Wot is this thing called Mr & Mrs Ozzie?

Two vastly different approaches to selling things to the Australian public under pressure of falling sales: surely the new TV campaign for South Australia’s Barossa region couldn’t be targeting the same species, let alone a similar demographic to the one Harvey Norman’s been yelling at for all these years?

Harvey Norman has created its very own unloved tradition of employing the ugliest, busiest graphics it’s possible to come up with, backed by a screaming voice over and a super-cheesey sting. The whole thing has remained pretty much unchanged for 20 years – until recently that is, when in the face of free-falling sales, a touch of aspirational lifestyle has been creeping in to the commercials, they even use people in some of them. Desperation will lead us to to do the strangest things; suddenly Harvey Norman wants consumers to … like them? Aspire to the products? I guess if you’re as hard sell as it’s possible to be, the only place you have to go is soft.

The new Barossa campaign also has plummeting sales as it raison d’etre, and also responds with an aspirational ad. This one employs lush cinematography, Nick Cave’s moody song Red Hands, and a completely abstract narrative. You’re meant to fall in love -with eating raw meat, I think. Oh and there’s a brand tacked on at the end.

Harvey Norman’s work seems to have emanated from the planet bogan and is targeting the recently lobotomised. The Barossa ad speaks (uber-knowingly)  to inner urban groovers and advertising jury members.

Can either approach be right? Check it out:

Now…just try to sit through this, I dare you (OK I confess it’s not current but the new ones are not that much better):

Harvey Norman is being pummeled by cheaper online competitors. In August last year, executive chairman Gerry Harvey told The Australian Financial Review “We’re now posting probably the worst results we’ve ever posted.” What? You mean those ads scored absolutely no brand loyalty? What a surprise.

Here’s my take: Harvey Norman spent 20 years taking an anti-innovation, anti-creativity and in many ways anti-customer stance and dragged much of Australian retail down the gurgler with him. It’s hard to feel sorry for him and conversely easy to applaud the startups which respect the customer, add value to their experience and – who’da thunk it – even sometimes grapple with the retailer’s role in a world of over-consumption. I really do think it’s too late to reinvent this most ugly of brands; Gone Harvey, and not missed.

As for the Barossa commercial, lots of creative departments will be thoroughly jealous, the agency has done a great job talking this client into running  creativity for its own sake at levels rarely seen outside art school. As for its effectiveness as an ad industry award winner, well, let’s see now. The comments in adland website Campaign Brief  were juicy:

“With a grade that reduces the vivid vibrancy of SA to the dreariness of a wet week in Windemere, a music track that oozes more misery than the blood of the hand in the song and a storyline that feels like the last supper before Christ’s crucifixion, it’s a wonder anybody would willingly travel to the land of Snowtown, with this telling affirmation of its dark and deeply disturbing side,” went one comment.   “Seems like a sad place to go,” said another.  And: “I’ve never been to the Barossa and now I’m sure I don’t want to go.  It looks so damn depressing.” Then: “Too dark guys. Doesn’t make me want to go there at all. Takes me back to Wolf Creek!  Hanging meat on a hook? really!!!!”

Oh, and by the way, in case you’re thinking ‘well at least it’s original” take a look at this Tourism Victoria ad. Which predates it considerably.


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