Tuesday, 23 August 2011



They’re called ‘‘teaser ads’’, and their purpose is to tease you in the old-fashioned sense. A sly wink and a hint of exciting things to come. Advertisers spend money on teaser ads when they wish to raise anticipation and intrigue about an upcoming event, such as a gigantic sale or a new product launch.
Qantas have launched a mega-teaser campaign, the likes of which we rarely see these days. But as unions, politicians and pilots step up the war against Alan Joyce’s restructuring plans, was it the right strategy?
You couldn’t avoid the lavishly presented, beautifully crafted promise of a ‘‘new spirit’’ last week: a full colour wrap-around of every major national and metro newspaper that kicked off a multi-million dollar print and online campaign to run for the next couple of months.
The ad intrigued readers. It got tongues wagging. It looked extremely impressive, and tantalizing. But there was one problem. When the temptress stepped out from behind her veil… there was nothing to see.
What on earth were Qantas on about? A long-lens pic of a pretty young lifesaver; the quintessential blonde and blue-eyed Aussie Anglo-Saxon kid. A beautiful blue sky and… lots of evasive, obfuscating blurb.
Having written many corporate ads myself, it was easy to spot the craft of the copywriter, as he or she desperately resorts to familiar feel-good phrases and reassuring sentiments to avoid actually informing us what this “new spirit” comprises. “Competitive” gets a mention, as does “stronger” and “rewarding.” Whatever it is will “make us all proud” with “better connections” and “new levels of comfort.” But still the question remained – what is it?
And then, right towards the end - by which point most readers would have given up - there’s a clue, when the copywriter refers to the “vast majority of our operations (being) based in Australia.” Aha! Gotcha. You’re moving overseas.
QANTAS are clearly relying on a fluffy, blockbuster campaign to “sell” something they know will be unpalatable to many. But by leaving the meaty details out, the campaign raises more questions than it answers. What on earth is the consumer supposed to “buy”? If there’s a new airline, what’s its name? Is there a new logo? Will it mean cheaper flights? If not in Australia, then where is it going to be based? A “new spirit of partnership” - but with whom? Having pricked our interest, but failed to satisfy our curiosity, the teaser campaign forces us to look elsewhere for the answers.
And there they are, all over the news. Job cuts. Thousands of them. The Greens up in arms, reminding us all to check out the Qantas Sale Act of 1992. The unions having a fit, claiming “they’re expanding the airline but getting rid of Australian jobs, and that’s a very fundamental mistake.” Rivals Virgin Australia cheekily grabbing the opportunity to steal some coveted “Aussie spirit” for themselves by offering jobs to those made redundant by Qantas. Calls by shareholders for Joyce to go. Daily strikes threatened by unions, and subversive announcements made to passengers by pilots and hosties. Joyce forced onto the back foot, defending the redundancies whilst standing in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (proving he “still calls Australia home”, presumably).
News that Neil Lawrence, he of the iconic ‘‘Kevin 07’’ slogan and the successful anti-mining tax ads, is behind the teaser campaign comes as no surprise. Qantas wanted to pull out the “big guns,” and they don’t come bigger. The opening salvos have been fired in what will be a drawn-out struggle for the hearts and minds of Qantas loyalists.
‘‘I think the first message is the most critical and that is that Qantas international has to change or perish,’’ said Lawrence.
Maybe, but that’s not what he says in his teaser ads. Perhaps it would have been better if he had. Honesty in advertising is a far more powerful tool than obfuscation.
The details dribble out. We learn one of the new airlines will probably be called Jetstar Japan, while another doesn’t have a name yet but will be based “somewhere in south-east Asia.” Joyce has a Malaysian solution, perhaps. But lacking a single-minded and positive message to sell, Joyce is struggling to deliver the wonderful “new spirit” the campaign promises.
Today the tease continues, even on Twitter. So does this mean there will be four different brands, four different product stories and four different logos? Sounds like an ad man’s nightmare.

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