Taking it further than the trade pubs: PRing the MLA Lamb ad

The reach of the Summer Lamb ad by Meat and Livestock Australia goes further than the typical marketing trade industry spaces. MLA's Graeme Yardy and Havas PR (One Green Bean)'s Simone Gupta spoke to Mumbrella's Anna Macdonald about the PR strategy behind the advertisement.

Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) Summer Lamb ad has become a staple of the Australian advertising calendar and is one of the few advertising campaigns to be consistently covered outside of the usual trade publications (Mumbrella included in those). The 2021 campaign, for example, was covered by the New York Times.

“Summer Lamb is such a unique beast,” says MLA domestic market manager Graeme Yardy, “In that, it’s something that – as a piece of commercial advertising – we get requests about when [it’s] coming out from the public. We have our stakeholders, we have the Department of Agriculture going: ‘Hey, can you give us a sneak peek?’.”

Graeme Yardy

This year’s ad, with the creative by Accenture Interactive’s The Monkeys, commented on border closures during the pandemic.

On walking the line between commenting on current events and overstepping, Havas PR (OGB, Red Havas, Organic) CEO Simone Gupta says: “We’ve been really, really fortunate with the quality of the creative writing behind these last two ads from The Monkeys that they have ensured that the humour is in there, but it hasn’t been controversial in a way that has offended anybody. The humour is very inclusive.”

Yardy adds: “We’ve got a really experienced team, I think, that have created a lot of these [advertisements]. I think we’ve got a really good handle on how far we can insert the brand into some conversations. We have looked at certain things through the creative process, which we’ve said, you know what, it’s not for us to have an opinion on. We could make comment about it and we could provoke people to think about it.

“But in the end, we’re here to sell a product. We’re not here necessarily to create a movement potentially around some political stance or movement.”

He continues: “The idea is that nothing can’t be solved without bringing people together over a lamb dinner.”

Last year, the agencies were briefed in winter to create an advertisement that would be culturally relevant the following summer, which presented obvious challenges.

“What is going to be on people’s minds in January?” Gupta asks, “What people are going to be talking about? This topicality, and tapping into the news agenda or tapping into the universal truth that people will respond to, that’s how we’re going to push [the ad] further than the trade marketing pages.”

Simone Gupta

Gupta continues: “We’re not just given an ad and asked to PR it, it’s quite the opposite of that. We’re in the briefing process. We’re under this single goal of the brief: what people are going to be talking about and how do we add to that conversation or provoke that conversation?

“We’re along the creative journey. Once we’re at a really good place with the creative, then we really start to look at what assets we can use to start talking to earned. Never underestimate the power of celebrity.”

For the 2022 advertisement, Sam Kekovich returned as the “Lambassador”. There was an out-of-home (OOH) component with billboards depicting topical messages, including one directed at WA Premier Mark McGowan reading: “‘Hey Mark, come visit Australia some time. We’ll fire up the barbie”. During the Novak Djokovic case, billboard trucks popped up next to the MCG reading: “Australian Lamb. More tender than border control”. Gupta points to that flexibility that allows the campaign to go further.

One of the truck billboards from the campaign

Yardy adds: “We are actually not about courting controversy. It’s about provocation, not controversy is how I’d describe it. Controversy is just making a noise basically, just to get eyeballs. Whereas provocation, for me, is where you’re getting the audience just to take that one more step of engagement, where you’re forced to think, you’re potentially forced to pick a side.”

“I think from a PR perspective,” continues Yardy, “This gives whoever might be picking this story up a great opportunity with their audience to ask them to pick a side as well. There’s nothing better for free engagement than a strong comments section.”

With The Monkeys on creative, UM on paid media and OGB on PR, effort on the advertising campaign is described by both Yardy and Gupta as a collaborative process.

Gupta says: “I work in a lot of agency villages. PR is often not the lead agency. We are the agency that will plug into the correct strategy or a big idea that’s come from a creative agency. This is one of the best agency villages I’ve ever worked in. I think that is partly driven by MLA and the team there. They genuinely have created an atmosphere where we feel empowered to work together. That’s to do with how we’re briefed, the kind of meetings that we have along the way through the process.”

In the process of reviewing last year’s campaign, Yardy remains coy on what the 2023 Lamb ad will be.

“It’s an election year,” he says, “Which is always fun. But no one’s probably going to be talking about an election that’s happening by January. There’s a long way to go yet, but I can promise you that lamb will be the heart of it. It won’t be controversial. It’ll be thought-provoking. And it will be absolutely a collaborative process.”


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