TAC marketing chief John Thompson quits after almost nine years of hard-hitting campaigns

After eight and a half years at the Transport Accident Commission – one of Australia’s most high profile and effective advertisers – marketing chief John Thompson is stepping down.

The TAC’s senior manager, road safety and marketing is moving on to an as yet unknown role in the industry “that is located much closer to home and should allow me to achieve a work life balance I have not been able to successfully manage in my current role,” he said in an email to contacts.

In the email, Thompson wrote:

As you may know, I am leaving the TAC today. I have spent the last eight and a half years working hard for the TAC and the broader Victorian Community to keep our roads safe and I am very proud of the achievements of the Road Safety & Marketing team at the TAC and our road safety partners (VicRoads, Victoria Police and DoJ) have made in the fight on road trauma in Victoria.  I want to thank everyone who I have worked with during my time at the TAC and wish you all the very best with continuing to reduce the effects of road trauma.

I am leaving the TAC to work in a role in the media and advertising industry that is located much closer to home and should allow me to achieve a work life balance I have not been able to successfully manage in my current role.

Before taking on the role of senior manager, road safety and marketing, Thompson was senior manager of marketing at TAC. Prior to that, he was marketing director of VicUrban.

His career has also included a stint at consulting firm Sabey & Associates and Essendon Football Club, where he was video operations manager.

Randal Glennon, the general manager of Grey Melbourne – the TAC’s agency for more than two decades – paid tribute to Thompson’s achievements in a statement to Mumbrella:

John has been a consistently brave, innovative marketer, one that has challenged the agency to maintain the extremely high standards the TAC expects from its agency partners.

The body of work resulting from the relationship we’ve enjoyed working with John and the team at TAC speaks for itself; it’s an amazing legacy.

We look forward to the next era, buoyed as ever; particularly as the team John built around him is highly talented and focussed on the same thing — creating the world’s best road safety marketing communications.

In a recent article on Mumbrella that looked back at 25 years of the TAC, Thompson defended the advertiser’s hard-hitting approach. “We do not use shock tactics. It’s about reality – without being gratuitous,” he said.

He also said that, in Victoria, the TAC brand is “more powerful that Coles, Nike or Coca-Cola.”

It is unclear who will follow Thompson as TAC’s marketing chief.

One of the last campaigns overseen by Thompson will be the Christmas enforcement campaign, which is set to launch in a fortnight.

TAC’s Christmas enforcement shoot


  1. Shamma
    16 Nov 12
    4:17 pm

  2. Can safely say this guy oversaw some great work that did actually save lives.

  3. Jeremy
    16 Nov 12
    4:17 pm

  4. A helmsman of incredible, game-changing advertising. I remember basing one of my uni assignments around Pictures of You and Everybody Hurts and remember being in awe of the quality of the communication. What a legacy created by you, your team and Grey. All the best, John.

  5. Paul
    17 Nov 12
    10:22 am

  6. Shame the work TAC has done on motorcycle safety is so completely wrong in message, execution and straight out facts that it is universally loathed by the people it is supposed to target.

  7. The Public
    19 Nov 12
    10:34 am

  8. Sad, sad day. One of my favourite advertisers in the short space and time i’ve been in the industry. Creative, compelling and hard hitting work.

  9. Geepers
    19 Nov 12
    10:41 am

  10. Well done John. Someone who “managed” all that public service and political bullshit to produce some truly effective advertising. i know all agencies wish they had a client like you. Best wishes for the future.

  11. Seldom
    19 Nov 12
    7:23 pm

  12. You mean truly effective in that its not actually effective at all, and that all this advertising has done is rile up motorcyclists for feeling victimized and at fault in ads. Which by the way, this ads haven’t statistically dropped the road toll. I would argue they have just been very pretty. A lot of the ads even miss the point completely.

    And the TAC brand isn’t nearly on the level of Nike or Coles, its very INFAMOUS merely because TAC squanders a lot of money, wastes it on basically nothing and then they stick their hand out to the public for more, which we are forced to pay mind you, and we see nothing for our expenditure.

    Here’s an idea. Hear me out on this, it might just blow your minds. How about instead of wasting money on advertising that everyone treats as background noise, on educating people instead? The message the TAC sends out is very reactionary. How about be proactive, get the message into the kids before they get onto the road?

  13. Rob
    19 Nov 12
    11:23 pm

  14. Why is the peak road safety organisation of Victoria more interested in image, ad recall and other marketing matters than trying to understand whether the message of their ads has been truly achieved? Clearly marketing and marketing philosophy overtook the road safety department, which to my view is a clear sign that it lost its way. Obviously marketing types disagree as can be seen on this site.

    I hope this change in personnel provides TAC with an opportunity to refocus its philosophy and leave the marketing metrics behind.

    Good luck in your next steps John.

  15. Richard
    20 Nov 12
    7:55 am

  16. TAC is hated by its target audience. Good one John. The motorcycling ads might impress those that don’t ride but have no affect on riders.

  17. Ant
    20 Nov 12
    4:41 pm

  18. Sorry, another disaffected motorcyclist here. Completely unimpressed with the constant scapegoating of motorcyclists, the focus groups that are described as “community consultation”, the completely unrealistic accident scenarios, in particular the “physics decides whether you live or die” ad which is totally unrealistic in its location, the scenario, the rider behaviour and the physics of the crash itself.
    But of course that’s OK, because in advertising land all that matters is that non-motorcylists saw the ad and it confirmed their attitudes towards motorcycling, so the ad “had a profound impact”.

  19. John Motorcycle Rider
    21 Nov 12
    10:34 am

  20. Randal Glennon, the general manager of Grey Melbourne, is fooling himself and many others in his statement that:
    “The body of work resulting from the relationship we’ve enjoyed working with John and the team at TAC speaks for itself; it’s an amazing legacy.
    We look forward to the next era, buoyed as ever; particularly as the team John built around him is highly talented and focussed on the same thing — creating the world’s best road safety marketing communications.”

    More of the same? Grey are happy with John, because he threw a lot of work their way. Ads that alienated its target market. Is that a smart advertising tactic – actually causing a section of your market to hate you? More of the same? I would hope that we see some Major Change occur inside TAC after John’s untimely departure.

    John was undoubtedly very good at organising, but not at drawing support from the target market where motorcycle riders are involved. Motorcycle safety is not about just good branding/recall – its about involvement and teamwork with the very base with which TAC is focussing its message at. The team at TAC are just advertising experts – not motorcycle safety experts. TAC have failed to build a supporter base – similar to something like Harley Davidson’s HOG (Harley Owners Group). I pay TAC lots of money every year – I expect them to spend it effectively – on things that really work. None of the motorcycle related work they have done has proven very effective IMHO. I want to see big changes in both direction and style occur. Are the current team up to it? I hope so, and I hope that they make a greater effort to build a better relationship wit motorcycle riders…

    TAC were upstaged recently by another company who produced a very effective Motorcycle Safety ad, for less than 1% of the cost of the Grey Product. That tells us that maybe a lot of money has been wasted – when far simpler and cheaper approaches could have been taken.

  21. Another Rider
    21 Nov 12
    1:11 pm

  22. as you can imagine i’m not happy with TAC’s approach motorcycle safety.

    in this day and age if you are not accurate with your messages you lose credibility straight away, and this is what has happened with us riders.

    we hope that the change of the guard is an opportunity to address this and fix this.

    and it would also be good to see TAC invest less in traditional campaigning and more in creating and sustaining online communities that engage, inform and educate. perhaps starting from redesigning spokes.com.au, which is totally unusable / useless to riders (and please make it mobile / ipad friendly ’cause i don’t ring my laptop or desktop on my trips.)

  23. Dave
    21 Nov 12
    11:02 pm

  24. TAC’s motorcycle “safety” ads have been almost totally ineffective. They are so inaccurate that they are ignored by riders and mean that a real opportunity to promote motorcycle safety has been squandered. Even worse despite the statistical evidence that in multiple vehicle collisions where motorcyclists are killed or injured, drivers aresignificantly more often at fault, TAC continuously promotes the idea that it is the motorcyclist to blame.

    If a change of leadership at TAC changes this, it will be a step forward.

  25. Jesse
    26 Nov 12
    7:26 am

  26. TAC ads are a little like political news… they completely lack credibility and while i always seem to watch to see what lies they’re trying to spin to the public this time I LOATHE the fact that so many in the public won’t have ever read through the figures or the studies to see that what they’re doing is dishonest. From an advertising point of view i guess they may be well put together, but only if you’re ignorant of the issues.