Saturday, March 11, 2006

Paul McIntyre: Brits too bloody starchy for Saatchi

Remember late last year when those wicked Australians pinched the company behind New Zealand's highly successful "100% Pure" international tourism marketing effort?

Well, those responsible for the ambush on New Zealand are now in deep trouble with the Brits.

After months of secret strategy talks setting Australia on a path to increase international visitor numbers from the current 5.5 million each year to 9 million by 2014, New Zealand's old tourism advertising shop, M&C Saatchi, two weeks ago unveiled Australia's controversial new work - a $180 million global effort underpinned by the words "Where the bloody hell are you?"

The campaign, destined only for international markets, got local punters and media tied up in knots about how such a tagline would upset the Singaporeans and how it would translate poorly into Korean and Japanese. The intellectuals certainly didn't appreciate it but on most newspaper websites, Australian punters overwhelming voted in its favour.

The debate was still loud enough for Prime Minister John Howard to step up a day after the new ad was launched to defend Australia's new bloody face to the world: "I think the style of the advertisement is anything but offensive," he said. "It is in the [right] context and I think it's a very effective ad."

And in defending the commercial last week, Tourism Australia's managing director, Scott Morrison, argued that the critics had got their wires truly crossed.

"In short, it's not a cultural essay, it's just a bloody tourism ad, and a good one," he said.

"And before we rush to ask how 'bloody hell' translates into Korean or Japanese, the answer is not the point. We constructed our message and tested it on them in our top seven markets and they gave it the thumbs up, saying it cuts through, they get it and that it delivers a uniquely Australian invitation. Why? Well, first, because no one sits down in their living room after watching an ad and writes essays about it - deconstructing its language and hidden meanings. Normal punters just watch the ad and react."

And react is exactly what those bloody poms have done. The nation that brought Benny Hill to its colonial outposts has been the first to banish Australia's new tourism push.

The British snub might well have New Zealand's tourism boffins delighted by the justice in it all, although it now looks like the Australians are hell-bent on turning the whole British saga into a PR coup.

"It's bloody pathetic," says one of M&C Saatchi's London-based partners, Bill Muirhead, pointing out that Britain's Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which vets all TV ads, has allowed commercials from companies such as FCUK to continue. "We are going to see if we can take legal action."

Australia's Tourism Minister Fran Bailey told the Nine Network yesterday the British controversy was turning into good publicity for Australia.

"We're getting a great result," she said. ' "Now thanks to the regulator everyone is hearing about it."

It is just a touch British that the country that came up with the word 400 years ago can't deal with it on TV screens.

"We tested the ads in all of our markets and it came back of course that the Brits loved it," Bailey said. "The crazy thing about this as well is that it can be shown in all cinemas, online and in all the print media. So it will go ahead in the uncut version in all of those."

Bugger, a few New Zealanders might well say.

* Paul McIntyre is a Sydney journalist


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