We interrupt this program to bring you a puppet show about tall poppies
CGU's ad about ambition is... ambitious. But is it any good?
Welcome to Unmade, written at cloudy Sisters Beach, Tasmania, on Wednesday morning.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Moby - Play. Has there been an album more repurposed for advertising soundtracks?
Happy National Banana Bread Day.
Speaking of which, there were a couple of things it took me a while to notice when I came to Australia about 15 years ago.
First, we’re excellent at banana bread. I didn’t really appreciate that until visiting the UK again recently and being reminded how bad banana bread is in most cafes there.
And second, the tall poppy syndrome. It’s a phrase I hadn’t heard before coming to Australia. And it’s one I’ve since come to distrust when somebody deploys it about themselves. It’s a rather too useful oratorical device to defend actions that deserve to be scrutinised.
Back in 2014, Mumbrella investigated what looked like a piece of scam advertising which had run only once in the cheapest publication in the News Local group, The Rouse Hill Times.
The chief marketing officer of McDonald’s at the time, Mark Lollback, refused to talk about the award-winning work, until one of Mumbrella’s reporters finally managed to ask him a question when he made back-patting appearance at a conference to talk about how to win Cannes Lions.
Lollback offered a well-rehearsed answer, getting up from his chair, striding to the front of the stage, opening his arms wide. It felt choreographed. Rather than indulging in tall poppy syndrome by asking difficult questions, local talent winning awards should be celebrated, he told the audience, who applauded.
Similarly, when cynicism levels were rising about the behaviour of Phillip Kingston, mastermind of what proved to be the Trimantium GrowthOps and Sargon business disasters, the tall poppy syndrome was wheeled out by his defenders.
It’s also a phrase recently used in court by Seven West Media Queensland’s general manager Ben Roberts-Smith, who is currently suing newspapers over allegations from his previous career in the military. “When you become a tall poppy, that gives people the opportunity to belittle you, drag you down.”
So fair to say I have mixed feelings about the phrase.
Which brings me onto CGU’s Tall Poppy ad. I also have mixed feelings about the work.
I really, really want to like it.
On Sunday night, CGU Insurance, part of the IAG Group, kicked off one of the boldest marketing strategies I can recall.
The brand took over an entire ad break during 60 Minutes and aired a five minute puppet show.
Masterminded by the Thinkerbell agency and created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Tall Poppy is the whimsical story of a tall girl called Poppy.
For all Nine’s talk of offering a national buy with its regional affiliate WIN, this one appears to have been a metro-only takeover. While Twitter was coming to life with viewers puzzling out what they were watching, in Tasmania I was seeing an ad for Baked Beans Month at Bob Jane T-Marts, a concept I still do not understand.
But for most 60 Minutes viewers this was a truly interruptive media strategy from CGU and its media agency Initiative. It came half way through a segment on the allegations around Prince Andrew’s involvement in sex trafficking. I can’t think of anything more interruptive than that.
I suspect the discombobulation would have been less if the ad had been in the break after the Prince Andrew segment, and before before the lame MH370 reheat. Delivering an overnight metro audience of 581,000 metro viewers, it wasn’t 60 Minutes’ finest episode.
So what of the ad itself? Personally, I’m not somebody who goes big on whimsy. And this was always going to be the year’s most whimsical five minutes of Australian television.
But just because something isn’t to an individual’s tastes doesn’t make it a bad ad, or strategy.
Which is where my mixed feelings come from.
The real question should be: does this strategy take CGU forward in its positioning as supporting the ambitions of small business?
Certainly it’s a radically less rational approach than when it first began to promote the idea of supporting ambition three years ago.
It’s also impossible to seperate the media strategy from the creative. IAG’s CMO Brent Smart has made a hallmark of his tenure putting a greater proportion of his budget into the creative execution. The rationale is that if the work is distinctive enough, it will live beyond the paid placement.
A difference here is that this is B2B. One of the key audiences is insurance brokers, rather than primarily the business owners.
Smart is also better qualified than any other CMO in Australia to understand what he wants from his agency partners. Until now his career has been agency side, including as managing director at Colenso BBDO Auckland when the agency was on the way to being best in the world, and more recently as CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New York.
Last year, IAG’s NRMA won the Grand Effie for its “HELP” work created by The Monkeys. Smart told MI3 afterwards: “This is creative-led effectiveness – not media-led effectiveness… not about how much we’ve spent.”
One of the difficulties I have as somebody who writes about this industry without working inside a brand or agency, is that I don’t actually get to see what somebody is like in the day job. Seeing Smart on stage is inspiring. He’s one of the great champions of agency creativity. But not everybody who’s good on stage is also the real deal in the day job.
With Smart, the vibes I get on that front are good. Those who’ve seen the culture he has built within the IAG marketing team over the last five years are impressed. And his agencies appear to feel respected, but also see him as demanding. Which is no bad thing. CMOs shouldn’t be buying everything their agencies put in front of them.
So I’m struggling to get off the fence. I love the strategy, but don’t particularly like the ad. Not just because of the whimsy, but because it felt like three minutes told in five. That’s even more noticeable in the ten minute version which can be seen online.
There would also be an irony in attacking one of the boldest marketing strategies of the year. That would be going after a tall poppy, wouldn’t it?
Do you have to like an ad to love a strategy? I hope not.
Over to you…
Unmade Index drops into the correction zone
The Unmade Index of Australia’s media and marketing companies has entered correction territory, with the index now more than 10% down on its nominal 1000 point opening when the year began. Yesterday, the Unmade Index closed at 896.4, down by 2.11% for the day. The drop was twice that of the ASX All Ordinaries.
The biggest fall was HT&E (parent company of ARN) which lost 6.31%. HT&E is due to report its full year numbers to the ASX this morning.
Time to let you go about your Wednesday.
We’ll be back with the podcast tomorrow, featuring chapter 18 of the audio version of my book Media Unmade. It’s one of my favourite chapters - the moment when Nine took over Fairfax Media.
Have a great day.