Advertising redefines its creative edge

Advertising redefines its creative edge - 30th December 2003
Credit: f2

The Age asked eight movers and shakers in the Melbourne advertising industry what their favourite moments were in 2003 and what we can look forward to in 2004.

QUESTION: What was your favourite advertising campaign of the year?

David Chalke: To my eye, the best ads were the ones that took a fresh look at life, didn't take themselves seriously and blew a raspberry at the purse-lipped and politically correct.

My favourites were the Hahn Light "bomb in the spa" ad, the "Five Cougars, thanks" and the Qantas-Wallabies "No, the other left" campaigns.

John Sintras: Heineken's work for the Rugby World Cup - witty and well crafted.

Andrew Scott: That's easy - the Hahn Light ad where the guy jumps into the spa. It's so simple and reflects exactly how the target audience thinks and feels. That is, both men and women.

Russell Howcroft: Apart from our own stuff, my favourite campaigns were the Cougar Bourbon "Five Cougars, thanks" and the Carlton Stirling "beer-lovers light".

Harold Mitchell: The TXU ads for both gas and electricity.

Ben Welsh: The best individual commercial this year would have to be the Tooheys "Quest" spot, which features a tongue on a mission to find a bottle of Tooheys. It won Gold at this year's award advertising ceremony and, by all accounts, is earning gold at the tills.

QUESTION: What campaign do you think was the most successful/effective?

John Neal: McDonald's campaign for the salad-plus range, which has given the brand new life and consumer relevance and grown the business after many years of static growth.

Howcroft: The Campaign Palace's Red Meat campaign with the dancing butchers and the old rock'n'rollers. According to the Advertising Federation's effectiveness awards, it has contributed to the $1 billion growth in the red meat market. And it's highly entertaining to watch.

The panel

John Sintras is chief operating officer of media-buying company Starcom Media and president of the Media Federation of Australia.

Russell Howcroft is managing director of Melbourne agency Brandhouse Arnold and Victorian chairman of the Advertising Federation of Australia.

David Chalke is chief researcher at social research group AustraliaSCAN.

Norm Crothers is general manager of content and publishing at the Australian Consumers Association.

Harold Mitchell is the founder of Melbourne media-buying company Mitchell & Partners.

John Neal is the Melbourne managing director of media-buying company Carat Australia.

Andrew Scott is managing director of creative agency FCB in Melbourne.

Ben Welsh is creative director of M&C Saatchi in Sydney.

Sintras: There have been many, but some of our highest-profile successes would have to be the integrated campaigns for Black & Decker and Masterfoods in The Block, and for the Sony Group in Big Brother 3 and Australian Idol.

Mitchell: The public launch of insurer Promina. It has been a stockmarket tearaway.

QUESTION: What is the biggest issue facing the advertising industry?

Welsh: Creatively, the biggest issue remains convincing advertisers that creativity sells. There is a slavish belief in needing to appeal to the "lowest common denominator". People watch TV to be entertained, inspired and informed, and yet most commercials are dull, repetitive and mindless. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Neal: Realising that its reason for being is to give clients a positive return on investment and with business growth solutions. Too many ad agencies are still slaves to creativity without the accountability.

Chalke: Finding the fine line between polite invisibility and objectionable exhibitionism. We are now totally media literate and more than capable of filtering out the torrents of exhortations, pleas, enticements, inducements and promises that deluge our every waking moment. The challenge is to get noticed, without pushing too hard to gain attention and so risk alienating the audience.

Sintras: The quantification of effectiveness/business results created by advertising agencies and the negotiation of appropriate compensation that rewards this value creation.

Howcroft: The critical issue our business is facing is the rise and rise of the power of the procurement manager in the marketing relationship. The basis of the discussions many of us are having is the desire for the procurement people to treat our business as a cost and to ignore the power and the importance of our business and its role in the success of their business.

Mitchell: Overregulation.

Scott: The issues will be the same as the last two years: retention of revenue is crucial, so that the key to our industry can be maintained - people (our main asset). A reduction in revenue for any agency will put pressure on staffing levels, as most agencies are running their operating costs at a bare minimum already.

QUESTION: Do any bad campaigns or negative trends from 2003 stick out in your mind?

Norm Crothers: Some really puerile car advertisements still encouraging bad behaviour, and new adverts that are pathetic responses to previous criticisms.

Sintras: There's been a somewhat defensive approach to marketing investment over the last few years, with a much lower level of new product activity and line extensions.

Chalke: The growing number of "international" or "regional" ads. You know the ones I mean: where the talent doesn't look quite Australian, the light doesn't look quite Australian and the Aussie voices don't quite sync with the lips, and the whole thing ends up as bland as an airline in-flight magazine.

QUESTION: What do you think the overriding themes of the local industry will be in 2004?

Welsh: Australian content could be a victim of the trade with the United States.

Chalke: Much of 2003 was cloaked in an aura of trepidation and caution. Australia's CFOs managed to use buzzwords like SARS, the drought, the Global Economy, Bali, the War in Iraq, the low dollar, the high dollar, to constrain creativity and initiative. Hopefully a robust economy and re-emerging business confidence will give advertisers and their agencies permission to experiment and innovate again.

Howcroft: We're all just hoping the media growth forecast by most commentators actually occurs. Many of us have a suspicion that marketers are beginning to have renewed faith in the ability of advertising to grow demand, create sales and maintain/grow margins.

Neal: We need to stop acting like a cottage industry and respect that clients entrust us with significant amounts of money to get them results. Both the creative and media sides of our business are too caught up in process and not outcomes.

Mitchell: A move to involvement and engagement with the media to complement straight advertising.

QUESTION: How is the Melbourne industry faring? Are we falling behind Sydney? What are our strengths?

Scott: I think Melbourne will have a huge year in 2004 creatively, because there's been a lot of investment in creative talent in Melbourne agencies over the past two years. It will be the year where this investment matures and the creative recognition will follow. Melbourne will most certainly be back on the map creatively and as an advertising hub.

Howcroft: The creative credentials of a city are being more and more recognised as the core driver to economic success. Melbourne has a wonderful creative community. Our comedy, film, production and advertising is highly creative and many people from Melbourne excel in the advertising business. We need to celebrate this fact and push very hard the creative capabilities of our city.

Mitchell: The Melbourne advertising industry is booming. Its main strength is the long history of strong companies based here.

Neal: On the creative side, there does appear to be a lot of similarity in the way agencies are positioning themselves in Melbourne, whereas Sydney agencies seem better differentiated. On the media agency side, most talk about insights and strategy, but in reality we are still heavily focused on the functional side of planning and buying. Many media agencies are still caught in the spiral of chasing their growth through billings rather than the bottom line, and that's why so many of them find it difficult to make money.

Clients and their agencies tend to have a longer tenure together in Melbourne, which is caused through the depth of relationships that exist. The effect of this is that we have far less new business activity here than in Sydney, where clients tend to review more often.

Welsh: I think it's a bit sad that you're asking that question, really. After all, Melbourne is home to the only advertising agency in Australia to make the Gunn World Top 50 creative agencies (M&C Saatchi). This year Clemenger Melbourne appointed Mike O'Sullivan, arguably New Zealand's most awarded creative as its creative director. I'd say Melbourne was looking pretty good.

Chalke: No one can deny that the financial centre of gravity of Australian advertising has continued to shift towards "Sin City", and it's unlikely this will be reversed. However, Melbourne has other strengths which, if harnessed, could create the foundation of a mini-renaissance.

One of Melbourne's big strengths is that it isn't Sydney. Sydney's power, glitz and corporate style is contrasted by Melbourne's understated, thoughtful creativity.