The epic AFL half time ad you probably didn't see
While metro audiences saw the usual fare, in Tasmania, Howatson + Company's most creative piece of work to date went to air during the Grand Final
Welcome to Unmade at the start of a brand new week. Today’s edition was written on a beautiful, crisp day at Sisters Beach, Tasmania. By crisp, I mean the sort of day where temperatures fell to 1C overnight. Spring, huh?
Today’s writing soundtrack: John Coltrane, A Love Supreme.
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On Saturday night, I was among the 3.91m viewers across the country who watched the Demons crush the Bulldogs in the AFL Grand Final.
As Mumbrella’s head of content Damian Francis observed in his Best of the Week email on Saturday, it’s not been a stellar year for big Grand Final ads. It certainly wasn’t the Superbowl. As Damo argued, there was more risk than usual in building a campaign by launching out of a grand final, when it might just be disrupted by Covid.
So there were plenty of messages from broadcast sponsor Toyota, and a wall of Ladbrokes ads fronted by actor Mark Wahlberg. And I’ll return to the subject of the advertising industry’s gambling addiction another time.
Here in Tasmania though, things unfolded slightly differently.
During half time, I was half watching TV and half making a move in Words With Friends, when I gradually became conscious that the same piece of music had been playing for some time.
I didn’t know it at the time but it was an obscure disco soul gem from 1976, Love for the Sake of Love, by Claudja Barry.
On the corner of the screen was the three minute countdown to the next game of Keno that can be seen in pubs around the country.
I rewound, to see the ad from the start, and it did indeed run for an epic three minutes. Airtime on Southern Cross Austereo’s local affiliate Seven Regional is (much) cheaper here in Tasmania than in a metro market. But nonetheless, a three minute ad is quite something. It doesn’t happen often in any broadcast area.
And it was quite, quite spectacular. Although I’d been vaguely aware of somewhat surreal cutdown versions of the ad going past in the previous weeks, seeing the three minute version brought the ad to front of mind.
As I say, it was an ad for Keno in Tasmania, where Federal Group (the people behind upmarket joints like Henry Jones Art Hotel and Saffire at Freycinet, as well as Wrest Point casino in Hobart) hold the licence. As the ABC recently investigated, Federal is a powerful, family-owned organisation.
Compared to the usual ads we see for water tanks and irrigation devices, the production values were next level.
The ad opens with a woman - cast as a cougar type, I think - in the pub, buying her Keno ticket, giving a knowing half smile and tucking the ticket in the back pocket of her jeans.
In the background, an announcement sets the scene, promising free gravy on schnitzels, as she moves to the jukebox and selects a song.
She prowls through the bar, lip-synching to the music and catching the eye of her fellow pub patrons.
None of the subjects of the ad are the idealised types you’d usually expect to see in this sort of commercial that attempts to normalise gambling.
There are various random lone (and possibly lonely) blokes, doing solo karaoke, playing the skill tester and pouring on the gravy. Some are dressed for a night out, others in flannelette.
And then things take a turn for the surreal. A snake slithers on the floor, a spinning dartboard dissolves into a car wheel producing purple smoke as it does a burnout, and while the woman touches up her lippy, her reflection breaks away to do her own thing.
Even the sausages in the meat raffle sing along.
As the clock to the next game counts down to zero, the woman takes a seat and crosses her fingers.
Throughout the entire thing, there is no voiceover.
A bit of detective work on searching the “Play on” tagline, revealed the agency behind the work.
The work was quietly uploaded to creative directory Little Black Book a couple of weeks back. You can view it here. But it did not get the usual trade press PR treatment.
It was no local Tasmanian shop. It was from Howatson + Company, although it would have been created while the agency was still Howatson + White.
For those not following, Chris Howatson was the Omnicom executive who led the merger of CHE and Proximity into CHEP and created an agenda-setting modern, successful agency model before taking on a wider role across the entire Clemenger Group. Then he and creative sidekick Ant White departed in November 2020 to start their own shop.
But White left after less than nine months. Although some of the circumstances of his messy departure is known across the industry, it’s unlikely to be detailed publicly for legal reasons.
Last week Levi Slavin joined Howatson + White as chief creative officer, from Colenso BBDO in Auckland, as yet another senior exit from Clemenger Group.
The creative credits for the ad are missing the agency details, but it’s fair to assume that this was among White’s work for the agency.
The production company on the campaign was Finch, and Heckler did the sound. It was directed by Sam Hibbard. Clearly it was a work of love, with the effort level by far, I’m sure, exceeding the budget. It seems the sort of work that would hope to catch the eye of craft juries at advertising awards.
It’s not scam - after all, it aired to a primetime audience - but it does feel like something made with more than one motive.
What I struggle with most is how the ad lands with its key Tasmanian audience. There is a danger of classism when one writes about ads where you’re not the target.
As a middle class, effete city person (albeit one who happens to live in rural Tasmania at present), this ad is not made for me. I don’t think it’s intended to bring in new punters. Its strategy is to make Keno’s core customers feel good about playing.
When I watch the ad, my first reaction is to see losers. But perhaps that’s a condescending, middle class attitude. Maybe, for its target audience, it acts as a glamourising filter.
I’m not sure which side of the line the ad sits, between laughing at, or with, the customers. Either way, it’s one of the most intriguing ads I’ve viewed this year.
As a piece of advertising craft, it’s a textbook exercise. As an ad for Keno, I can’t decide. But it certainly made for a helluva half time show.
Shop the Look
Unmade’s diarist Dr Spin writes:
As if the bottom-of-the barrel internet content served up by those Taboola and Outbrain links out of news sites was not bad enough, artificial intelligence now brings us an even more unhelpful development.
The latest plugin, from Trendii, allows publishers to drop in links to clothing retailers selling similar outfits to those worn by the subjects of the news stories. Or, as Trendii puts it “a native product discovery placement”.
Take the weekend’s news story from The Daily Mail, that former TV presenter James Mathison is working at an Amazon warehouse.
The article was accompanied by long lens shots of Mathison wearing a green safety fluoro.
So what did the not-so-intelligent artificial intelligence serve up to accompany the article? A “Shop the look” ad from ASOS.
Dr Spin wonders whether “The Ragged Priest” look or indeed Asos’s “one shoulder long sleeve with multi times in lime” crop top is exactly what Mathison was going for.
Somebody looks foolish in the article. And it’s not Matho.
Last week, Unmade discussed AAMI’s revival of Rhonda and Ketut for its vaccination campaign.
From Shane Allison:
I always find it entertaining when the marketing industry perks up to the potential of storytelling to drive effective campaigns over a longer period.
As a profession, communicators have been using the power of story to shape public perception and move product for decades. The dial for Qantas' brand loyalty might be shifted slightly by a splashy TV commercial, but Alan Joyce is undoubtedly the greatest brand asset after the Flying Roo.
No matter how many advertising dollars you throw at a brand, consumers connect to the narrative arc of the company, and that's why issues and crisis management is such a historically important role for communicators. Brands resolve the tension inherent in a crisis through effective storytelling, making the issue an understandable part of the company's narrative arc which then helps maintain trust in the brand.
The power of a good story is why so much recognition at Cannes goes to big creative ideas executed through 'earned' media campaigns, and why you've now got Thinkerbell aggressively building out PR under the more marketable term of earned media - and winning PR Agency of the Year before they won Advertising.
Creatives that can work hand-in-glove with communicators while building work will win out of this - or my industry will figure out that the step up from pitching in a creative idea with earned media execution to pitching in a creative idea supported by a big ad buy isn't that big, and start to encroach on advertising's turf further.
Shane Allison | Managing Director | Public Address
Thanks for the thoughts, Shane. I agree on your point regarding Qantas. As an organisation, even when it was not flying internationally during the pandemic, it rarely put a foot wrong in finding stories to tell, like the retirement of the last 747, or even its auctions of its old drinks trolleys.
Mind you, I was sad to read the feature in Good Weekend on Saturday about how pilots got through their standdowns, and the anticlimactic enforced retirement of perhaps Qantas’s greatest captain of them all, Richard De Crespigny.
To read the man who saved QF32 from disaster describe his exit from the airline as being “cheated and rejected” was disquieting to say the least. I’m surprised the line, buried deep within the feature, has not been picked up more widely by the media.
And, I welcome your letters. In particular, please do follow that link to the Keno ad on LBB Online and tell me what you make of it. I’d love to know if you think it’s laughing with or at its audience.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment via this button.
Have a great Monday.
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