Optus called again: Aussie creatives unpack Ricky Gervais ads

By Lucy Carroll | 20 October 2015

Ricky Gervais has mastered the art of the anti-sell in his new ads for Optus. Or has he?

After the British comedian clocked up 1.8 million hits on YouTube spruiking the Optus and Netflix tie-up earlier in the year, the telco brought Gervais back in two new spots where he boasts – in classic David Brent style – about getting even more money for less effort.

But what do local creative directors think? We spoke to some of the best in the business to see if Gervais’ clout and deadpan delivery can sell a telco.

Creative director at Common Ventures, Jane Burhop, says its Gervais’ hilarious contempt and unequalled ability to blur the lines between truth and ridicule that wins "a bucket load of brand love for Optus.”

“It’s uncomfortably humorous. This ad is so awkward it bullies me into watching the whole thing. His humour is uncomfortable – but you can’t help but keep watching. Having a comedian take the piss out of the fact that he has been paid a ridiculous amount of money to take the piss definitely ticks the entertainment box,” says Burhop.

“Hats off to the brand and content agency Emotive for allowing Gervais to be himself and not deviate from his style of comedy. If anything, this has allowed him to keep his integrity in tact.” 

But the follow up spots are a far riskier proposition, she says, largely because “stackable content just doesn’t work as well when you binge.”

“For the first time in a long time, an Australian telco has successfully owned humour. The temptation for the brand to keep going would have been too great to ignore.”

“It would be good to ditch the irony for some real insights that link the humour to the brand.”

Creative director at Havas, Seamus Higgins, agrees it’s the “irreverent sense of humour and Gervais’ reluctance to do the ad” that makes it work – the first time. “Ricky Gervais, a creator of great stuff to watch, telling us about Optus bringing us Netflix, a purveyor of great stuff to watch."

And I was jealous, because I would have loved to make that,” he said. “I loved Optus a little bit more for doing it.”

But Higgins says the idea lacks the same punch in the follow up spots.

“What news was Ricky telling me this time? I don’t know. Because when he stopped talking, I stopped listening.”

“It feels like the same joke again, from a man who’s renowned to be a man of many, many jokes. Secondly, like me, I’m sure people switched off as soon as he did,” he said. “I’m finding it hard to find the campaignable idea in this campaign.”

Despite the criticism, Higgins said allowing Gervais full creative license means he “can get away with” the mocking admission that he is prepared to undermine his artistic integrity in Australia.

“Australians have a wonderfully self deprecating sense of humour. As long as they're telling the joke. But I think Ricky gets away with it. And I like that Optus ran with it,” he said.

Creative director at Reborn Eran Thomson agrees truth and transparency makes the ads work, emphasising the spots are “only funny (and arguably effective) because Ricky Gervais is funny (and arguably effective).”

“Generally speaking I feel that puns and personalities are poor substitutes for a good idea, but at least there is an obvious link to using a movie star to sell movies on Netflix/Optus,” says Thomson.

“The first spot does this better than the follow up and I can't help wondering if it would be more interesting over the long term to see other celebrities take on the Netfix/Optus deal, rather than putting all those dollars into Gervais’ pocket.

In March, Emotive founder and CEO Simon Joyce said: “Allowing Ricky to take control of the scripts and deliver it with his globally renowned comedy style was a bold move which could only happen with a progressive brand like Optus. We’re all chuffed with the result.”

The ads have been delivered by a digital amplication strategy that includes Optus' owned assets, social media and publisher syndication.

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