, designers, new product development teams and advertising, promotions and marketing managers are desperately looking at new and inventive ways to "appeal to a younger target demographic" in order to guarantee the longevity of their brands. Nearly all the recent innovations within the industry, from alcopops, rock festival sponsorship campaigns, packaging and so on, have been directed to this end.  
And why shouldn't they be? As a society we enjoy alcohol, in all its many-splendoured varieties. The products are legal. We have a legally-enforced drinking age. The brands can only exist in the range and quality that we desire if people support them in the marketplace. We have laws aplenty regarding the sale of alcohol to minors and to those who are intoxicated. Advertising and marketing regulations (quite rightly) are designed to strike - as best as they can - a reasonable balance between romanticizing the products and not advocating excessive or inappropriate use. Some of them clearly are a bit weird. For example, even an extra in an alcohol ad has to be legally over the spurious age of 25.

So where next? Having claimed that her platitudes will do some good, Trish and her cohorts will have no choice other than bowing to the increasingly hysterical demands of the wowser lobby. Soon our bottles of Grange will be adorned with graphic depictions of cirrhotic livers, our tinnies of Fosters festooned with bleeding varices.  

We have more than enough rules, regulations and warnings to spark a "national conversation" if such a conversation is a) achievable and b) useful. The health problems of alcohol are unlikely to be addressed through a few non-committal, bland and cloying platitudes slapped onto the side of a pack. The alcohol industry is supping with the devil by pretending that they can.