Opinion

The new lamb ad is the most important piece of Aussie advertising in a very long time

While there's plenty in there to get extremists from almost every group riled up, Alex Hayes argues Meat & Livestock Australia's new lamb ad is an important step forward for Aussie advertising.

The new lamb ad is going to have the frightbats from the left, right, aboriginal and gay communities hurling their vitriol into the Twittersphere for weeks.

And it’s bloody genius.

By turning away from the traditional Australia Day campaign and reclassifying it as a January campaign, Meat & Livestock Australia is following through on the promise it’s been cultivating for the last 18 months, of having an open and honest discussion about diversity and what it actually means to be Australian.

As a Brit who recently got my Australian citizenship this ad resonates with me more than any of the entertaining and yet strangely alienating chest-thumping efforts of the past decade or so starring Sam Kekovich (who this year gets a cameo as a Serbian getting off a boat and chomping on a chop).

Long-time Lambassador Sam Kekovich is relegated to a fleeting cameo

Long-time Lambassador Sam Kekovich is relegated to a fleeting cameo

In a world where it’s almost impossible to have a nuanced political debate without getting called either politically correct or racist, this two and a half minutes of entertainment presents one of the most nuanced perspective around the Australia Day and immigration debates I’ve seen.

Indeed when you watch it the first time it’s easy to miss the fact there’s no mention of Australia Day, so those not looking for it will just assume it’s an Australia Day effort. But for those waiting to jump on a reference, it’s cleverly sidestepped. Even the YouTube ad is titled ‘Celebrate Australia with a lamb BBQ’.

It’s hard to believe this is the ad which caused a backlash when Buzzfeed leaked a draft of the script for it at the end of last year.

That leak and subsequent coverage was something that upset MLA marketer Andrew Howie, who I’d argue has done more to champion the national conversation around diversity and inclusion than any other marketer in Australia.

MLA won the People's Choice award at the 2016 Multicultural Marketing Awards

Howie, fourth from left, pictured picking up the People’s Choice award at the Multicultural Marketing Awards late last year

Especially given the Spring campaign which had landed just a few weeks earlier, which was centred around the premise of inclusion and diversity (and managed to beat one of the most hilarious complaints to the Ad Standards Board about discriminating against white people).

This latest effort is a clear extension of that. And it’s hard to argue with a strategy that looks to be inclusive rather than divisive.

While most marketers continue to make the mistake of ignoring the changing face of Australia with homogenous ads speaking to a core demographic that doesn’t really exist (except quite often in their ad agencies), MLA has gone out of its way to include people. It’s hard to see how opening up to other demographics is not going to shift even more meat from the shelves.

It’s clear the MLA is one of the few organisations that has genuinely learnt from its past mistakes.

While the Sam Kekovich ads landed the association of lamb and Australia Day in the public consciousness, it was clear three years ago the schtick was wearing a little thin. And the introduction of The Monkeys as the new creative agency for lamb gave the MLA the opportunity to move that conversation on.

The first two ads were well-received, although the first was criticised for being exclusively white, and the second for using the aboriginal term Boomerang (in Operation Boomerang), to promote a day many aboriginal people call Invasion Day. That eventually became the most complained about ad of all time, but beat all the charges laid against it.

Despite those small missteps the two ads were tremendously popular and landed the publicly-chosen TV Ad of the Year award at the Mumbrella Awards for the past two years. It’s hard to see this one not completing the hat trick.

MLA and The Monkeys have won the public vote for the last two years

MLA and The Monkeys have won the public vote for the last two years

The quality of the script, direction and attention to detail will be hard to beat. And rightly so, it’s one of the biggest budget ads in Australia now. In effect it’s our Super Bowl moment, the one ad everyone knows is coming and looks out for.

You just have to look at the number of clever vignettes in it – I’ve now watched it several times and see something different each time. From a Greek woman rolling gyros and telling revellers it’ll be great at 2am, to the Shackleton melted ice gag, it’s packed with really nice touches.

mla-gyros-greek

That original script had Kevin Rudd moving through the crowd, apologising as he went after bumping into people – and in hindsight I’m sure they’re grateful the former PM turned it down.

They even manage to squeeze decent performances from the sportspeople.

And I have a feeling the choice of Haddaway’s song ‘What is love’ is not a coincidence, given the main lyrics in it are “Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more”.

This isn’t a brave ad, it’s a calculated one. The MLA knows it’s going to get a tonne of coverage in the media by taking this stance, and that free publicity will help amplify the ad even more.

But they also knew it was important to nail the tone of the conversation and do something more meaningful.

While more and more people rail against taking in refugees and the world becomes more politicised, talking about us all really being boat people is a well thought out move. And there’s more than a passing nod to the struggle for marriage equality and equal rights for the LGBTQI community currently taking place.

But the main conversation will centre around Australia Day. It’s not going to disappear anytime soon, but with this ad the MLA at least acknowledges it means different things to different people.

They’ve opened up a conversation. And while you may ‘never lamb alone’, by doing this the MLA has shown it stands alone among Aussie marketers right now.

Alex Hayes is the head of Mumbrella Bespoke.

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