Bendigo Bank surprised a number of business commentators when it chose to spend an estimated $5 million to launch a new ad campaign during the Seven Network’s Olympic coverage.

But not as much as it has surprised the growing ranks of TV viewers who’ve read something other than the word “COMMUNITY” spelled out in yellow letters of varying sizes in the closing frames of one of Bendigo’s feel-good commercials, created by agency Badjar Ogilvy.

Has Bendigo Bank done a Sharon Stone?

When I thought I saw it early in the week, I was prepared to dismiss it as the result of a combination of too many late nights and, perhaps, a dirty mind. But a number of people I’ve spoken to since have independently verified my impression.

On Wednesday, word was spreading at a major media buying agency. On Thursday, a marketing academic asked me had I seen it. And it turns out it’s been blogged about since last weekend.

People in adland have expressed serious doubts that such an unfortunate but inadvertent arrangement of letters could have passed unnoticed through the editing process and numerous stages of agency and client review.

Assuming that Bendigo Bank would not put at risk its $5 million investment — and, indeed, its entire brand — by deliberately causing offense, this leaves only one feasible explanation: a “scam ad”, a version of the commercial made for the amusement of agency insiders but not intended for public display. As one observer said, it has all the hallmarks of “a piece of creative department hi-jinks”.

The issue of scam ads crops up regularly – some agencies and ad production companies make ads they know the client will never approve for airing, not only for their own perverse amusement but in order to enter them in creative advertising awards.

At this year’s Gold Lions in Cannes, the controversy centred on a scam ad using the branding of US retailer JC Penney (a client of Saatchi & Saatchi New York) but entered in competition by production house Epoch Films without the knowledge or permission of Saatchi & Saatchi or JC Penney.

Picking up on JC Penney’s tagline of “Today’s the day…”, it shows two teenagers practising getting dressed as fast as possible to minimise the chance of being caught having s-x. It’s tagged with “Today’s the day to get away with it”. Neither Penney’s nor Saatchi were impressed! 

As for Bendigo, it may all be very innocent, and, like the infamous Maxine McKew photograph in The Canberra Times’, merely a trick of the light, but either way, Bendigo Bank, we salute you with Crikey’s prestigious Weekly Wankley!