The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Does Your Agency Want To Be An Exporter Or An Importer?
November 24, 2011, 6:10 am
Filed under: Comment

So when I was at the NINEMSN conference a couple of weeks ago, I was asked when W+K would open a shop there.

Now obviously I have no idea because I’m not the person who decides such things – but if I was, I’d of said “probably never” because as much as Australia spends more per capita on advertising than anywhere else in the World, there are 2 critical factors that – for me – work against it.

1. The population is too small.

2. The country is only interested in developing ideas for that population.

Let me explain myself a bit more clearly.

When I first moved to Australia, I was surprised how many people talked about only doing work that was right for Australia.

This was more than just ensuring relevance and resonance with the population, this was about actively keeping themselves apart from other cultures and countries.

Sure, there is influence from the UK and US … but at it’s heart, so much of the work that is lauded in Australia is work that will only appeal to the people of Australia.

And that seems a bit mad.

While I’m a huge advocate of doing work that is culturally correct – which, ironically in Australia, should be very varied given their multicultural status – to purposefully alienate other markets, consciously or not, seems ridiculous … especially when your population is so relatively small.

I know a lot of people will probably disagree with me … and I am not including campaigns like Aussie Tourism or Qantas who have a direct commercial need to communicate to other markets [though as I’ve written previously, they are often blueprints for how NOT to do it] … however I find it interesting that a country that seems to only regard themselves as successful when other countries heap praise on them, has an advertising and marketing industry that appears to actively want to live within it’s own borders and bubble.

Of course not everyone is like this – and I think it’s fantastic that so many people from so many other countries are there, because it will hopefully add fresh thinking to what can be achieved – however until companies become more ambitious and encourage their people and clients to create ‘exportable’ ideas [which given their location, means Asia has a desire to buy them] then their appeal to agencies like W+K is probably going to be fairly limited … unless the founders of those companies have a direct association with Australia, ala Droga5 and [at the time] Naked etc.

I hope I’m wrong, because there’s a ridiculous amount of talent there and they should not be contained by corporate fear or myopic nationalism.

49 Comments so far
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This is a very interesting post Robert. I’m sure the attitude described is not purely limited to the Australian advertising scene but it is interesting that a country that is heavily influenced by the UK and US, has a population made up of many different cultures and is so isolated geographically that it has encouraged its people to explore has, according to you, a relatively inward looking approach to communication creation.
I’ll be interested to hear what Australian based advertising practitioners think of your post but for once you seem to be writing about the people and country with adoration rather than mischief so I know you are saying this for the right reasons.

Comment by George

I’m with George, this is an interesting view on a maker that likes to present itself as contemporary, international and creative so I’d be interested how people in Australian advertising react.

Just to clarify, are you saying its the attitude of the industry, the people of the industry or an overall cultural view?

Comment by Pete

stop fucking sounding like a lawyer and read the fucking post. i wouldnt, campbells scribblings bore the fuck out of me but even i know hes talking about the fucking industry not every poor fucker who is working in it and thinks visiting cannes is like being a fucking astronaut.

Comment by andy@cynic

Thank you for clarifying the point Andy.
And my shortcomings.

Comment by Pete

its all part of my giving fucking spirit

Comment by andy@cynic

The aussies are good at exporting drunks with an unhealthy love of check shirts to Earls Court, bad tv soaps and actors and photos of koala bears to every under 5’s kids book, so I don’t know why their ad industry finds it so hard to follow the trailblazing path that’s already been set.

Comment by DH

this comment is a million fucking times better than the planning twats above you. arise sir dh.

Comment by andy@cynic

Or I could answer a bit more seriously and ask how many aussie born agencies have expanded and succeeded in overseas markets. NZ doesn’t count.

This proves nothing and means nothing by the way, I’m just interested.

Comment by DH

then you fucking blow it with this pointless shit. get back down peasant dave.

Comment by andy@cynic

what the fuck are you doing on here so fucking early? havent you got better shit to do? i forgot, no you fucking havent. losers.

Comment by andy@cynic

and why the fuck arent you thanking aussie adland for keeping themselves to themfuckingselves. koalas, inxs, donavan, neighbours, kidman. theyve sent enough shit into our fucking world to merit a un invasion so writin ads that only appeal to crims and sheep fuckers is a great fucking thing to do for the rest of the fucking world. so lay the fuck off them campbell and stop giving them dreams of bigger, its the last fucking thing we need.

Comment by andy@cynic

You have clarity of a planner Andy.

Go on, I’ve set you up for one of your magnificent responses.

Comment by Pete

but that would mean doing something you want and i wouldnt fucking do that if it meant selling the vancouver money pit for a fucking profit. actually i fucking would so make me a fucking offer an ill give you a moment of my unparalleled fucking genius.

money talks pete. silence gets a kicking.

Comment by andy@cynic

Google product #8 to be killed today..

Comment by niko

Hi Robert. I’m a long time follower of your blog but this post and seeing you at the ninemsn conference has forced me to make my first comment. I hope everyone will be gentle on me.

Thank you. This is something that needs to be said. I am not Australian but have worked in both Sydney and Melbourne for the past 3 years and I am still shocked how parochial the attitude of the industry is.

Much of this is driven by clients, but it is also supported by agency management who are intent on giving clients what they want to ensure they don’t put the business out to pitch.

As you mentioned, there are a lot of very talented people here, but for all the praise that is heaped on the industry, very few companies even talk about having any global ambitions.

Looking forward to hearing what others say but I’m with you.

Comment by Trapped in Sydney

bit of an anticlimax wasnt it. dont worry, campbell has that fucking way with everyone. especially women.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi ‘Trapped’ … nice to have you pop by, I hope it’s the first time of many, as long as you haven’t been too underwhelmed by the whole experience.

Thank you for your comment. I particularly like the bit where you say ‘global ambitions’ … I relate to that, especially because I started cynic in Australia and despite being there, the amount of clients we had in that country was minute for exactly that reason.

To be fair, having global ambitions and executing those ambitions is dependent on a shit load of things, but as much as the Australian market is dominated by holding company owned agencies, the ones who are left – the independent mob – are very good at talking about expanding but very bad at doing it.

To be fair, I admire the fact they are holding back – it means they appreciate just opening the doors isn’t enough these days [as many other agencies bad experiences highlights] however I’d feel at least a bit more excited if I saw these agencies demonstrate a desire to learn about other cultures – or do work for other cultures – as opposed to just talk the game but still do the same Australian focused work as before.

I’m being unkind because there are some really awesome agencies there like BMF and the Monkey’s … as well as some genuinely expanding overseas for the right reasons like IKON … however from my seat – which is admittedly thousands of miles away – the reality is many clients don’t encourage their agencies to think in terms of developing global work because – as you say – they are quite addicted to the attitude of being ‘Australian’ for ‘Australians’.

Or am I completely missing the point? Wouldn’t be the first time, let’s be honest.

Comment by Rob

oh fuck, this is going to be one of those fucking serious posts isnt it? fuck that, im going to get pissed.

do you hear that northern. im going to get off my face and im not asking the wife for permission. thats what real men do and its got fuck all to do with the fact shes visiting her mum. in another country. for a week.

Comment by andy@cynic

Ad agencies in Australia seem to follow the general Aussie international business mantra. It goes like this:
“We’re not part of Asia.
We’re not part of Asia.
We’re not part of Asia.
We’re not part…”

Funnily enough, if you keep repeating it, the mantra manages to remain true.

Comment by Felix

Thanks Felix, but this goes beyond the Asia thing – which is true and which is coming to bite them on the arse as the economy swings back to Asian control – my view is that the attitude in many Australian agencies and clients is ‘stay unequivocally Aussie’ … or am I wrong?

Comment by Rob

Oh I’d agree that you’re right. I was just picking out a specific part of the overall mindset.

The ‘unequivocally Aussie’ work is part of that too.

Maybe it’s part of the general Aussie cultural cringe. We need to maintain our separation because if we do internationally appealing work, then work from overseas will flood OUR market and put Aussie agencies out of business.

Same thing happens with cars – ‘built for Australian conditions’ as though our roads are magically different and we need to redesign every family sedan or they’ll just evaporate as soon as a possum looks in their general direction.

Also, I’m required by law to call you a ‘whinging pom’ for daring to suggest that Australia is not superior to everywhere else in every way. So…

Bugger off you whinging pom!

Comment by Felix

tell him to fuck off felix. bugger off is way too fucking nice. maybe doddsy and i can give you aussies some lessons or is that fucking unaustralian as well?

Comment by andy@cynic

Actually Andy, you’d make a pretty good Aussie. You’ve got the swearing down pat.

(That ought to wind him up.)

As for telling Rob to fuck off, there doesn’t seem much point – some bunch of media wankers will doubtless invite him back on another junket soon enough. So I just stick to the required baseline level of animosity towards poms.

Pretty sure there’s some sort of comment about Rob’s wife to be made here, but it would be in poor taste. So I’ll leave it to Andy.

Comment by Felix

They should have asked when you were going to build a car there.

Comment by John

cars? this is australia, the backward fuckers are still riding and fucking kangaroos.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hah. Hadn’t read your comment when I mentioned cars in my reply above. Great minds and all that, right?

Comment by Felix

Here we go again …

Comment by Rob

what the fuck are you blaming us for. you fucking started it.

Comment by andy@cynic

W+K did have a office in australia, albeit very briefly, at the time of the 2000 olympics. They opened in melbourne and stayed open for 9 months afterwards. Then the realisation that it wasn’t the ideal country to do the kind of quality work they wanted to do came, and the shop was shut.

My concern with the work is less that it’s just for these borders, and more that there are massive cliches and stereotypes applied to the supposed homogeneity of the people, and what will appeal to them, within the borders. This leads to cliched and stereotypical work.

Comment by Simon

Yes they did Simon, but that was – I am guessing – driven mainly because of the Olympics and that one of our biggest clients was/is NIKE rather than the belief the market was one filled with commercial potential, despite the fact per capita, it spends more on ads than any other country.

I get what you mean about the cliches and stereotypes. Just today I read in Campaign Brief about another Aussie beer ad that is doing nothing more than basically sponsored jokes [] and what really bothered me was that the overall response was hugely positive with one person going so far as to say:

“A print campaign that doesn’t just look good, it has a real idea and a strategy behind it. Rare as hen’s teeth.”

OK, it has an idea – sort of – but a strategy? Really? I know beer is a product that should be inherently social and positive, but Australian beer ads are so interchangeable that basically they support the category rather than any one individual brand. Only VB was different – but they fell into the trap of trying to own an aesthetic rather than the values the brand was built off.

As I said, doing stuff that is culturally relevant is very important – but too many people are confusing cliches and stereotypes as culture and it’s not, not in the true sense of the term – which is also being more overused by adland than terms like ‘revolution’ and ‘effectiveness’.

Comment by Rob

fuck me, is that what passes as aussie beer ad these fucking days. its ok, but its only fucking ok. but then thats all that fucking clients want these fucking days isnt it.

Comment by andy@cynic

Sorry Rob, probably didn’t make myself clear – it was for nike for the olympics. It stayed open for just under a year after they finished. I guess to see whether the expense of opening an office was worth it, but they came to the (right) decision that it wasn’t in this market.

The lowest common denominator approach is awful here. As is the use of sponsored joke, treating your audience as if they haven’t got a brain, and 90% of ads being ‘slice of life’ ads featuring people that are meant to represent ‘mainstream’ Australia talking to camera about how good their product is.

Comment by Simon

Just to let you know Simon, you made this blogs 40,200th comment.


Hahahahahahaha …

Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, just the fact this rubbish has managed to garner 40,000+ comments … though if I take away mine and Andy’s, it probably leaves about 130. If I’m lucky.

Comment by Rob

Comments or ridicule?

Comment by John

i call it giving him fucking good advice.

Comment by andy@cynic

This is only based on my limited experience of visiting Oz so far – 2h hours in Sydney airport, long story – but it sounds like they could open up their borders to more immigration, to have more suckers to sell advertising to. Redistribute the APAC audience base a little bit as it were, just like the Australians redistribute themselves to the rest of the Commonwealth countries.

Comment by Willem van der Horst

Kylie is OK though

Comment by northern

Not for much longer though, let’s face it …

Comment by Rob

face being the operative word. Stretched further than the credility of Media Arts

Comment by northern

I thought the operative word was ‘arse’.

Comment by Rob

I you want to objectify women in such a manner that’s fine

Comment by northern

is campbells candour upsetting the casafuckingnova of flat cap land? fuck me, youll be saying youporn is a fucking disgrace next. what the fuck has got into you groper?

Comment by andy@cynic

I have a daughet now. All exploitation of women is aoof limits.
And you’ve been based in Canada for too long, you’ve lost your nose for irony, mind you, your nose will soon be filled with the smell of pungent nappies while you go slowly deaf from the screaming and start hallucinating from the lack of sleep

Comment by northern

i fucking love a poacher turned gamekeeper, theyre always good for a laugh. and for the record northern, im only in blandada a few days a month, so my loss of irony is due to the fuckers in nyc, planners and my wife who has lost the ability to see any joke relating to our unborn money vacuum funny in the fucking slightest. the little bastard hasnt even been born and theyve already changed my fucking life.

Comment by andy@cynic

Interesting post, I think a lot of other countries have a similar mindset but maybe get away with it more due to larger populations or greater exporting of their styles and mindset.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I can see you being the MD of W+K Melbourne, Rob

Comment by Age

then finding out they closed the fucker a decade ago.

Comment by andy@cynic

Hi Rob,
As an Australian working in the ad industry in Australia for the past 5 years I do agree with you that our industry lives in a bubble.

This is mainly due to clients fears of appearing ‘unAustralian’. Appearing this way is seen as a sure way to upset your consumers (within this market) because as Simon said, of the stereotypes and clichés applied to the people here.

Even global brands who advertise here try and appear like they’re Australian just so they don’t piss off the crowd.

Companies need to grow some balls.

Those who don’t want to live and work in this bubble fuck off overseas (and yes they do flood the other Commonwealth countries more than others – perhaps because these countries; Canada, UK etc are somewhat similar ‘bubbled’ industries?).

Bottom line is, Australians like Australia. They like Australian things – Donovan is definitely NOT one of those things – but they like our stuff better than other stuff. This is engrained in the people here. We get ‘Australian made’ tags shoved in our face as soon as we’re born (attached to a stuffed koala bear).

Sadly, I believe it will take a while for this to change completely, however I do believe it is changing (albeit slowly) with the help of digital breaking down geographical borders and the isolation from other cultures and markets.

Comment by Amy

Hey Amy, thanks for coming and thanks for writing your perspective so openly and honestly. When I first moved to Oz, I must admit I was quite taken by how proud the country was of itself … certainly more than the UK where I had just left.

What was nice was that it all felt like they wanted to do good by others … make everyone prosper … but then something happened, around the time of the Olympics, and suddenly that ‘proudly Australian’ came to symbolise elitism and insular attitudes and thoughts and, at least for me, something that made the country so great died a little.

Maybe it’s part of growing up or maybe it’s part of living in a place for a long time – I saw the same with Singapore too – but it’s sad, because breadth is as valuable [and important] as depth, but far too few people and industries seems to be celebrating that fact.

Comment by Rob

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