A hard earned strategy
Welcome to a midweek update from Unmade: Today: VB goes to new places with a half century old strategy; the Unmade Index on the up.
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It’s a small ad. With a big strategy. VB gets it right with The Monkeys
Fifteen years ago, the most over hyped agency launch in Australian advertising history was in full swing.
Droga5’s new Sydney outpost had persuaded one of the country’s most celebrated beer brands to come on board. Mesmerised by client whisperer David Nobay, the marketing team at Carlton & United Breweries’s Victoria Bitter dropped one of the most successful slogans of all time.
Gone was the line “a hard earned thirst”, replaced by the tagline “the drinking beer”. Victoria Bitter became VB.
It was accompanied by the biggest of big budget launch campaigns.
Filmed on the streets of Ballarat with a cast of 1500, “The Regulars” was backed with just as big a media budget. It launched on TV with an expensive two minute cut during the first drinks break of the 2009 series of The Ashes.
It was an attempt to out-big the Big Ad, Carlton Draught’s beloved campaign of four years earlier.
That relaunch of VB was a failure.
Not all of that could be laid at the door of the agency, which closed its Sydney a few years later, a rare misstep for founder David Droga. Just as foolish as dropping “hard earned thirst” was the cost cutting decision to drop the strength of the beer from 4.9% to 4.6%. Loyal customers switched away.
Three years later, CUB reversed its strategy. The beer returned to full strength. “A hard earned thirst” returned as the tagline, and VB once again officially became Victoria Bitter. It was accompanied by a full page mea culpa to customers in the newspapers. Afterwards, the beer’s market share improved again.
The debacle was perhaps the best example of the impulse of new agencies or new marketing directors to throw out what’s gone before no matter how much brand equity has been built up. It’s up there with the soon reversed 2011 decision by Hungry Jack’s to drop “the burgers are better”. Or Elon Musk’s rebranding of Twitter to X, come to that.
Which brings us to this week. History could very easily have repeated itself. Victoria Bitter unveiled the first major campaign from its new agency. And not just any agency. It’s from The Monkeys, owned by Accenture Song whose global CEO is … David Droga.
And that’s not where the echoes end.
The chief creative officer at The Monkeys is Ant Keogh, creator of The Big Ad when he worked at Clemenger BBDO Melbourne.
But the new campaign for Victoria Bitter is anything but a big ad. It’s a small ad to fit a big strategy.
The association of a stubby of VB as a reward for hard work is wonderful territory, built up over decades. Next month, VB will have been talking about “a hard earned thirst” for 54 years. The first campaign launched in February 1968.
And the strategy is even older still, dating back to 1965 and CUB’s Queensland beer Bulimba Gold.
The key elements are still there in this week’s new work. The theme tune. The blokey voiceover, modelled on the John Meillon original. And, most importantly, the strategic association with hard work.
But there’s also an evolution. This time the emphasis is on skilled work. Precision felling trees; motorbike engineering.
Long time Monkeys collaborator Tim Bullock directed the ads. They’re cleverly made. They’re about skill, not scale, and the way they’re made reflects that. Which isn’t to imply they’re cheap. Getting the tree fall correct (CGI’ing in the buildings afterwards, I presume) would have involved days of planning.
The change of of emphasis to skill over brawn is clever and no accident. While still appealing to blue collar, it connects to white collar workers.
As Sarah Wilcox, head of marketing the classic beer portfolio at CUB says in the launch press release: “VB’s strong values and assets are well established. This campaign seeks to build upon these, while adding relevance to new audiences, by elevating hard work to a new level. We’re not just celebrating sweat and effort; we’re also celebrating skills and smarts.”
That was always the beauty of VB’s positioning. You’d see blokes in suits drink VB on the flight home to Melbourne after a day of meetings in Sydney. It’s not just for blokes on building sites.
It’s another example from The Monkeys that strategy does not need to be ripped up to evolve. As we wrote three weeks ago, they performed the same trick for MLA, jujitsu-ing Australia Day associations to the right side of history in an evolution over several years of summer messages.
How we covered the Monkey’s MLA summer campaign:
The Monkeys are unusual in several ways. One of which is how long the agency has stayed top of its game, even since selling to Accenture nearly seven years ago.
It’s also proven capable of building on the work of previous agencies when it joins a roster, rather than ripping it up and starting again.
I can’t think of another agency which has as so good at marrying strategy with creativity over such a long period.
It must be thirsty work.
Index nudges upwards while Pureprofile update doesn’t scare the horses
The Unmade Index followed the wider ASX All Ords into positive territory yesterday, rising by 0.86% to 616 points.
There were mixed fortunes for audio stocks, with ARN Media growing by 3.59% and its takeover target Southern Cross Austereo losing 2%.
Meanwhile, research house Pureprofile didn’t see its share price move yesterday after it released quarterly numbers broadly in line with market expectations. The company’s profit for the quarter fell slightly to $0.9m while revenue rose slightly to $11.8m. Its global revenues grew slightly in the quarter, while Australian revenues fell.
Time to leave you to your Wednesday.
We’ll be back with an audio-led edition tomorrow in which I talk to IAB boss Gai Le Roy.
Have a great day.
Publisher - Unmade