TWO YEARS LATER, NEON PIGEON FLYING

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SYDNEY-An upstart miniscule agency with the unlikely name of Neon Pigeon has become Australia's hottest shop after just one national $1.5 million ad campaign plugging Rupert Murdoch's upmarket monthly New Woman.

The highlight of the effort: A provocative 60-second commercial screened first in cinemas and now appearing on TV. Working around the theme "Being a woman.......", an exquisite woman is shown "being provocative" as she falls asleep at the dinner table; "being elegant" as she adjusts her knickers under a glittering evening dress; "being beautiful" as she cuts her toenails; and "most of all, being a lady" as she reclines luxuriously in a bath-and a few bubbles break the bathwater's surface.

The ad has been heaped with accolades from both rival creatives and the public. And Neon Pigeon's principals, Creative Director Dale Rhodes, 34, and Managing Director Richard Sauerman, 33, hailed as a breath of fresh air in the industry, representing a new, less-hidebound, young agency breed.

Said Mr. Rhodes: "We want to make ads that people like, that just aren't part of the wallpaper."

"I like their `Be noticed or don't bother' approach," said Mark Kelly, marketing director at Murdoch Magazines. "They're fresh and absolutely committed to pursuing their own ideas and arguing them through-quite vehemently at times!"

Thanks to the New Woman campaign, tangible success has come to the agency founded two years ago this month with no clients-just the burning conviction by founders that while creativity is important, it must be accompanied by equally strong strategy.

But although their work is now regarded as groundbreaking, clients didn't exactly beat a path to the door of the small but airy office in the nearby suburub of Surry Hills when they nailed up their shingle two years ago this month.

So the shop initially existed on small-budget individual but quirky assignments for Virgin Megastores and the Video Ezy rental chain until last summer's big breakthrough with New Woman.

Then in November came a $5 million account, the Federal Government's initial national drug offensive campaign. For that effort, Neon Pigeon's staff of 10 beat out Australia's third largest agency, DDB Needham, in an exhaustive multi-round review that lasted five months.

"It was ideas, rather than the agency's size, that was most relevant to our decision," said Phil Rutledge, director of the Government Advertising Service, who added Neon Pigeon was selected because of the admen's great empathy with the issue and the strength of their creative and strategy.

Neon Pigeon's work for that effort-a print, TV, cinema and outdoor campaign-has so far been predictably controversial.

The campaign that broke last month showing a dinner party at which inebriated guests become transformed in the eyes of the people around them into a mosquito, cockatoo, pig and cobra, caused Australian Hotels Association Executive Director Richard Mulcahy to blast them as "stereotypical and sexist."

Responds Mr. Sauerman: "The AHA is trying to discredit the campaign for very obvious reasons of its own."

Winning the drug offensive campaign has given the agency a firm financial foundation. Mr. Rhodes said the agency is not actively seeking new business for a while but eventually wants to build to comfortable billings of about $30 million to $40 million from its current $8 million.

The agency principals, both born in South Africa, met here six years ago when Mr. Sauerman joined Ogilvy & Mather Direct and Mr. Rhodes was working at the mainstream agency.

The name of the agency and their fish logo are hard to explain, but the two have a stock answer.

In their offices is a large fish tank, and Mr. Rhodes points to a bright orange fish that does look like their logo and says, the fish look like flying pigeons-except they're neon.

Adds Mr. Sauerman: "Once you've heard it, it's hard to forget."

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