Consumers Hate This Ad (But They Remembered It)

Earlier this year, Commonwealth Bank in Australia was harshly criticized for hiring a U.S. ad agency. It didn’t matter that the agency was world-famous Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, people down under were skeptical that they wouldn’t grasp the nuances of Aussie culture.

The hell with Aussie culture, they said. Instead of even attempting a spot that might try to honor the land of Oz, the bank and agency decided to take a huge gamble and made one of the weirdest spots you’ll ever see in the financial industry.

Here’s the concept: A bigtime American movie director, hired by a fictitious U.S. ad agency, makes an  unintentional parody of Australian culture in a new commercial for Commonwealth Bank. The makebelieve spot piles one Aussie stereotype on top of another: Mad Max koalas from Beyond the Thunderdome tangle with a didgeridoo-playing, boomerang-chucking Crocodile Dundee lookalike. The bank’s executives are not amused.

It’s a spot-within-a-spot, where art imitates life imitating art.

When the commercial first debuted, only the first 30 seconds were shown.
To many, it looked like the bank had gone completely insane.
A little while later, the whole spot aired, revealing the bank’s displeasure with the “ad” within its ad.

People hated it. It was lampooned around the world. But both the agency and the bank staunchly defended their strategy.

30% of Australia’s 16 million people don’t like the campaign or the strategy. That’s only 4.8 million people, or about 1-out-of-3.

Now, they’ve got some results.

Mark Buckman, the bank’s marketing director, says that brand awareness has grown from 70% to 95% while simultaneously cutting the media budget 30%.

But Mr. Buckman also acknowledged that 30% of Australia’s 16 million people don’t like the campaign or the strategy. That’s only 4.8 million people, or about 1-out-of-3, but Buckman says’ he’s okay with it because “16 million Australians are a big enough pond for us to fish in.”

Buckman defended the bank’s decision to ship it’s highly coveted $100 million account overseas: “We couldn’t find an advertising agency in Australia that was prepared to think differently about us.”

“We were sick to death of being told what we couldn’t do.”

That’s fine, but is that why they took such a huge gamble with the bank’s brand?

Buckman said there was a fundamental belief that perceptions of 100-year-old institution could not be changed. “In order to get people to think differently about us, we had to get them to notice us and then get them to talk about us — and talk they did,” he said. “We set out to achieve three things — impact, comprehension and likeability.”

Two out of three ain’t bad. But doesn’t “likeability” seem like an important brand association?

About CEO Ralph Norris’s feelings towards the risky strategy, Buckman said, “He didn’t shy away, but he did say ‘this is either going to be a blaze of glory or just a blaze. Either way there are going to be flames.'”

True that.

Key Questions:

  • Would you prefer to be well-known by many, but unliked? Or would you rather be liked, but only known by a few?
  • Is brand awareness more important that positive feelings about a brand?

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