Cleo, the magazine that changed advertising

Cleo_first ever male centrefoldAs Cleo magazine faces the axe Simon Canning talks to Ron Mather about some of the risque advertising that helped establish the brand in the first place.

Cleo magazine broke boundaries when it came to publishing, connecting to a generation of newly-empowered young women.

Saucy centrefolds of naked male celebrities and sealed section articles promoting everything from a better sex life to feminine health issues defined the magazine.

But Cleo set new rules on another front as well, transforming the advertising industry with risky work that sparked watercooler conversation long before watercooler was a thing.

The work came out of one agency – the legendary Campaign Palace – with advertising that made the most of the miniscule marketing budgets allowed by Australian Consolidated Press to get the magazine into the minds of thousands of Aussie women each month.

Often driven by an artful use of innuendo, Cleo’s marketing made extending a budget by drawing complaints into an art form.

But even as viewers shielded their children’s eyes from the images, they loved the work.

Much of the work flowed from the pen of Ron Mather, one of the founding members of The Campaign Palace, which discovered a new level of freedom in the brand.

“Cleo was a great client,” Mather told Mumbrella.

“They always gave us the right brief. People loved it and we had a lot of fun.”

Ads for Cleo from the Palace include one where female researchers measure men’s penises, the secret home life of porn stars and an ad where a man’s erection hefts a bed sheet like a tentpole.

“It was a time [when] you were a visitor in people’s homes. It was tough, but Cleo was also the face of ACP.”

The ads regularly provoked complaints to the advertising watchdog, but more often than not had completed their short run on TV before the complaints could be heard.

The complaints themselves would often trigger media coverage of the ads – an early example of earned media in action.

Mather said key to the ads’ successes was the editorial ideas that Campaign Palace could tap into, as well as their simplicity.

Simon Canning

Videos sourced from Ron Mather, former creative director of The Campaign Palace and now partner of It’s The Thought That Counts.


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