G2’s new GM: we want ‘vice’ clients

Bajzert, Wildman, Smith, Commander

As G2 Australia unveils a new management line up, the agency, which counts British American Tobacco as its largest client, has signaled its intentions to gun for more “vice” advertisers.

Ed Commander joins the WPP direct marketing shop as general manager from the now defunct The Hub Agency.

“Our experience is in vice products,” he told Mumbrella. “We want to look at working on specialist projects with large corporations in categories such as junk food – products high in fat and salt – and also build on our relationships with alcohol clients.”

Joining Commander is his former The Hub Agency colleague Nigel Smith, as direct marketing strategy lead. The duo team up with strategy lead Carolyne Wildman and creative director Leo Bajzert, who caused a stir with an opinion piece he wrote in May that argued that the plain packaging of cigarettes equates to brand theft.

On recruiting for an agency with a tobacco client, Commander said that he must search from a smaller talent pool to grow the agency of 25 staff.

“Fifty per cent of people will never work on tobacco business, and that’s fine,” he said. “But thirty per cent would think about it. We want to hire people who can overcome the moral hurdles and embrace the challenge of working on a vice product.”

The sort of people who work on vice business tend to be “very independent, strong-minded thinkers, who are not wishy-washy,” he added. “We’ve all been to dinner parties, where people say ‘how could you?’ But at the end of the day, it’s only marketing. If people choose to smoke, that’s their choice.”

G2 is an agency in transition after a number of staff changes over the past year. Previous general manager Will McKenzie has gone to TBWA\Russia, while former customer services director Marcus Millgate now works at G2 Korea.

“We’re now on a path to stabilisation, and have a core team of enthusiastic people in place. Now we’ve got the team right, we’re going to market with a new offering,” Commander said.

G2, which is part of the world’s eighth largest marketing network, rolls out new IP and tools in July.

“We’re a small creative agency. But we’re never going to be a maverick boutique agency,” said Commander. “That’s not where I want to take us. I want us to be a professional result-oriented blue chip agency, and that doesn’t mean we can’t be innovative and imaginative.”

He added he did not want to take the agency beyond its core competencies. “We’re not full service. We don’t do PR or events. We have done some above-the-line work for BATA, but we’re not interested in disrupting the relationships of globally-aligned above-the-line creative agencies.”

The Hub Agency folded following the closure of the marketing department of one of its only remaining clients, broadband provider AAPT, which was acquired by iiNET about a year ago.


  1. The Accountant
    27 Jun 11
    10:55 am

  2. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why our industry lacks moral credibility.

  3. Ben
    27 Jun 11
    10:59 am

  4. “But at the end of the day, it’s only marketing, if people choose to smoke, then that’s their choice”. The flip side of that, is that you can’t take any credit for work that is “successful”. If you remove yourself from the consequences of your activity, then it should operate both ways.
    I thought marketing is all about persuading people to make choices? And those choices to smoke, drink and consume unhealthy food are the great burdens our health system.

  5. alan
    27 Jun 11
    11:16 am

  6. Can’t believe these people. Obviously they’re getting staff from ‘a smaller talent pool’ because anyone with any talent wouldn’t work at such an agency. These people have obviously no morals, not only are they happy to have some very dodgy clients but they’re chasing others. I hear the Australia First Party and the Kiddie Fiddler Association are looking for an agency, where do G2 draw the line?

  7. richie
    27 Jun 11
    11:20 am

  8. weren’t al-Qaeda looking to do a rebrand soon? you couldn’t get a client more ‘vice’ than that!

  9. John
    27 Jun 11
    11:40 am

  10. “We’ve all been to dinner parties, where people say ‘how could you?’ But at the end of the day, it’s only marketing. If people choose to smoke, that’s their choice.”

    So what does marketing do if it doesnt aim to fundamentally influence choice in favour of the clients brand or increased consumption? Sorry this is justification BS. They have a big vice client and this whole position is a wind up surely?

  11. richie
    27 Jun 11
    11:45 am

  12. Er, plenty of agencies have clients who don’t exactly make a positive contribution to humanity so i don’t see how these guys can be singled out for abuse.

    why is it ok to push booze but not smokes?

  13. Groucho
    27 Jun 11
    11:46 am

  14. I looked everywhere for this agency, couldn’t find them anywhere. Then, there they were on the bottom of my shoe

  15. Victor
    27 Jun 11
    11:49 am

  16. Everyone has their price and mine is one million dollars. G2, you can contact me on 555-5555. I’m ready to start almost immediately.

  17. Paul Clark
    27 Jun 11
    11:49 am

  18. yeah nothing like peddling death and misery….clap clap

  19. Shane
    27 Jun 11
    11:53 am

  20. @richie

    The distinction is that there is a safe level of drinking. There are even some benefits. So someone sitting in the CUB boardroom might be able to think “Yes, our product comes with social and health problems, but it can be used responsibly and safely too.”

    Someone in BATA’s board room can only think “Our product is lethal to half of our customers, and has no benefits whatsoever. It causes 15,000 deaths a year and we use a business model that relies on teenagers making uneducated, peer-pressured choices and getting hooked at 14.”

    Echoing The Accountant’s point: this is why they lack credibility – it is jarring to think that anyone, anywhere, is OK with that.

  21. Meg
    27 Jun 11
    12:11 pm

  22. “Interesting” positioning – wonder how it will work for them.

    Having seen the positioning that many junk food producers are trying to carve out for themselves, I would think that they would run a mile from associating themselves with an agency which has indicated that they view junk food producers as “vice” advertisers. I can’t see Mcdonalds choosing to get into bed with the-smokes-and-alcohol-and-vice-products agency.

    Richie, it would be easy to find a downside for every product. For me, the difference with tobacco is I struggle to find an upside to balance out the down.

  23. AdGrunt
    27 Jun 11
    12:13 pm

  24. I suspect this will rapidly follow a familiar form:

    How could that agency support [ insert lazy “moral” wowserism ]?

    Will no-one think of the [ children / donkeys / stupid people / churchgoers / Aboriginals / lobbyists / politicians justifying their existence ]?

    That agency must be [ heathen / immoral / evil / paedophile / muslim / Hitler / killing native Australians / torturing donkeys ] so therefore they, their families, their agency and any vaguely associated parties should be stoned repeatedly and removed from the face of the earth.

    This moral stance requires no support or sanity as it says so [ in the bible / in the stars / in the night-voices / in this non-piece of research I’m quoting / in my political party lobbying brief / on Alan Jones / in a parallel universe ]

    Away you go, kids.

  25. Tony
    27 Jun 11
    12:39 pm

  26. Tobacco advertising to consumers was banned years ago so give these guys a break.

    But advertising booze is still open slather…Carlton Dry has just launched a year-long online and social media promotion with 100 prizes up for grabs.

    I see no protests about that one. Ready to nip out to the pubg for a quick beer and a bite!

  27. Sam
    27 Jun 11
    1:04 pm

  28. I think @Meg hit the nail on the head.

    Why would any marketing director want their brand to jump into bed with an agency that positions themselves as “vice” specialists? Nobody at Tabcorp / McDonalds / Fosters would view their product as equivalent to tobacco.

    Furthermore, why would anyone choose to work for the likes of G2? I would not want either BAT or a vice specialist on my resume. Not necessarily because of a moral objection on my behalf, but more so an objection on the behalf of future employers.

  29. Adam Paull
    27 Jun 11
    1:45 pm

  30. This is obviously just a trolling exercise, but I’m struggling to see the point.

    Meg’s right, by publicly declaring they are chasing the scum-sucking, sell-their-grandmothers, evil-f*cker end of the client pool, they’ll struggle to find companies who’ll want to be labelled as such.

    Still, it will make pitches more interesting…

  31. richie
    27 Jun 11
    2:06 pm

  32. @shane

    i see the main difference as being that alcohol has legitimacy and status in our society, whereas smoking doesn’t

    if those who peddle smoking have death, lung disease, cancer on their hands

    then those who peddle alcohol (through carefully plotted campaigns that use youth focused events and sporting platforms to pin point those same 14 year olds) shouldn’t be exempt from the same judgement given the devastating effect that alcohol has

    im confident that in 10 years, alcohol advertising will be under much tougher scrutiny

  33. Ummmm....
    27 Jun 11
    2:42 pm

  34. What I find most baffling is that G2 and Grey Healthcare happily work side by side in the same building.

  35. Gobsmacked
    27 Jun 11
    2:43 pm

  36. OMG is it April fools already? I cannot believe that an agency could be so desperate to the point of positioning themselves as vice specialists, please tell me this is a joke!?

    Good luck with that one G2,

  37. AdGrunt
    27 Jun 11
    3:07 pm

  38. It’s arguable that many organisations who peddle [ religion / politics / gambling / pharmaceuticals / defence / take-away food / tourism / mining / fishing / logging / farming / tobacco / health policy / ad naus. ] – in fact any group, could have blood on their hands in the eyes of some. It’s a subjective view.

    Similarly, the desire to “name and shame” their agencies going about their legal business merely shows laziness and a mob mentality first found in witch-hunts.

    Laziness in avoiding tackling the actual issue by simply throwing lazy populist barbs at a legal business. Better to confront the actual issues, educating people and recognising that it’s a tad arrogant to assume that no-one else can make an informed personal choice.

  39. Cha Cha
    27 Jun 11
    3:15 pm

  40. They’ve hired a manager called Ed Commander. Brilliant.

  41. sm
    27 Jun 11
    3:25 pm

  42. This must be a joke.

  43. Shane
    27 Jun 11
    3:28 pm

  44. @Adgrunt,

    But when the research shows that it’s 14 year olds getting addicted, not 18 year olds and certainly not 30 year olds, surely the whole “informed personal choice” argument goes out the window?

    14 year olds don’t make an informed personal choice. They make a choice to appear like they belong in a group of mates or to appeal to the opposite sex. The fact that they continue to choose to smoke shows that they are making a patently wrong decision. Unfortunately, unlike the decision to hook up with a mate’s sister or getting your eyebrow pierced or a barbed-wire tattoo on your bicep, the decision to smoke has life-long and entirely negative consequences. Shouldn’t we be more concerned about that fact than we are about the profits of a company that has historically used blatent lies to justify their trade?

    Therefore, to claim that this is a personal choice issue is, to use your own word, lazy.

  45. Adam Paull
    27 Jun 11
    3:32 pm

  46. Sorry AdGrunt, but I find the whole “people can make informed choices” argument both tiresome and misleading. The advertising industry needs to decide just how successful their techniques are – is advertising persuasive or isn’t it? You can’t have it both ways.

    If after an expensive campaign the public is still able to make up their own mind then I’d suggest the campaign was a failure.

    So too would the client.

    The plain truth is that there is right and there is wrong in this world – and encouraging people to take up habits that will ultimately kill them or cause them great harm is wrong. Simple as that.

  47. Mikolai
    27 Jun 11
    5:11 pm

  48. You people need to get of your high horses. All these products are legal and the government has no problem earning a buck from cigarettes / junk food / whatever. If people want to get fat, or smoke cigarretes, or smoke fat cigarettes, it’s their choice.

  49. OtherAndrew
    27 Jun 11
    5:28 pm

  50. I’m putting it on the record to say that we, as an agency (The Other Dimension) will never work for a tobacco client. My conscience isn’t for sale.

  51. Nick O'Teen
    27 Jun 11
    6:42 pm

  52. Kudos to G2 for putting themselves out there – their press releases certainly seem to generate some debate. However, unfortunately, the debate is largely concerned with how morally bankrupt they are.

  53. AdGrunt
    27 Jun 11
    7:03 pm

  54. @Shane – read the comments here http://snipurl.com/1bwpp3 for a wide spread of thoughts, including how a 14 year-old probably actually learns about cigs – from their parents. Education, price measures and social situation seemed to be the clear winners for effectiveness, but sadly numerous health lobbyists posters appeared to have a self-justifying agenda, rather than an effective action agenda.

    @Adam – I don’t know which area of marketing you worked in, but anyone that thinks ads are some guaranteed mind-control device tend to be from the peanut gallery. Have a look here http://snipurl.com/1buu4x especially later on when Shameful and K. Watson press on in the face of similar advertising delusions.

    @OtherAndrew – I admire your stance. I myself refuse to work on women’s fashion accounts as they prey on the weak, vulnerable and easily led. We all draw our line somewhere.

  55. OtherAndrew
    27 Jun 11
    7:14 pm

  56. @AdGrunt,

    Actually laughed out loud at that. Cue the sexism discussions, everyone. Perhaps we can talk about what we all think of female smokers, in particular?

  57. Adam Hunt
    27 Jun 11
    8:50 pm

  58. Look… I really struggle with this.

    As a junior creative in Sydney I worshiped the creativity of ads done for Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut & Winston Cigarettes in London – the great art director Neil Godfrey was my hero & the ads were brilliant & funny.

    Being a creative in Australia is a bit like being a soccer player in Australia – you dream of running out onto Old Trafford & playing for Manchester United. I dreamed of working for Saatchi & Saatchi in London. I chased that dream & I ended up winning many awards for work I did on Silk Cut. It was a different era.

    Now I’m as aware as anyone of the irony of tobacco being the only product legally available for sale that when used to the manufacturer’s specifications… it will kill you. (Oops…I forgot the Arms Trade)

    So anyway – the moral thing to do should be not just ban tobacco advertising, but tobacco itself right? Prohibition works doesn’t it?

    Here’s where the moral high ground becomes quicksand – governments won’t ban tobacco because they’re hooked on the excise revenue. (Governments are also problem gamblers & they do pretty well off booze excise as well – in fact, our government couldn’t run without vice product revenue – that’s why the vast majority of government advertising is not to address the actual problem, but to be “seen” to be addressing the problem by voters.)

    So who’s the greater hypocrite? I respect anyone’s decision to say they won’t work on tobacco – but then shouldn’t they say no to working on any alcohol business too?

    Is alcoholism & drink driving a greater or lesser social evil than smoking?

    And to what degree? What about the societal agony of problem gambling? (I once worked on a campaign to encourage people to gamble online – I wondered at the time if I was going to burn in hell…)

    But it doesn’t stop there – when I lived in America the Surgeon General declared the French Fry to be: “A delivery device for fat”. Coca Cola has around 9 teaspoons of sugar per can, and many breakfast cereals are mostly artificially coloured sugar – no wonder the Nutri Grain bloke roars! Nike use sweatshop labour…. it goes on & on & any line you try to draw in the sand will get washed away pretty fast.

    I’ve worked on tobacco, alcohol, gambling, McDonalds, Nike, Coca~Cola & Kelloggs & Kevin ’07 – all products with “ethical” considerations to one degree or another.
    I hope I’ve balanced my karma by also working on The Red Cross, The Commission for Racial Equality, International Fund for Animal Welfare, National Breast Cancer & Animal Liberation.

    But like I said at the start… I struggle with this. I don’t think that tobacco is black & every other product is white – there’s a million shades of grey in there & moral dilemmas & hypocrisies abound.

  59. Adam Paull
    28 Jun 11
    12:01 am

  60. That’s odd AdGrunt, I don’t recall seeing any declaration that advertising doesn’t work on any agency website or in any portfolio before. Still, it’s big of you to admit it – now where can I tell the big corporations to go for their refunds?

    The very essence of advertising is the art of suggestion and persuasion.

    Your job is to get consumers off their collective backsides and down the shops merely by planting a thought into their heads – sounds like a form of mind-control to me!

  61. AdGrunt
    28 Jun 11
    8:49 am

  62. Adam P
    Did you read that thread I linked to?

    Did you grasp what was being said?

    Do you realise you’re simply confirming my Peanut Gallery assertions?

    Are you Shameful reincarnate?

  63. Paul Clark
    28 Jun 11
    10:50 am

  64. I guess everyone has their own moral compass…mine tends to be would I let my kids use it-wear-it eat etc ……….

    and yes we know Maccas isnt good for them but they wont end up being addicted to big macs and losing a lung……..

    lets face it there are some evil people in the world…….and some who would do anything for money……..

  65. Hmmm...
    28 Jun 11
    11:28 am

  66. Meg nailed it in one.

    There wouldn’t be too many clients who would happily consider themselves to be a ‘vice’ brand, and the moral equivalent of the tobacco industry. In fact, apart from brothels and phone-sex chat lines, I’d say there’d be none.

    The mere fact they use the phrase ‘junk food’ tells us that these guys pretty much have no idea how the fast/convenience food industry views itself. G2 comes across as naive publicity-chasers. Not a great start for an organisation spruiking its newfound leadership smarts.

  67. Nicky Bryson
    28 Jun 11
    12:27 pm

  68. Adgrunt: I would like to marry you. Please don’t tell my wife. I’m thinking a bigamy thing. Oh, also, don’t tell the children.

    Sam: I am adding Vice Specialist to my resume now and quietly kicking myself that I don’t think of it before now.

  69. Adam Paull
    28 Jun 11
    4:33 pm

  70. AdGrunt, all I am asking is whether advertising influences people or not – if it does, then agencies (and their employees) that persuade people to harm themselves deserve all the crap that gets thrown their way. If it doesn’t, then the industry is one big con.

    It’s a pretty simple question to answer I would have thought.

    Does advertising influence people or doesn’t it – yes or no?

    I suspect it does, which, as Nick pointed out earlier, make G2 and their staff morally bankrupt and I can only hope they all go hungry. Unfortunately, I fear they wont…

  71. Shane
    29 Jun 11
    11:32 am

  72. @Adgrunt. I never said they learnt about tobacco from their friends. I said that’s why they smoke. You can quote a comment thread, I can quote peer-reviewed science. Kids smoke because it is a)rebellious and b)because their mates are doing it. No 14 year old independently goes off and smokes a few by themselves, and immediately loves the taste. The majority do it to piss off their parents (since even smoking parents are likely to discourage their kids from smoking) and to fit it.

    That means, that at no point, do they make an informed personal choice based on mature criteria. They make a juvenile decision, based on social pressures. Unfortunately it often stays with them for life. And, unfortunately, it often means they have less life to live at the end of the day.

    You’re using a straw man in saying that kids learn from parents. They do. I don’t dispute that. But the actual decision is made by the kids. And it is not a rational one, or one that most parents would approve of, or even one that their 40 year old selves may approve of.

    So to say that adults make their own choices in regards to smoking is, in general, false. They do not. The decision was made by their 14 year old selves, and was made for all the wrong reasons.

    Hence, plain packaging, designed specifically to reduce the appeal to kids. Will it work? Maybe, maybe not. But you can’t argue that it’s removing a choice for adults, when I would say less than 1% of smokers took their first drag after the age of 18.

  73. Anon person who worked at G2
    29 Jun 11
    4:05 pm

  74. I worked at G2. When interviewed and told it was a Tobacco account I cringed a little bit. Then was convinced by this line:
    ‘We aren’t getting people to smoke, we are getting them to choose our brand’

    And I learnt a hell of a lot about strategy while I was there. Not easy to sell when you can’t advertise. In learning terms, the account was a good one to work on. A challenge.

    It’s not ‘Insert brand name here’ that gets people smoking. Smoking gets people smoking.

    A, legal, tobacco brand needs a marketing agency. Until it’s illegal, it’s a product to be marketed.

    And it needs an agency.

  75. G2 - Me Too!
    29 Jun 11
    6:02 pm

  76. I worked there too and looking back the experience was invaluable. Turn off every means of communicating with the consumer and it really stretches your ability to sell and has given me strong skills I’ve since used in other categories. As a non smoker I had no issue working in the category as I respected peoples right not to smoke as much as peoples choice to smoke.

    Sitting through numerous focus groups it was immediately apparent that consumers who smoked had made the decision to smoke very early in their lives. In their eyes the only decision is what brand they prefer and they are extremely loyal to their choice of brand. Their pack becomes a statement to other smokers about the choices they have already made.

    There has been so much noise about bland packaging, that smokers are more than likley to go downstream with yet another change just as they did with health warnings, gruesome pictorical health warnings and placing the packs out of view.

    I seriously doubt that changing the packaging to be uniformly bland will have any effect on smokers at all. And the government will never ban them as there is far too much tax revenue involved. The smoke will all blow over soon!

  77. AdGrunt
    29 Jun 11
    7:46 pm

  78. @Shane – let’s not restart the packaging here – do it in that thread. Kids influence is covered from post 211 in particular. Has some incredibly powerful, strong, causal research from Canada into tackling this. It really puts CancerVic’s self-serving nonsense to shame.

    Good to see you’re learning from our speed conversation, but a tip – parental influence isn’t a strawman here.

    Also, peer-reviewed doesn’t mean whatever you’re quoting is gospel – remember that VicRoads guff? Peer review is at best viewed as a mark of acceptability.

    @Adam P – read post 19 above.

  79. PM
    30 Jun 11
    7:50 am

  80. Oh AdGrunt, you’re at it again,

    Come on buddy, shake it off, put on your happy face and keep positive,

    Always take solice in the fact that you’re smarter than everyone else.

    Love you.

  81. Shane
    30 Jun 11
    9:08 am

  82. @Adgrunt,

    Price rises have always been the best way to reduce smoking. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore all the research showing packaging is a factor.

    Also, in regards to my previous point, I don’t have to prove how or where kids learn about cigarettes. All I have to prove is that it is not an informed personal choice to smoke. And even the research you cite suggests that kids make the decision long before adulthood. I guess what I’m suggesting is that a 14 year old’s “informed personal choice” doesn’t quite tick all the boxes of an adult’s choice.

    That’s why, to me, the whole “let adults make their own decisions about smoking” argument falls flat on it’s face.

  83. Groucho
    30 Jun 11
    9:20 am

  84. G2-Me too presumably you are now in a less intellectually demanding occupation. Early in your little self justification spiel you say you learned that most smokers made their decision to smoke very early in their lives yet you fail to carry the connection with plain packaging working along with many other things to make smoking less attractive to people very early in their lives. Your argument is typical of smokings supporters – superficial, PR crap.

  85. AdGrunt
    30 Jun 11
    10:57 am

  86. @Shane – read the research again – it goes deeper than simple prices – a lot deeper. Further conversation in that thread from now, OK?

  87. Shane
    30 Jun 11
    2:50 pm

  88. @Adgrunt.

    But the reason this came up was that people who work for G2 justify their work on tobacco accoutns by saying that they’re simply helping adults make an informed personal choice. Therefore, the argument about whether or not that is the case is important and entirely relevant in this thread. I am questioning the “if people choose to smoke, that’s their choice” quote from Ed Commander.

    Maybe this is just naive optimism on my part, but maybe there is someone at G2 who’ll read my posts and realise the justification they’ve used all alone is based on a falsehood. G2 aren’t helping adults make an informed decision to smoke. They’re competing on market share, sure, but they’re also surely smart enough to realise that new smokers come from somewhere. If they’re using the “informed personal choice” justification, then they’re lying to themselves.

    And again, maybe I’m just an eternal optimist and unfathomably arrogant, but maybe that G2-employed Mumbrella-reader will ask to be taken off the account after having this epiphany. Which can only be a good thing.

  89. jean cave
    7 Jul 11
    10:45 pm

  90. vice is twice as nice
    with a spot of pricey avarice