Once upon a rhyme there were two bearded blokes at 120 Underwood Street, Paddington who matched ‘polyunsaturated’ with ‘congratulated’ to flog margarine. Down in Cecil Street, South Melbourne another two visionaries assembled perhaps the most awarded and uncompromising group of creatives ever. Comparison between the two was dramatic. Sydney v. Melbourne. Brash v. cerebral.
The common man v. the high church. Mojo and The Palace. This was the eighties, two pirates north and south of the border, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Then there was the navy. Sydney-based George Patterson and their Melbourne challenger Clemenger, long distance runners both. There were sprinters like Siimon, and alphabetically-challenged DMB&BWMO and MN&C. In the background, and often the foreground, loomed the redoubtable Singo. And 18 year-old David Droga scored top honours at AWARD School.
So to 1986
Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, Alan Bond bought TCN and GTV 9 from Kerry Packer (which he bought back for a quarter of the price a couple of years later) and the very first portable mobile phone call in Australia was made on February 23. MDA and Mojo formed a partnership to win the bicentennial government account and their best-forgotten ‘Celebration of a Nation’ campaign. Patts was (and had been for 30 years) the largest agency in the land billing (as was the measure in those days) $440,000. Mojo was acquired by Monahan Dayman Adams Limited and became Mojo-MDA, like many ‘mergers’ before and since it was a cultural mismatch that ended with Mojo becoming the dominant partner. As John Singleton said, “It was like the Post Office merging with The Beatles.”
The Grim Reaper spread fear amongst men, women and children, and earned Siimon Reynolds a measure of fame, and fortune with a $150,000 pay cheque from Grey. Weekes Morris & Osborn was named inaugural AdNews agency of the year. George Patterson was up next in 1987.
Next year, instead of singing along with Mo & Jo’s big bicentennial jingle, we opted for Magnus Nankervis & Curl’s adaption of the sixties doo-wop Dukes of Earl hit for D’Decore. The fact that the brand was mentioned more than 60 times in 60 seconds and the pack was in frame for the duration may have helped Michael, John and Ted win agency of the year. The agency later moved to Pyrmont and bought the building where TBWA now lives.
Campaign Palace, with Lionel Hunt and Gordon Trembath at the helm, was at the top of its game. It won 1989 agency of the year and hit the spot with its ‘Sic ‘Em Rex’ spot for Holeproof Antz Pantz. Written by Sarah Barclay - now global ECD at J. Walter Thompson, New York. The controversial commercial attracted plenty of attention as the errant echidna’s antics (sic) provided titilation that might not survive today’s Advertising Standards Bureau’s scrutiny. Mojo was acquired by LA-based Chiat\Day. (Only to pass through the hands of Foote Cone & Belding and ultimately land with Publicis.) Meanwhile down in St Kilda Road, and only ten years after joining Clemenger, Robert Morgan was anointed as managing director.
1990 and the economic noose started to tighten. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Agency of the year Saatchi & Saatchi brought a British Marmite flavour to the land of Vegemite. The VFL was re-branded as the AFL and Allan Border’s team won the Ashes. Seinfeld, The Simpsons, X Files and Twin Peaks ruled the nineties airwaves. AdNews Hall of Fame inductee John Bevins resigned from the AFA in 1991 over the tobacco imbroglio, but rejoined to drive its Code of Ethics. George Patterson’s Cousins dynasty drew to a close. Grey’s work for TAC rewrote road safety and following the Optus launch in 1992, the battle of the telcos boosted budgets for Singo, Mojo, Patts and DDB amongst others. And our favourite ad of the nineties? The still bright and beautiful RSPCA TVC from Sean Cummins, then at Leonardi & Curtis Melbourne.
The Palace – shrugging off its ‘boutique’ label – pulled off the double of the decade winning agency of the year in ‘91 and ’93. Richard Walsh ACP publisher and Oz Magazine enfant terrible, boldly predicted that, “Magazines are the only major media in the world that’s expanding.” Womans Day overtook New Idea as the biggest-selling weekly magazine. Keith Cousins, Geoff’s elder half-brother, died and Patts’ quirky Goggomobile TVC proved to be a winner for the agency. 1992 agency of the year DMB&B Weekes Morris Osborn (more than a mouthful for their hapless receptionist) became the hottest ticket in town, for a time
Agency of the year ‘94 winner was Clemenger and Mike Brady’s ‘Up the Cazaly’ did for AFL what ’C’mon Aussie’ did for cricket. Two years later M&C Saatchi, with a little help from British Airways and Qantas, soared into serious contention as agency of the year. 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Warren Brown, Matthew Melhuish and Paul Fishlock, fresh from The Palace formed BMF.
Matthew Melhuish, commenting on the post-accreditation environment explained, “We’ve struck five different types of payment deals with clients since opening BMF’s doors last year.” Remuneration was as critical in 1997, as it is today twenty years later. As David Droga observed, “We may have a creative hat, but we need business boots.” And lest we forget, this was the year David Ogilvy passed away at his beloved Chateau du Touffou aged 88 and Peter Gallucci the whizz kid head of ZenithMedia was killed in a tragic country car accident aged 39.
The 1998 election saw Ted Horton and Toby Ralph front for the Liberals, Saatchi chair Sandra Yates took on Labor (having bested Singos for the account) while One Nation failed to attract any interest from agencies - Pauline polled 8.43% of the popular vote. Robert Morgan – there’s that name again – was appointed executive chairman of Clemenger BBDO in ‘98, proving, if proof were needed, that stability is one of the keys to success in our ever-changing business. And yes, Clems were agency of the year again. Mojo launched ‘I Still Call Australia Home’, which was later refreshed by Singleton’s JSA and remained on air for another seven years.
Bringing the nineties to a close EuroRSCG became agency and interactive agency of the year. Times were a’changing as instanced by VCD (Virtual Creative Department) winning two years before and Host, with its outsourced creative business model some years later in 2008 topping the agency charts.
The millennium: 2000. Y2K didn’t happen. No bugs, no worries. The 14 day excitement of the Syd-er-nee Olympics dissolved in July, when the reality of the GST sunk in. That said, Weekes Morris Osborn, Patts and Bevins helped create what was declared by IOC president Samaranch,”The best Olympic Games ever.” The country was six years into the ‘white picket fence’ conservatism of the Howard years, until Kevin07 took over for a bit. The death of Bruce Gyngell, who with his, “Good evening, and welcome to television.” is remembered as the first man on television (TCN 9) in 1956. This fine advertising magazine celebrated its 75th anniversary with a bumper 150 pp issue and new boys on the block Whybin TBWA & Partners kicked off the century as agency of the year.
Clemenger injected “Not Happy Jan” into the vernacular and winner of national agency of the year. The following year M&C Saatchi, doubled up to take the trophy again once more.
Come 2003, Publicis Mojo, with a staff of 337 across three states at the time won agency of the year; the agency was to hold onto its long- running and highly-awarded Tourism Victoria ‘Jigsaw’ campaign for more than 20 years, Warren Brown poked out his tongue for Tooheys and a year later, Clemenger BBDO was top dog again; the judges accurately picked the Monkeys as emerging agency of the year.
Standout ads of 2005 were BMF’s Sam Kekovich’s launch of the Australia Day campaign for Meat & Livestock, the ground-breaking Patts viral hit ‘Big Ad’ and BWM’s ‘Great Wall of China’ spot for Telstra. Clemenger, with billings growth of $100 million, was again network of the year
‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ asked M&C next year in their campaign for Tourism Australia, bringing to mind the stir that Saatchis Wellington created with their nineties ‘bugger’ spot for Toyota HiLux. A few years earlier Euro launched, and then withdrew, ‘Bloody Volvo Driver.’
2006 marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of television and Naked won agency of the year two years after arriving from London with its ‘media-neutral inside-out’ marketing communications. Alan (Mo) Morris died ten years ago on April Fools’ Day. Ted Horton worked with both Mo & Jo and The Palace and picked up the very best from each in his newly minted Big Red. He also worked for a time at DDB which was agency of the year.
Gruen Transfer launched a TV career for that unlikely yin & yang duo, Todd & Russel. It attracted 1.3 million, the highest debut for an entertainment program in the ABC’s history. A year later 3.7 million viewers turned onto Ten to watch the July 2009 finale of Master Chef, proving that great food and clever cooking are a ratings winner, and the winner as agency of the year was Ikon Communications, The keen-eyed judges selected One Green Bean as emerging agency of the year.
2010 - 2017
2010 started off with Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, six months later it was Julia Gillard and after that … well you know the rest. Ted Horton’s Big Red won Coles, signaling the increasing strength of the independents – think Cummins, AJF, The Monkeys, Works, Hallway, et al. The late David Mattingly, the great salesman and king of retail was inducted into The AdNews Advertising Hall of Fame and George Patterson Y&R, Melbourne won agency of the year.
The food fight began when My Kitchen Rules - a program less about food and more about frivolity - launched on Seven to take on Ten’s celebrity chefs. The food fight spilled over to become the battle of the supermarkets – the insistent big red hand and ‘Down, down’ campaign stung Woolworths and its agency Leo Burnett and eventually pushed the retailer back to Tom McFarlane and his top team at M&C Saatchi. Watching on and growing steadily state-by-state Aldi and their partners BMF were slowly decimating the long-established duopoly. Hand-to-hand combat continues.
The next year Clemenger BBDO became agency of the year for the umpteenth time. Remember the Three Drunk Monkeys, the tearaway trio from Redfern? Hey, hey, here they were almost six years later, sober but more provocative than ever, with lots more in the tank and winners again in 2015. As if we have to be reminded, the opinionated and slimmed-down septurgeneran media veteran Mr Harold Mitchell and author of Living Large, pocketed a cool $200 million from the Dentsu takeover.
With a truckload of Cannes awards from the fabled 2009 ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign still gleaming on the mantelpiece, newly-branded hybrid CumminsRoss won the 2013 agency of the year and McCann won the world over with ‘Dumb Ways to Die.’
She was smart, sharp and sassy, and taken far too early, Melinda Eskell, top suit at Ogilvy, Clemenger and then Strawberry Frog and client-side in Europe. Sorely missed.
Game-changer Atomic 212 opened its doors in 2014. Qantas, thanks to Neil Lawrence, returned to its roots with its ‘Feels Like Home’ campaign. Saatchis won plaudits for OPSM’s ‘Penny the Pirate’, Sean Cummins packed his bags for NYC and Leo Burnett won agency and network of the year following a stellar year starring Diageo and Honda. Neither Neil Lawrence, nor David Thomason - the great meat marketing mastermind – are sadly no longer with us.
The enigmatic Scott Whybin entered the Hall of Fame in 2015 and exited the agency a year later. Henry Tajer took on a global role at IPG Mediabrands and cherry-picked Aussie talent. David Droga closed his Sydney office. Dentsu got serious in the creative space, buying into Sop BWM, Oddfellows and WiTH Collective. The Japanese giant is said to have more yen in the war chest.
2016 seems like only yesterday … ‘Brexit.’ ‘Trump.’ Two words that many, perhaps now most, thought to be fantasy rather than reality.
This article originally appeared in the AdNews Agency of the year Awrads special edition.
We also asked icons from the last 30 years to reflect on what's changed and what's stayed the same. Check out what Clemenger's Rob Morgan, The Monkeys, innaugural winner David Morris of Weekes Morris & Osborn, John Sintras and Sean Cummins had to say here.
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