Unsurprisingly, since Meat and Livestock Australia's annual lamb campaign launched yesterday, it has already generated a whirlwind of press attention. The ad is incredible. It's divisive, and rightly so. It's taking on a serious subject and it's a reminder that advertising can have a higher purpose.
The the copywriting is clever, the production is slick and it's a beautifully crafted, long-form ad. And we need more of that in Australian advertising. The Monkeys have excelled here again.
It's also refreshing to watch a genuinely amusing ad. Good humour in ads is hard to come by, and often the ads that are heralded as shining examples of advertising at its best are from the worthy, emotional, empowering track. They are often moody adn serious, inspirational and tug at the heartstrings leaving viewers in tears. Think P&G's Thank You Mom Olympic ads, Allways' Like a Girl and Beats' Before the Game.
That's no bad thing, but The Monkeys and MLA have managed to make something powerful about a worthy and political topic, but keep it light-hearted. Not a crying mum, or unempowered woman, or sportsperson about to beat the odds in sight.
The humour might be one reason people might think the MLA is trivialising such a weighty topic but this ad is written the way real people, real Australians, speak. It uses jokes and phrases and conversation topics that everyday people can relate to. It makes digs at The Poms, the French, everyone gets a little ribbing, and I think that's OK. There's a nice little hat tip in there to the LGBTQ community as 'Float People' tapping into Mardi Gras.
The Chinese, Italians, Greeks, Serbians and Kiwis arrive and everyone gets the same deal. I quite enjoy it when people take the piss out of the British. I can laugh at my own national sensibilities and stereotypes, and I think most people can.
Racial, gender stereotypes are a dangerous thing, and are quite often negative. It can be a lazy approach to characterisation and many, many ads fail because they are just that. But in this treatment from MLA and The Monkeys it doesn’t stray into that territory. In dishing out the cliches and cultural stereotypes to everyone, everyone gets the same treatment, but it feels modern. It's self-aware and above all, it's getting people talking. Isn't that what advertising is meant to do?
More people in my non-advertising social circles are talking about this ad in the last 24 hours than any I can remember, and everyone loves it. Last Year's Meet Graham ad for TAC from Clemenger Melbourne was another that had the same effect, but there aren't many, sadly.
But when people in the real world, the non-advertising world, are talking about an ad, it's doing its job. Even if they don't like it.
Yes, the aim of the advertising is to sell more products, and so the MLA's aim is to sell more lamb. And it will do, without question, but there's more to advertising than selling.
Advertising is a fundamental part of society and of culture. If you take a highbrow view of advertising’s purpose, which I do, you have to believe that it has a responsibility to do something more than just sell products. Sometimes, advertising is just about shifting stock, but there is a place and a need for advertising and marketing to be bigger than that.
It is Unilever's founding principle that if it could sell more of its Lifebuoy soap at the same time as improving the lot for its consumers by improving hygiene, then that is what it should do. It has continued to do that in various ways for more than 100 years.
So if MLA can sell more lamb at the same time as encouraging diversity, acceptance and unity and moving on the dialogue around this highly important conversation for Australian society – then good.
As an English ex-pat living in Australia, the politics, cultural sensitivities and history around Australia Day are something I’ve only learned of since arriving here myself (although not literally by boat). It's something that as I've come to have more conversations about I understand and see many different sides to the equation.
I understand the outrage around the celebration and the legitimacy of the day also being known as Invasion Day. I also understand a sense of nationalistic, Australian pride that exists around the day. Many don't even consider its origins and merely enjoy an extra day off work in the summer to hang out with friends and family.
But with the changing societal values, I wouldn't be surprised if there weren’t too many years left for the 26 January holiday before it gets replaced with something that all Australians can celebrate equally.
This piece by Luke Pearson, a prominent voice on indigenous issues, for the SBS yesterday was particularly interesting and I urge you to read it for a non-advertising perspective on why the MLA's ad might not be as great as we think it is.
Meat and Livestock Australia has a history of associating its advertising with Australia Day, but amid growing controversy around the day itself, the the MLA is commendably moving away from it to a more inclusive summer celebration – but without coming out guns blazing, decrying its history and cutting ties. It's acknowledging that heritage and moving with the times.
The brand, and its marketer Andrew Howie, are not shy on controversy. And while they claim not to deliberately seek it out Howie stands out in the Australian marketing industry as a marketer ready to back bold creative ideas, let his agencies fly, and make big, bold creative.
Dave Hughes and the Alternative Meat Co's spoof of the iconic Sam Kekovich Lambassador ad that hits back against MLA is also a great ad. It does a similar thing. It builds the conversation.
I hope in 2017 Australian brands and agencies are ready to make more of this kind of advertising – it's about time.