08 September 2014

Strip clashes: Why can't the AFL get it right?

Yesterday's AFL Elimination Final between Port Adelaide and Richmond was hard to watch, and not only because of Richmond's painful performance. I found that the combination of bright sun and deep shade at the Adelaide Oval plus the confusingly similar strips of the teams made for very difficult TV viewing. And I simply couldn't understand why that was the case, when the issue of a strip clash had been raised and - I thought - settled during the week, with the unusual decision to allow Port to wear its traditional SANFL "prison bars" stripes. Yet again, the AFL got it wrong, and it continues to set itself up for failure by not having a simple, fail-safe strip policy.

Some teams and supporters seem to be stuck in the 1950s with the concept of black shorts for the home team and white shorts for the visitors. But that harks back to an era when every team had its own home ground. The concept of "home" and "away" games is meaningless in 2014 - the vast majority of AFL games are played at a ground where neither team is actually at "home" - yet the AFL seems to be gutless about dragging these laggards into the 21st century.

It's actually pretty simple. Teams don't need a "home strip" and an "away strip" as well as a "clash strip" - that's just unnecessarily complicated and confusing. I'm not a neuropsychologist, but I know that it's a basic precept of visual cognition that the eye and brain differentiate objects more rapidly and easily when they contrast. This applies to players as much as it does to spectators and TV viewers, although the limitations of image capture and reproduction make it even more crucial for TV audiences.

To maximise contrast in every game, every AFL team needs just two strips - one predominantly dark and one predominantly light. Forget the irrelevant "home" and "away" shorts - the colour of the shorts goes with whether the strip is predominantly dark or light. Let the home team choose first, or toss for it. And AFL teams should be forced to comply with the light/dark protocol. If they dig their heels in, they will be continuing to damage the game as a whole. While we're at it, guernsey designers should forget fancy swooshes and ribbons and stylised animals - just stick to traditional stripes, sashes, hoops and yokes. From a few rows back or on TV, you can't tell whether that's a majestic swooping brown hawk on the jumper or just a big skid mark.

Why Richmond and Port Adelaide couldn't have played yesterday in the colours they're wearing in the picture above is beyond me. Port had a huge home ground advantage anyway - what difference could it possibly have made what colour shorts they were wearing?

07 September 2014

The Marlboro Man and the Australian Open

It might be hard for some younger people to imagine, but in the early 1980s the Australian Open tennis tournament (then held at Kooyong Stadium each December) was sponsored by Marlboro cigarettes. In fact, they were the "naming rights" sponsor, and the tournament was widely referred to in the media as the Marlboro Australian Open.

Activists and supporters from organisations opposed to tobacco marketing and sponsorship, including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the Movement Opposed to the Promotion of Unhealthy Products (MOP-UP) and Billboard-Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions (BUGA UP) organised effective protests on Glenferrie Road opposite the stadium, with a simulated "marble row" of headstones and a giant inflatable cigarette, easily visible from the South Eastern Freeway (now Monash/CityLink).

As part of a growing movement against tobacco sponsorship of sport at the time, I wrote and performed this song on community radio station 3CR's Health Show. It's my one and only "protest song"...

The Marlboro Man rode on out from the range
With his profits distending his belly,
And he cunningly thought, if he sponsored some sport
He could still get his ads on the telly.

So he went down to Kooyong and laid out some cash -
Just a pittance for someone so wealthy -
And he said, with a cough: "If this really pays off,
It might even make smoking look healthy."

He said: "Get me the best tennis players on Earth -
I want McEnroe, Borg, Gerulaitis!
It'll be so damn good, I'd play myself if I could...
But I can't - I've got heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema... and chronic bronchitis."


Eventually the Victorian government acted, not only to end tobacco sponsorship of sport, but to fund sporting clubs and healthy activities using revenue collected from tobacco taxes, via the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth), the first of its kind in the world.

03 September 2014

Kmart and BWM bowdlerise a classic hit for TV

With the aim of extending the feel of its "Bom Bom" campaign of 2013, featuring the music track of that name by Sam and the Womp, Kmart Australia has recently launched a new TV ad. Here's how their agency BWM explains it:
BWM Melbourne's new spot for Kmart shows how irresistible value feels, by celebrating and sharing the 'Kmart feeling' that transforms low-price products into a wonderland for the imagination.The spot features track 'The Clapping Song' by Shirley Ellis.
It's a pleasant enough ad, if a bit derivative of the kind of thing Bonds has been doing for a number of years. But something about it has bothered me from the start. Although the agency claims on its YouTube channel that the ad features 'The Clapping Song' by Shirley Ellis, the lyrics have clearly been changed from that familiar classic hit of the 1960s without acknowledgment.

For some unknown reason, it's been bowdlerised. Here's how the Kmart version goes, with the original lyrics in brackets:

Three, six, nine
The goose drank lime (wine)
The monkey chewed tomato (tobacco)
On the streetcar line
The line broke
The monkey got woke (choked)
And they all went together (to heaven)
In a little row boat.

Unnecessary? Over the top? Political correctness gone mad? I can only guess that advertiser and agency are trying to avoid any possibility of complaints to the Advertising Standards Board about inappropriate references to alcohol and tobacco consumption and a fatal public transport accident.

Anyway, please enjoy the original (also covered by The Belle Stars in the 1980s) in all its offensive glory...



31 August 2014

Toyota Klanger: Worst-ever rock song adaptation for advertising?

With the footy season reaching the pointy end, we're sure to see a lot more advertising from Toyota, official sponsors of the AFL Premiership. Sadly, that will mean many more exposures of the horrendous current 30-second TVC for Toyota's large family 4WD, the Kluger. This ad is based on what must be the worst-ever adaptation of a popular song as an advertising jingle. Think of the much-loved Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Down On The Corner", then read these lyrics:

Early morning netball
It's sideline coffee time
The boys begin stretching
Soccer's next, let's ride
Need another latte
To cheer on the team
Dad and the four kids exhausted
Mum will be up for a week.
Unbelievably clunky, unfunny and far from clever. Add a half-hearted and poorly-enunciated vocal performance and every visual cliché about "soccer moms" and WASP families you can think of, and you have an absolute shocker of an ad.

Is this really the best creative idea Toyota's agency Saatchi & Saatchi could come up with to differentiate the Kluger from its competitors? Apparently they reckon a lame anecdote about Mum drinking too much latte is something the target audience will relate to and find funny and appealing, in a way that helps build preference for Kluger.

It might work marginally better as an ad for decaf coffee. Or birth control.

04 September 2013

Political parties: Forget "message". Try vision, values and leadership

With three days to go, I've pretty much given up hope. But reflecting on this excruciatingly awful 2013 Federal Election campaign, I still can't help wishing for the impossible... a glimpse of vision from a political leader somewhere.

Ask a party leader why we should vote for him/her and the answer is inevitably framed narrowly, with reference to the other parties. Even the Greens pretty much go with "Because we're not them...".

Surely a better question is "Why do you want to lead us?" Forget the other parties and tell us what you and your mob actually believe in. What are your fundamental values? What motivates you? What's your vision for the nation?

Both major parties are so often heading down the same cynical path on issues like asylum seekers and climate change that we can no longer rely on observed actions and stated policies as a guide to their values and beliefs. Yet I think we crave something more meaningful.

To extend this a little, and with reference to what I do for organisations (businesses and not-for-profits), it continues to puzzle me why political parties spend massive amounts on communications and "message" consultants, researchers and pollsters, but apparently fail to work internally on their core strategy first.

Put simply, message doesn't drive meaning. What I consistently tell marketers is that they must identify or decide what it is they really stand for FIRST, before they even think about the implications for communication. I don't see why the parties that aspire to govern us should do things any differently.

21 June 2013

Coco Pops and contemporary culture


On Triple R FM's Breakfasters this morning, Stew Farrell was lightly ridiculing a newspaper story about advertising targeted to children when something curious happened. His co-presenters, Fee B-Squared and Lorin Clarke, seemed to become quite uncomfortable at Stew's repeated naming of the breakfast cereal brand Coco Pops (which was the subject of the story) and effectively truncated the discussion, even though it was absolutely clear that he was responding to a news item and this was in no way a case of "cash for comment".

The idea that mentioning brand names is somehow unpleasant or distasteful in non-commercial media is quite widespread. I've written here before about the ABC's unworkable and, at times, hypocritical "no brands" policy. But I haven't previously detected the same attitude among public broadcasters.

Let's be sensible about this: brands are a cultural reality. Like it or not, brands are one of the ways in which we make sense of contemporary Western life. It's almost impossible to discuss anything important or meaningful in our lives without mentioning a brand or, usually, numerous brands. Our memories are often linked to, and activated by, brands, brand names and advertising jingles. We don't do it consciously and we certainly don't do it in expectation of a commercial reward. Notwithstanding often valid critiques in works like "No Logo", brands are here to stay.

And just because it's a breakfast cereal or an unhealthy product doesn't mean a brand is unworthy of discussion on public radio. 3CR's Health Show was very actively involved in fighting - and ending - Marlboro's sponsorship of the Australian Open Tennis Championships in the early 1980s.

After all, Triple R is a brand, too. Its pivotal role in Melbourne culture over nearly 40 years is inextricably linked to numerous commercial brands: music venues, record labels, bands, festivals, cafes, TV shows. Silencing brands would be doing a disservice to the culture of the city Triple R serves so well.

15 May 2013

Blurred vision and pointless positioning

More than a decade ago, while waiting for my visitor's pass at the gatehouse of the Australian HQ of a multinational pharmaceutical company, I noticed a new sign proclaiming their vision. It was so extraordinarily bad that it remains imprinted on my mind to this day. It read:
Achieving together to lead in healthcare.
It was a classic example of the sort of vision statement that can only be written by a committee. Ugly to read and say. So cautious as to be incomprehensible. Undifferentiating. Uninspired and uninspiring.

Achieving what? Achieving to lead? What does that even mean?

A vision statement is supposed to give employees, customers and stakeholders an unequivocal and inspiring view of what makes your organisation unique and how it aims to make the world a better place. Seeing such a hopelessly ill-directed and badly written statement made me think no-one was in charge and no-one really knew what the company was on about. Its performance in subsequent years tends to suggest perhaps that was indeed the case.

I was reminded of that pharma classic today when I saw a slogan carefully signwritten on the side of a smart-looking utility vehicle bearing the name of an air conditioning maintenance firm. It read:
Partners of first choice.
A positioning statement is supposed to define the ways in which you would like customers to perceive your offer as different and distinctive compared with those of your competitors. But this one is also meaningless and uninspired.

Being seen as a partner rather than a supplier is every service provider's aim. There's nothing new or distinctive about that - it's old news, as stale and hackneyed as saying you offer solutions. And being first choice is surely the goal of every provider of air conditioning services - they probably differ only in terms of which customer segment they decide to target.

My point is, if you are going to bother telling the world what you stand for, make it count.

If you lack the internal resources to work through it and develop something distinctive and meaningful, then seek outside assistance. And if your consultant comes up with twaddle like Achieving together to lead in healthcare, then sack him/her and get someone who knows how to develop insights, capture ideas and make words work.