American Agency Spoofs Self in OZ Bank Commercial

Critics Call Spot an 'In Joke' Likely Lost on Average Aussie

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- One of Australia's top banks decides to rebrand itself. Its marketing chief travels the globe in a quixotic quest for what he calls the "world's best agency," and in doing so, he bypasses the nation's ad community by hiring a U.S. shop, Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

So what's the big idea Goodby came up with for Down Under? Turns out the Commonwealth Bank of Australia's ad campaign is, well, an ad campaign about a U.S. ad agency that wins an Australian ad account.

Not such a G'day for advertising: The ad hints at the shift of Commonwealth Bank's reported $100 million account to U.S. agency Goodby.

The campaign, tagged "Determined to Be Different," consists of a sitcom-like spoof of American ad executives who don't understand Aussie culture and a staid, wise, dignified group of marketing executives from the bank steering them in the right direction.

The first spot begins with a big-production commercial illustrating clichés: a rugged Australian in the outback sounding a didgeridoo; shots of Uluru, an iconic sandstone rock formation aboriginals consider sacred; an assault by koalas; and a "Crocodile Dundee" wannabe tossing a boomerang into the sky, creating the bank's logo.

The camera pushes back to show the spot on a TV monitor at a meeting of the bank executives and ad-agency employees. They boast that film director Michael Bay, seated among them, produced the spot using seven helicopters. (Mr. Bay did not produce the ad but made a cameo appearance in the commercial.) The spots include other U.S.-Aussie jokes, such as the Americans confusing Australia with Austria. The spots have the Aussie ad community enraged.

"Talk about self-indulgent," blogged Tim Burrowes, editor of trade publication B&T Magazine. "Having had some nice jaunts around the world for their pitch in the first place, the CommBank team now get to see themselves played on screen. It must have been a remarkably masturbatory first meeting when the agency presented the idea."

In an interview, Mr. Burrowes said the work is such an "in joke" that it would not resonate with the "average Aussie punter," a term for consumers equivalent to the American "Joe Six-Pack," who, among other things, likely has no idea who Mr. Bay is. Mr. Burrowes also said the timing of the launch was unfortunate: It took place during Australia Day, Australia's equivalent of the Fourth of July. For the protectionist population, bringing up the shifting of a reportedly $100 million account abroad during a patriotic holiday could be viewed as "rubbing their nose in it," Mr. Burrowes said.

'Hype and excess'
In press materials announcing the campaign, the bank said the mockumentary style makes marketing "part of the story; a device to demonstrate how the simplicity and sincerity of the bank's message is continually frustrated by the hype and excess of modern mass marketing." The goal is to make the spots, eight of which have been shot so far, like a sitcom reminiscent of "Seinfeld" and "The Office."

"Who better to represent the excesses of modern marketing than an American ad agency?" the bank said, adding that while the Australians portrayed would be "pragmatic," the Americans would be "brash and overconfident but culturally clueless."

Mark Buckman, the bank's chief marketing officer, dismissed the local ad community's reaction, saying only two audiences concern him: the bank's staff and the bank's customers.

Take a deep breath
He added that critics are being premature, noting that only one spot has launched and the campaign's ability to be "entertaining, fun and energizing" will be realized as new ones roll out.

Mr. Burrowes said that many in the Australian ad community are taking a more cautious approach to criticizing the campaign. "It doesn't add up that they could get it quite so wrong," he said of Goodby, noting that the agency may still have some "stroke of genius up their sleeve."

As one comment on Mr. Burrowes' blog said: "The sad thing is, any negative feedback on this steaming pile of self-indulgent arse gravy is going to be passed off as sour grapes."
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