Big brands, little cities

Chris Colter
By Chris Colter | 26 February 2024
Chris Colter.

It’s always baffled me why investing in regional media is a topic worth talking about in 2024, let alone penning an opinion piece…yet here we are. Whilst more and more brands are beginning to include regional Australians in their marketing efforts the investment-to-opportunity gap remains woefully wide. In fact the latest Boomtown report shows regional media gets 17% of all media budgets despite over a third-of-Australia’s population living outside the metro 5cap.

Why is that? Laziness? Unconscious Bias? Too hard? Counterintuitively I’d argue the statistic above is part of the reason. All too often the case for regional media is predicated on the ‘missed audience’ opportunity, and that advertisers should seek to match their spend with population figures. On its surface this is a fair provocation, but when you properly interrogate it you quickly realise it’s largely a naïve argument. Whether we like it or not metro marketing simply costs more. It needs to command bigger budgets to maintain share of voice and bigger creativity to cut through the intense competitive clutter…and that’s ok.

For me the real question we should be asking is if it costs less to reach regional audiences, why don’t marketers take full advantage of the opportunity? Whilst we won’t (and shouldn’t) convince brands to match population with financial investment, we should be pushing them to match creative investment.

I live around Wollongong and outside of an apologetic billboard stunt cannot think of anything interesting I’ve seen around my streets from a blue chip brand. Yet every station I get off in the city is covered with giant branded decals, I can barely go a week without a street team trying to get me to sample something and giant futuristic 3D billboards are becoming the norm. Big brand creativity, and specifically creative use of media, is on full display in cities but it’s noticeably absent in regional hubs.

By focusing on population – aka ‘reach’ - as the sole reason to invest in regional media it invariably dilutes it to functional line item on marketing plans instead of the growth accelerant it could be. The sheer lack of impact media in regional areas means the opportunity to command attention and long-term affinity is naturally multiplied. Marketing science dictates that novelty and ‘newness’ is a critical element of effective brand activation, and all brands need to do is tour their big-city tactics to regional hubs to achieve it. A station domination in the city is wallpaper, it’s something people point at while waiting on platforms in regional. A sampling stunt is an interruption in the city, in regional it’s a local event worth ‘checking out’. A drone show is a cute stunt in the city, in regional hubs it makes the newspaper…

Put simply, big brands just hit different in little cities. In markets saturated with local businesses promoting their wares the simple appearance of an iconic national or international brand stands out. Moreover, they’re not just seen, but they make locals feel seen – which is a highly powerful emotion. As a graduate of a regional university, I still remember the 2-3 brands who activated during my o-week with a viscerally favourable halo. Now, don’t get me wrong, I adore local brand ads and in fact believe regional businesses deliver more textbook effective marketing than most major brands (that’s a rant for another time), but local mom n pop businesses simply don’t have the budgets to push creative boundaries beyond brilliant but scrappy tactics.

In a world where attention is key, and memory encoding critical, marketers have a dormant opportunity right in front of them to create cost-effective lifelong impact with nothing more than a little more creative consideration. Instead of just buying that billboard, make it a special build. Instead of buying radio spots, run an integrated competition. Instead of buying one more portrait side on a tram, wrap a regional bus. I guarantee you the impact you create will be multiplied multi-fold. Hell, if the idea is good enough you can even reach your city audiences with the amplification of it as well – just look at this amazing example from Lion for XXXX. By harnessing their iconic logo to display the local postcodes of origin players, they created a template that allowed them to tweak their TV, Radio, Outdoor, localised promotions and even their merchandise (e.g. branded postcode bumper stickers) to maximise its relevance and appeal to regional audiences…whilst amplifying their stories on a national stage making regional Aussies, again, feel seen.

Finally, you might look at the above and think all this is naïve coming from a media bloke and I’ve deliberately glanced over the fact that production budgets are what often stop this from happening…but I haven’t. I believe that’s an excuse and frankly a lazy fallback as to why brands neglect these communities, and by thinking creatively you can make anything work. For example, you don’t have to create entirely new ads, just create templates to tailor and tweak – we saw this come to life in the 2024 Super Bowl where many brands opted for regionally relevant creative vs a single mass media spot…with my personal favourite being a campaign by United Airlines that customised the message based on the fans they were reaching – from hype messages for teams in the big game to messages of redemption for fans watching from the sidelines…the exact same ad, slightly tweaked copy, monumental shift in relevance…it doesn’t take much.


So if you’re a marketer of a big brand I urge you next time you think of going regional, think about how you can go big.

Chris Colter, chief strategy & product officer, Initiative AUNZ.

comments powered by Disqus