Advertising icons are dropping like flies. Not only is Louie The Fly destined for the scrap heap, but so are the Paddle Pop Lion, the Coco Pops monkey and the Fruit Loops Toucan.
The Obesity Policy Coalition are responsible for the latter being targeted for removal, on the grounds that such charismatic characters are responsible for one in four of our kids being overweight.
But the demise of Louie The Fly is entirely different. His death is self-inflicted. His owners have decided they no longer have any use for him, despite his proven marketing skills. But no matter how often you kill him, he keeps coming back. He has disappeared from our screens several times before, always to return.
According to adman Tom Moult, who won the Mortein business in the mid 90s by bringing back Louie, “they’re dreaming if they think they’ve got rid of him. Louie’ll be back. Guaranteed.”
Reckitt Benckiser, which now owns Louie, specialize in products that clean or kill things, bugs and germs included. The ‘‘power brands’’ making up over 70 per cent of its profits include Dettol, Nurofen and Harpic.
Mortein, invented in Australia in the 1870s, was one of the first brands to aggressively market itself on TV. Rumour has a former managing director once downing a glass of Mortein before a government inquiry to prove it wasn’t dangerous to humans.
Mortein’s biggest markets outside Australia are India and Brazil, neither of which is particularly fussed about our Aussie icon.
That is a problem for Reckitt Benckiser, which clearly prefers their ad campaigns to be consistent across the globe. Unfortunately for Louie, he is no Paul Hogan. His appeal remains strictly local. There is something unique to the Australian mindset that is comfortable feeling affection for a character whose greatest talent is getting himself killed. Call it the Ned Kelly Syndrome, perhaps.
Popular advertising properties are hard won. The legend of Louie, including his disputed origins – apart from Bryce Courtney, several others claim to have come up with the original idea – are the stuff of which advertisers dream.
I was privileged to be responsible for making the ads marking his fiftieth birthday in 2007. Not many campaigns have lasted that long, which is why Kellogg’s and Streets will resist calls to get rid of the Paddle Pops Lion, the Coco Pops Monkey, the Toucan and so on.
But in all likelihood, they will eventually follow KFC’s example (of dispensing with kid’s toys) and offer up the Lion and the Monkey as lambs on the sacrificial altar of political correctness.
Given the value to a brand of a creative device such as Louie the Fly, it would have been a hard decision for local RB marketing director Chris Tedesco, an ambitious and talented American who only arrived here from the UK twelve months ago, to consign him to the great big dustbin in the sky.
“Mortein is not just about killing a bigger range of bugs, but has continued to innovate beyond fly sprays and we feel Louie can no longer showcase the advancements of the complete Mortein range," Tedesco maintains.
According to Tedesco, getting rid of one of Australia’s most popular advertising icons, and risking any potential consumer backlash, is the right step.
"It was a hard decision,” Chris says, “but Mortein has decided to kill off Louie The Fly once and for all.”
I wouldn't bet on it. Some advertising icons simply refuse to die, no matter what the marketers wish for.
After having been unceremoniously dumped, the classic VB music is now back on our screens. “Which bank?” was successfully resurrected after a lengthy absence, and will no doubt be again at some point. The reason is simple: focus groups. If Mortein sales start to dip in Australia, Louie will find the defibrillators quickly being strapped onto his chest.
It will be interesting to see what Reckitt Benckiser now do creatively with Mortein. Its other advertising campaigns do not offer a great deal of hope for those who prefer their advertising to be lateral, quirky or subtle.
Readers can make up their own mind about the appeal of TV campaigns for Vanish Napisan, Easy Off BAM, Finish, Harpic, and Pine O Cleen.