Campaign Review: Westpac, Subaru & FOMO in Melbourne

Mumbrella invites the industry’s creatives and strategists to offer their views on the latest ad campaigns. This week: Edge's Richard Parker and AnalogFolk's Richard Morgan give their verdict on Westpac's take on surrealism, Subaru celebrating nearly 50 years in Australia, and City of Melbourne using FOMO to get Victorians back to the city.

Brand: Westpac
Life is Eventful
Agency: DDB Sydney
The verdict: A clever and effective use of surrealism

Richard Parker, executive planning director at Edge, says:

Richard Parker_M360 2018

“I wasn’t a fan of the early work in the ‘Help’ series. Back in 2018, with the Australian Government resisting calls to stop incarcerating children of asylum seekers on Nauru, the central claim of ‘Help when it matters – it’s what Australians do’ felt a bit weird and self-congratulatory. And also a bit of a stretch for a bank (despite the helicopters).

But then later that year Westpac redeemed itself with the more pointy ads about bereavement and divorce and some genuine product proof points that linked the brand waffle to stuff the bank actually does. And it handled the topic sensitively and with some grace.

So I was looking forward to seeing where the bank would go with this one. For the first few frames I thought this was going to be a standard bank ad about the usual life moments – having kids, new job, all that jazz. But then there was a surreal flying car, and I knew I was in for something different. The slightly jarring visual treatment – jamming different visual styles up against each other – along with the anthemic soundtrack, all work hard to make you sit up and take notice (tick). And some genuinely surprising and moving moments (brother getting out of jail, double-mastectomy recipient showing off a new tattoo, the old bloke saying goodbye to his partner) really grab you and make you feel something. I struggled a little bit with the juxtaposition of small life events like dropping a phone in the toilet with big ones like cancer and death, but on balance I think this ad works pretty hard. And the line ‘Life is eventful – that’s why we help’ feels a lot more genuine and real than previous iterations.

In a category where it’s bloody hard to stand out, this does the job – in the right way.”

Rating: 8/10

Richard Morgan, executive creative director at AnalogFolk, says:

“There’s a lot to like here. Having worked on the Westpac pitch at DDB myself, it’s good to see how the brand has developed.

The mix of hyperrealism, different styles and thumping soundtrack feels modern and youthful. It readily invites a re-watch, which is always a good sign. Whilst some scenes stood out initially more than others, others grew upon me.

A purist could argue that ‘life moments’ is doing a bit of a category job, but the surrealist take on them does elevate it. With so many different styles going on, one slight challenge may be which look and feel the bank can solidly own going forward. But creatively, that’s also a nice opportunity.

The helicopter scene could have benefited from its own surreal touch to make it as interesting and emotive as the rest of the spot. I also wonder if the tagline is as strong as it possibly could be. After seeing so many versions of it through the spot, when it finally settles on ‘Life is… Eventful’ at the end, my goldfish brain quickly forgets where the proverbial chopper landed.

All in all, it feels like a modern take on Australia and is one of the freshest looking and best feeling spots around right now.”

Rating: 8/10

Brand: Subaru
Generations of Love
Agency: The Works
The verdict: Just falls short of Subaru’s stories history with Australia

Parker says: 

“‘A new generation of adventure’ is a smart idea. Subarus are such iconic cars in Australia and so deeply connected to outdoorsy types and weekend adventurers that Subaru would be foolish not to acknowledge and build on it. And given the nature of the brief – an anniversary job, celebrating the longevity of the model in Aus – it makes perfect strategic sense.

I would have been tempted to keep it focussed on one car, but I get the need to stretch the budget further by including a few models. And at least they were all relevant to the outdoors and they didn’t try to shoehorn a Liberty or something in there.

But despite a soundtrack designed to make you smile and sing along, and the fact that Cody Crocker trying to lip-synch while hurtling along in the WRX is (intentionally or not) quite funny, executionally this doesn’t hit the mark for me. There are too many moments where the ad tips too far into saccharine without an emotional payoff, the lip-synching is weird and looks a bit CGI in places, and the ‘aha’ moment of the boy going off to be a park ranger at the start and turning up as an older man still in the same ranger’s uniform at the end feels contrived and somehow charmless.

It’s unlikely to do a lot of harm to the brand, but it feels like a missed opportunity to really double-down on Subaru’s unique position in Aussie culture.”

Rating: 6/10

Morgan says:

“As someone grew up in the Adelaide Hills where a car was the only ticket to teenage freedom, there’s a warm relatability to the opening scene of this spot. The father stoically dangling the car keys before the son who’s busy having a minor out-of-body-experience at the reality of it all, with the obligatory, ‘Now, be bloody careful’ instructional advice from dad definitely lands the right Aussie tone.

For a Japanese car, Subaru does have a storied history with Australia, one of the few imported brands that can genuinely claim that space. So it makes perfect sense strategically to remind us of that.

In terms of direction, it’s nicely done, especially the car-to-car wipe shots through the decades, showing the rally pedigree of the brand and Subaru’s place in family life.

The soundtrack definitely elevates the spot… and I have to say that it needs it. Because for all the boxes the spot ticks, this is also not an entirely unfamiliar journey in terms of car advertising. VW, Audi, Ford, Volvo and others have all journeyed similar roads through the decades, showing the evolution of their cars in step with flared jeans, big hair and mutton chop sideburns.

So really the creative challenge for this type of brief is to make it original. That’s why the talent singing along to the 80’s track is so key, giving the spot the self-aware, light-hearted touch it needs. All in all, could this spot have been slightly more original? Possibly. Is this campaign going to work? Undeniably.”

Rating: 7/10

Brand: City of Melbourne
Agency: Leo Burnett
The verdict: “Smacks a bit of Dad using yesterday’s hip new phrase”

Parker says:

“It’s hard to do destination advertising differently. Lots of stakeholders, and a ‘product’ which consists largely of beautiful, sumptuous, exotic, spectacular imagery tends to narrow creative options. But it can be done – Tourism Australia has nailed it more often than not, and the recent Tourism Tasmania ‘Come Down for Air’ campaign was excellent.

And in many ways, destination advertising has always been about provoking FOMO. All about showing people what they’ll be missing out on if they don’t come visit.

So City of Melbourne’s new FOMO platform ought to be smart, in a sort of post-ironic way. But it doesn’t quite work for me. Maybe it’s the acronym itself: it smacks a bit of Dad using yesterday’s hip new phrase – the kids don’t use it any more, and you just end up sounding a bit try-hard and out of touch. Which for a city that is so culturally in-touch feels like an own-goal.

Having said all that, it does everything it needs to in terms of showcasing all that Melbourne has to offer, and the execution with Dilruk Jayasinha has a bit of charm. And that’s probably enough, because Melbourne already has a massive pull, and all we need is a little reminder of that.”

Rating: 5/10

Morgan says:

“The term ‘FOMO’ first started appearing on creative briefs about seven years ago. At first, it felt quite original and in-culture. Yet soon, like an invasive species, it spread rapidly. With no natural agency predators of the ‘It’s been done’ type, it was soon the default ‘Insight’ sitting proudly atop any brief, on any client in the agency roster.

A mere 18 months later, FOMO had lost its ‘Insight’ badge, relegated down the pecking order to live among the humbler ‘Thought Starters’ section on the brief. We became largely immune to its previous charms, now trying to find new ways in.

Whilst I am clearly not a big fan of this idea, let me now say that I understand that a post-lockdown campaign for the City of Melbourne is not an easy task. A fragile political climate, multiple government and private stakeholders likely mandated a scenario where a hyper-positive, let’s-not-make-waves campaign was the order of the day. The agency has a good creative pedigree, so it makes sense to play the long game here.

On a positive note, the art direction and design are nice. Yet, given the incredibly unique challenges that Melbourne has navigated recently, this campaign just seems like a pretty generic response to getting people back into the city again. Hopefully the campaign makes an impact, even through sheer media weight – because the City of Melbourne seriously needs it to.”

Rating: 4/10

  • As told to Zoe Wilkinson. If you’re a senior creative or strategist who would like to take part in a future Campaign Review, please email zoew@mumbrella.com.au

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