Saturday, 24 September 2011


Surprise surprise. Louie The Fly faked his own death. The announcement only two weeks ago from Mortein that they intended to eliminate Australia’s most famous advertising icon was a stunt all along.
On September 11, the Sun Herald reported that Reckitt Benckiser, the British-based owners of Mortein, had “decided to kill off Louie The Fly once and for all.” Claiming it was a hard decision, marketing director Chris Tedesco said “Louie can no longer showcase the advancements of the complete Mortein range."
Yet on Friday, came an apparent change of heart, as Chris claimed to have “been amazed by the incredible reaction to our announcement.” Like a modern-day Roman emperor, he is now giving the public “the opportunity to decide whether to kill or save the much-loved icon,” adding “Louie has a special place in Australian's hearts… If the public wants to continue seeing their beloved Louie on TV screens then they can vote to save him on his Facebook page."
Emotional blackmail! We all knew Louie was a gangster, but holding the nation to ransom is a first, even for him.
Louie’s Facebook page boasts nearly sixteen thousand people who “like” it. Thumbs up! In social media terms, that is a very healthy result. Louie himself appears to be enjoying the controversy, thanking his fans for “kickin' up such a stink everyone... the latest buzz i'm hearing is that The Boss who wants to kill me might be listening to you!”
Louie has always been a rogue and a scoundrel, which is part of his larrikin appeal. Normally he’s trying to outfox “Mum” and her can of Mortein, but now it appears he’s tried to hoodwink us all.
Such contrived stunts are increasingly common in advertising, where marketers are desperate to get consumers to “engage with their brands” in the relatively low-cost world of social media. Generating free publicity through a newsworthy stunt, and then driving people online, is now a common marketing strategy. What is news? What is real? What is advertising? As we approach summer and the highly competitive “bug season”, Louie clearly couldn’t resist this potent stew of free publicity.
Where most Aussies will be amused by the harmless prank there is always a risk some will not enjoy having been deliberately duped. Consumers are funny like that.
Last May, Matt Moran admitted his “spontaneous outburst” on Masterchef was a hoax designed to generate publicity on youtube for charity group OzHarvest. His fellow foodie Matt Preston was involved the previous year in a similarly faked up “live” episode involving some spilled salmon roe and his own sponsor. Mr. Tedesco, a highly talented marketer who arrived in Australia only last year from the UK will of course be familiar with the famous British hoax campaign for Heinz Salad Cream, where a much-loved brand was similarly “rescued” from extinction by the public. The woman behind the stunt was hailed as Marketer of the Year.
Deliberately courting controversy will always work if you adhere to the philosophy that any publicity is good publicity. But at what point do consumers weary of marketers tinkering with their favourite brands and manipulating their emotions? Vegemite’s recent 2.0 iSnack shenanigans generated heaps of publicity, most of it unwanted, but it is telling that you will find no mention of the entire fiasco anywhere on their website. In the US, Toyota are currently being sued over a creepy online hoax gone awry.
Will Aussies take umbrage that their affection for Louie has been deliberately manipulated? Or will they see it as just another fun chapter in the colourful history of our loveable larrikin fly? 

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