Starting the week: ABC under scrutiny; Coles most green?; Heart Foundation fades; ad tracking apocalypse

MP's will be quizzing the besieged ABC boss, why Apple's changes hurt Snapchat, and why the public thinks Coles is doing best on the environment

Welcome to Unmade, written on a crisp, cloudless blue morning at Sisters Beach, Tasmania.

Today’s writing soundtrack: Loving in Stereo by Jungle. It’s optimistic, genre-mashing stuff. Thanks for the top tip, Chris.

Happy Accounting Day. As somebody starting to think about company accounts, I’m suddenly all the more appreciative. Sense check: Xero is the best way way for me to go, right? I welcome your advice at letters@unmade.media

Today, I’m planning to continue with last week’s Monday experiment of providing a fast overview of what I see as the key topics of the last few, and next few, days.

Heart Foundation

It’s little over two years since the Heart Foundation underwent a loss of nerve over one of the most controversial public safety messages it had published.

Amongst other scenes, the organisation’s “Heartless Words” campaign featured a mother telling her child “every time I told you I loved you I was lying”. The intent was to shock middle aged people out of their complacency and to get a heart health check, as the precursor to wider behaviour change.

But the organisation had not got all of its many internal stakeholders on board, and when the social media outrage began - many bereaved families felt upset - it panicked. It withdrew the ad and apologised for causing offence.

It was a high profile marketing failure after the high profile success of its “Serial Killer” campaign which had seen a major editorial collaboration across News Corp’s tabloids.

Both campaigns had been the brainchild of the organisation’s first chief marketing officer, Chris Taylor. Last year he left the organisation and later became chief experience officer for men’s health foundation Movember.

I don’t remember seeing a message from the organisation cut through since Taylor’s departure.

Today’s Australian Financial Review signals that the Heart Foundation appears to have decided that high impact marketing campaigns will not be a part of its future. Miranda Ward suggests that the organisation is slashing its marketing team.

Taylor’s successor Caroline Elton has already been made redundant, says the article.

While the foundation blames a Covid-driven decline in donations for the cuts to the marketing team, it seems a defeatist approach. Many marketers would argue that for a fund raising based organisation the way out of trouble is marketing.

Green takes silver

Speaking of marketing, a fascinating survey from communications agency SEC Newgate dropped late last week.

The Global ESG Monitor tracks public sentiment around how organisations are approaching environment, social and governance issues. It included a statistically significant sample of 1,000 in Australia.

One question in particular drew a fascinating response. The participants were asked “which individual companies, industries, countries or individuals were doing really well when it comes to ESG issues”.

The organisation most likely to be nominated was Coles (15%), just ahead of Woolworths (13%), and then BHP (7%). BHP!

They were all ahead of the entire country of Australia, and even Greenpeace.

Missing from the bar chart are the top two answers: “Don’t know” (28%) and “None” (17%), which say a lot about what the pubic actually thinks of our institutions efforts.

Choosing between the two campaigns at the time, I’d have suggested the work for Woolworths, by M&C Saatchi, was more memorable than Coles.

But according to the survey, Coles’ “Together to Zero”, from ad agency DDB, cut through slightly better.

The survey is a powerful illustration that advertising works. During August, when the online survey was being conducted, Coles, Woolworths and BHP were all in high advertising rotation with messages about their environmental efforts.

The thing about surveying sentiment is that it is a survey of exactly that - how well the organisations are managing public perceptions, not how well they are actually doing.

Nobody would argue that miner BHP is actually doing more for the environment than Greenpeace. But when it came to recall, the advertising worked.

ABC under scrutiny

The Sydney Morning Herald’s City Life column points out this morning that the ABC’s managing director David Anderson “is already gearing himself up for the worst hour of his year - an appearance at Senate estimates on Tuesday”.

Back in August, media observer Hal Crawford uploaded an excellent interview with the ABC’s news director Gaven Morris.

Crawford Media
Gaven Morris on waking the ABC digital news giant
Listen now (31 min) | Earlier this week I wrote about Nine and the ABC being recognised internationally for their fast-growing news sites. I took the opportunity to examine the ways that metrics can be used and abused in newsrooms, and from the comments I received on that piece it’s clear that I hit a nerve with many people who have worked in digital. If you’ve been inside a…
Read more

What was particularly striking in that conversation, was not just how well that Morris made the case for the strides the organisation has been making in its digital news offering, but how bad the organisation has been at making that point.

Under Mark Scott, one the ABC’s most successful managing directors, the organisation not only made strides forward, but he made himself highly visible waving the flag doing so.

But his successor Michelle Guthrie was woeful at it, and after the trauma of her departure, behind-the-scenes insider Anderson has led a more inward-looking, besieged organisation. He seems to have concluded that the best thing to do is to allow its journalism to do the talking.

If we were to do one of those public perception surveys I talk about above, I suspect that pubic belief in the organisation might have slipped. But actually, that’s not just a theory. Roy Morgan Research does indeed track trust. And that trust has slipped.

Perhaps it’s time for Anderson to start setting the agenda outside the fort.

Snap crash

It’s going to be an interesting week out of the US. Several of the big digital companies are due to report their quarterly earnings.

It will be the first quarter of data since Apple changed its privacy tracking settings on its mobile devices. Now users get asked by default whether they are happy for apps to track their activity, and only about a quarter of them now say yes.

Snapchat’s owner Snap Inc was first out of the blocks for the quarter on Friday. And its shares dropped 23 per cent with CEO Evan Spiegel revealing the hit the iOS changes had had on its advertising.

Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google’s parent company Alphabet will all report this week. I suspect it will be one of the big stories of the week.

Lisa’s storytelling

The reporting on Lisa Wilkinson’s memoir, and her disputed claims about the circumstances of her departure from Nine’s Today show continue today in The Australian.

I’ve received an early digital copy of her book, under embargo. I’m bound by a non disclosure agreement on its contents which lifts when the book is published next Wednesday. I’ll share my views at that point.


It’s just about time to let you go about your day.

There’s a lot happening at my end. Later this week, I’ll be posting Unmade’s first paid content.

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My first post will be an update for paying subscribers on Unmade’s business journey to date, including our current subscriber numbers. I’ll also be sharing some more on my plans for Unmade over the coming months.

And I’ve completed the recordings of the audio version of my book Media Unmade. There are 26 chapters. I’ll be uploading the first later in the week. Only paying subscribers will get access to all of them.

In the meantime, please do drop me a line to letters@unmade.media.

Have a great day.

Toodlepip…

Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade