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Jan 27, 2015


Last November, Qantas launched a major advertising campaign called “Feels Like Home”. It shows five real Australian travellers reuniting with their families after extended periods away, to the strains of Feels Like Home, a Randy Newman song performed by Australian artist Martha Marlow.

The two-minute montage version made me cry. Indeed, Qantas handed around boxes of tissues in its focus groups. The ad sparked so many tears that the Daily Mail dubbed Qantas “The Crying Kangaroo”.

But perhaps the ad is so successful because it evokes the well-known phenomenon of crying on aeroplanes.

Floating far above the ground in a padded chair, in a dry, sealed aeroplane cabin that hums gently, facing away from other passengers, with no phone or email interrupting our thoughts, we travel inward as well as onward. It’s a sentimental journey. We indulge in emotional thinking, watch melodramatic movies on the in-flight entertainment system, read light novels purchased in airport bookshops, and listen to maudlin music. And they make us cry.

In a 2011 episode of This American Life, Brett Martin likens the experience of flying to “some sterile, infantile travel purgatory. You’re strapped in, given a blanket, a sippy cup, and tiny silverware, forced to do what you’re told and borne away at speeds we can’t conceive, without seeing where we’re going”. No wonder we turn into big crybabies.

Particle physicist and TV presenter Brian Cox cries on planes. So does actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Richard Madden, who played Robb Stark on Game of Thrones, wept over the Red Wedding all the way home to London: “I was the crazy boy on the plane crying at about midnight.” Even civil aviation enthusiasts find themselves crying.

In 2011, Virgin Atlantic issued a jocular “emotional health warning” before some movies after a highly scientific survey on its UK Facebook page revealed 55% of respondents had experienced heightened in-flight emotions. Some 41% of male respondents had disguised their tears by burying their faces in blankets; women tended to feign “something in their eyes”.

Interestingly, the song used in the Qantas commercial also features prominently in the tear-jerking 2009 drama My Sister’s Keeper, this time performed by Edwina Hayes. It plays during a montage scene in which terminal 15-year-old leukaemia patient Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) visits the beach with her family for the last time.

When Virgin Atlantic polled its Facebook fans on which in-flight movies made them cry most, My Sister’s Keeper came in at number four. Toy Story 3, a sentimental tale of putting away childish things, led Virgin’s list of “top ten tearjerkers”.

Emotional tears contain hormones that differentiate them from the eye’s regular lubrication, or tears shed in response to an irritant such as dust or onions. Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher discovered these stark differences in 2013 when she captured dried tears under a microscope.

“Much as only a few people can witness our toilet tears, we can cry on a plane knowing only one or two other people — our seating row neighbours — will directly observe us.”

Jeffrey Kottler’s 1996 book The Language of Tears suggests crying has an evolutionary function: as infants, we can signal our distress to nearby adults without loud cries revealing our vulnerability to predators. Dutch psychologist and crying expert Ad Vingerhoets, author of the 2013 book Why Only Humans Weep, adds that in early human communities, crying in adults could have signalled mutual trust and connectedness.

Cultural historian Thomas Dixon reminds us, however, of the range of emotions that provoke tears: joy, pride, pity, frustration and more. He also points out that the bad reputation of public crying as “emotional incontinence” stems from late-19th-century psychoanalytic literature: “that a similar shame should attach to a public stream of tears as to a public stream of urine”. (Some nutty Freudians even suggested women’s crying revealed their subconscious desire for male urination.)

The percolation of psychoanalytic ideas into mainstream discourse has led to two broad theories of crying: that it signifies a healthy release of repressed emotion; and that it represents a regression to a childlike state.

But a study in 1997 by Vingerhoets and colleagues discovered that most adults don’t cry openly in public; they wait until they’re at home, alone or in the company of one other person. Crying can be a response to stress, but it’s governed by the body’s parasympathetic nervous system — the so-called “rest and digest” functions that kick in during the aftermath of the sympathetic nervous system’s more immediate “fight and flight” reactions. It’s when we relax and reflect on our situation that we give ourselves permission to cry.

When asked to explain recent crying jags, Vingerhoet’s study participants far more frequently chose “separation” or “rejection” than other options including “pain and injury” and “criticism”. And of those who answered “rejection”, the most common subcategory they selected was “loneliness”.

Flying represents our separation from those we love. If you want to get both evolutionary and psychoanalytic, you could view separation crying as a vestigial echo of our former babyish vulnerability. In the cloistered environment of the cabin, we’re forced to confront our existential aloneness.

But while Virgin Atlantic film critic Jason Solomons suggests we cry at in-flight movie scenes that reflect our own melancholy at leaving happiness behind, or yearning for its return, Brett Martin of This American Life notices that we’re less likely to cry at the sad parts of a movie than the happy ones: “The parts where everything turns out all right.”

“Flying and films is a heady cocktail,” Solomons said, “the images and feelings so close to your eyeballs, so intimate.” And it’s the intimacy of the flying space — which Martin associates with a regression to childhood road trips — that makes a plane seat perhaps the most private kind of public space.

Think of that other hallowed public crying venue: the toilet cubicle. Like a plane, it’s small, quiet and impersonal. Much as only a few people can witness our toilet tears, we can cry on a plane knowing only one or two other people — our seating row neighbours — will directly observe us.

Aeroplanes, however, are unique among liminal public spaces because they are unmoored from the earth. As air travel has become more ordinary and frequent, we’ve stopped feeling so overwhelmed that we wingless creatures may travel at such heights and speeds. Only those afraid of flying still contemplate its singular un-earthliness.

Other travellers, however, experience this alienation from our ordinary lives as an emotional release. As Martin put it: “Something happens up there, the space between where you’re going and where you’ve left … some strange overhead compartment of the heart opens up.”

A famous Bible verse, now more often used as an epithet of exasperation, is John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Back when humans only roamed the earth, we imagined the clouds as the domain of gods and supernatural beings. Now, we can float magically there; and like the gods of old, our change in perspective enables us to feel not just for ourselves, but also for humanity.

As W.H. Auden wrote in The Age of Anxiety (1947):

“Sob, heavy world
Sob as you spin,
Mantled in mist
Remote from the happy.”


Apr 17, 2014


Smart political advertising can rally a nation behind a politician, and Australians aren’t the only voters bombarded with ads come election-time.

The Indian general election is currently taking place over a six-week period, the longest in the country’s history. It’s notable for controversial ad campaigns aimed at swaying India’s 543 constituencies (India is the world’s biggest democracy).

Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has attracted attention with his tongue-in-cheek ads. The latest opinion poll released by Indian news group NDTV predicts the BJP will win at least 226 seats and, along with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance, pass the crucial 272 majority mark.

The latest in a series of Modi’s right-wing Hindu nationalist commercials targets his opponent, Rahul Gandhi of the incumbent Indian National Congress, and the INC’s management of cost-of-living pressures for everyday citizens. The ad, which begins with an Indian man being brought his lunch, ends in wails and a fit of anger as he realises the cost of his meal has doubled in a week …

“Sir, the prices have gone up and are continuing to rise!” the waiter shrieks.

“Even so, how can it be this expensive?” the man goes on bellowing.

price rises

And that 38-second spot, with the closing slogan “Enough now — we shall deal with it ourselves!”, might have helped Modi and the BJP skyrocket to the front of the pack. Modi’s strong polling comes despite opposition claiming that his association with the violence seen in Gujarat in 2002 makes him unfit to become India’s next prime minister.

A third party, the Aam Aadmi Party, is also reaching out with TV ads. In a direct-to-camera address, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal addresses the viewer, saying he is one with the voter and that gives him a power that the “criminals” of the larger parties don’t have. In words that echo United States President Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign, Kejriwal suggests India is no longer a liveable nation built on honesty and prosperity for the common person …

As the Indonesian presidential election draws closer — it’s set for July — ads are proving crucial. The race has proven so tight the leading party is yet to emerge. With Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono constitutionally barred from a third term in office, the political playing field has been blown wide open for smaller parties to try their luck.

Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s Indonesian Democratic Party for Struggle has released some ads promoting him as a “new generation of leader” who can secure the nation’s future. His latest commercial shows groups of Indonesians rejoicing around TV sets as Jokowi is named presidential candidate for the PDI-P because he is a “strong leader” who “dedicates his life”, “brings hope” and “motivates people” …

Jokowi ad

Since 2004, Jokowi has gone from being a local mayor openly opposing Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party to gaining himself the epithet “the Obama of Indonesia”.

And finally, it wouldn’t be an Indonesian political race without a former military strongman. Ex-army lieutenant Prabowo Subianto has used nationalist advertising throughout his campaign to sway voters towards voting for the Gerinda Party. The party’s latest ad shows Prabowo revelling before thousands of supporters and declaring his love for his country, while supporters proclaim his inevitable presidency …

Nicholas Reece, a public policy fellow at the University of Melbourne who is co-ordinating the Election Watch project, says the ads reflect a new sophistication in political campaigning. “In both India and Indonesia, we are seeing a growing level of campaign professionalism. The political parties are engaging in big-time election expenditure, reflecting the emergence of sophisticated Western-style campaigning,” he said.

“These are well-resourced, well-designed campaigns that would cut the mustard in most advanced democratic election campaigns.”

Election Watch brings together academics and experts to analyse major election campaigns around the world. In 2014, they have teamed up with the Australia India Institute and Indonesia Forum to cover elections in two of the world’s biggest democracies.


Nov 20, 2013


Bonds boobs

Bonds has been cleared by the Advertising Standards Bureau for its new “Boobs” advertisement, which roused at least 15 complaints after it launched in October.

The advertisement, which replaced the well-known Bonds logo with the word “Boobs” and featured images of women in bras and underwear, caused controversy for its use of the word.

The ASB board reviewed the complaints and ruled in favour of Bonds, noting the word boobs is defined as a colloquial term for women’s breasts in the Macquarie Dictionary.

The controversial campaign was designed to promote the apparel brand’s fresh offer of bras, which come in a broader range of sizes and fits. The company hired Clemenger BBDO to produce the campaign and invested in billboards, online and print advertising to promote it. At the time of launch, a spokesperson for the ASB said 15 official complaints had been made about the campaign.

The concerns were put to a board of 20 community representatives, who assessed if it breached the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics. The spokesperson said the review would focus on the “language, the sexuality and the nudity”.

The ASB released a sample of complaints made against the ad. These included:

“I find the word ‘boobs’ to be inappropriate in the context of advertising. If the word is not appropriate for children to use during school hours and deemed offensive in that context, then I don’t understand how it is appropriate for the same word to be us used for mainstream marketing, so boldly and without any reference to the product. I find the word boobs offensive.”

Another comment said:

“I find using the terminology of ‘boobs’ to be very demeaning when used in advertising referring to the female body parts we know as breasts. It would be like having an advertisement for men’s underpants and calling attention to them by having a billboard with the word ‘dick’ on it and then changing it to men wearing the underpants and referring to the brand and dicks. This would not be acceptable or tolerated so why is it acceptable to use such demeaning words for women’s underwear that ‘Bonds’ feels so justified in using.”

Bonds told the ASB that the campaign was designed to show that the brand was taking bras “seriously, so seriously in fact that Bonds has changed its name to ‘BOOBS’”. A Bonds statement said:

“The selection of the word ‘BOOBS’ was quite deliberate — recent research undertaken by Bonds indicates that the word ‘BOOBS’ is part of the Australian vernacular, with 74% of women using the term to describe their own breasts. The research results, coupled with anecdotal feedback from our customer-base, clearly indicate that the terminology is socially acceptable and commonly used in society.”

Bonds argued that the word did not have sexual connotations, “nor does it constitute inappropriate language”.

“It is an innocent and playful word (used commonly in Australian society as per research findings) and it therefore aligns with the innocent and playful values of the Bonds brand,” Bonds said.

The company also pointed out that the advertisements had been approved by the Outdoor Media Association before going live. It said major partners including Myer, David Jones and Big W had supported the campaign.

The ASB agreed with Bonds, noting that Bonds had researched the consumer use of the word, and the board referenced the Macquarie Dictionary definition.

At the time of the campaign launch, independent brand analyst Michel Hogan said she wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. “They’ve had Pat Rafter running around in his underwear playing tennis for years,” she said. “If Bonds had never had people in their underwear before … and all of a sudden they did, it [the fuss] could be justified if it is out of character. Because Bonds has a heritage of being provocative in a cheeky way, it is not pushing the boundaries.”

While she didn’t think it was offensive, Hogan says the use of the colloquial word boobs could get conservative consumers off side. “When organisations push too far, they risk damaging what people think of them.”

*This article was originally published at SmartCompany

Comments & corrections

Oct 22, 2013


Fear the Reaper

Mary Noonan writes: Re. “HIV is increasing — but the Grim Reaper ad wouldn’t help” (yesterday). Who said shock tactics don’t work? I think “fear” is one of advertisers’ main tools myself (think graphic photos on ciggie  boxes). When something’s presented in a serious manner with undertones of caution, funnily enough I don’t get defensive and think, “That won’t happen to me”. Why would I think, “She’ll be right, even though I’m indulging in that behavior, nothing untoward will happen to me ’cause I’m bullet-proof”? That just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

There was a pretend ad on AIDS awareness on The Gruen Transfer last week. The information presented plus the slightly scary delivery made me sit up and take notice. The powers that be could do worse than run that ad. It wasn’t Grim Reaper, but it was grim.

Coalition doesn’t have a monopoly on word association

Ian Franklin writes: Re. “Redefining the refugee ” (yesterday). Expertise in redefining words and association with “bad names” is not unique to the current government. Remember Julia Gillard’s “misogyny” speech in Parliament?

Say something often enough, loudly enough and forcefully enough, and many, many people will follow.

Religion and politics are very similar in many ways. I can hear the sheep still bleating.

Kim Lockwood writes: Re. “Bolt: Walkleys license the Left’s barbarians.” (yesterday). Bolt “detests and mistrusts” journalists handing prizes to journalists, as happens with the Walkley Awards. (It wasn’t always that way. Bill Walkley handed them out himself in the early days.)

So Bolt must detest and distrust not only those involved in the Melbourne Press Club’s Quill Awards, but also — surely it can’t be so! — those involved in News Corp’s own backslapping event, for which the Sun King is in the country. It’s not only journalists handing prizes to journalists, but News Corp journalists handing prizes to News Corp journalists. Still, if Bolt wins one that’d make it all right, wouldn’t it?

Roxon just letting off steam

Robyn Godbehere Tully writes: Re. “Roxon revises history in whinge about intelligence committee” (Thursday). Nicola Roxon only did what Latham and Richardson have done so handsomely for years, the only difference being that maybe Latham and Richardson got paid to lambaste Labor, whereas Roxon was just letting off steam. What is your opinion? You can’t stop people from saying what they think — it’s only concerning if it leads to defamation.


Aug 6, 2013


With the 2013 federal election campaign finally under way, two of the more experienced pioneers of citizen journalism are gearing up to do it all again.

Election Leaflets, an online library of political ephemera, is one of the many projects from the OpenAustralia Foundation, a group using technology to make democracy more transparent. The group has also developed tools to keep track of local development applications, parliamentary proceedings and freedom of information requests.

The website allows anyone to send a digital or actual copy of campaign material that has been poked through the letterbox. The leaflets are then tagged by party, electorate and subject, creating a searchable database of political material that had been destined for the recycling bin.

Volunteers from OpenAustralia created the site in 2010 and have collected material from around Australia. The WA state election in March proved a goldmine.

“We wanted to make it easy for people who are disillusioned with politics to be able to contribute to something positive. By uploading or sending us the flyers they get, they can directly help increase transparency in political campaigning,” said founder Matthew Landauer. Co-founder Katherine Szuminska said: “The site means that if a political party is saying one thing in one electorate and then something else in another state, they can be held accountable for that.”

The site hosted 650 leaflets for the 2010 election, and it is aiming to double that in 2013.

“One of the best things about 2010 was the long letters we would get from people sending us the flyers they had picked up. They felt that they were doing something important by sharing something that would before only been seen by people in their neighbourhood,” said Landauer.

Szuminska said: “We’ve added in all the new political parties, as there were a few gaps in 2010, so this time we want material from all over the country — this also helps people when they are deciding on how to vote; they can see all the different promises.”

Already there are some treasures from the campaign. One flyer, from Macquarie, says the Liberal Party owns The Daily Telegraph. Another from Bendigo has collated what former ALP ministers said about Kevin Rudd, while in Eden-Monaro, the No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics have been busy. The site is also useful for tracking the generic leaflet layouts that most parties use, just changing the candidate details.

This year, Election Leaflets is also working with the National Library of Australia, which is archiving the hard-copy leaflets for posterity. The library believes that “[p]olitical ephemera provides a unique perspective into Australia’s social life and political landscape: the rise and fall of policies, issues, parties and careers”.

“Working with the National Library means that leaflets people send us can become part of our national archive, available for researchers and journalists into the future. So, if you find a flyer in your letterbox, get it to us,” said Landauer.

*Disclosure: El Gibbs has worked with the OpenAustralia Foundation


May 29, 2013


To illustrate his distaste for taxpayer-funded political advertising earlier this month, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott recalled the Howard government’s infamous GST ads showing metal chains falling off ordinary Aussies as Joe Cocker wailed Unchain My Heart. 

“I didn’t think it was very effective,” Abbott said of the $362 million campaign. “There will certainly be no Joe Cocker ads under a government I lead because even I think they’re passé.”

Nevertheless, the chief co-ordinator of the GST extravaganza — South Australian marketing strategist Mark Pearson — is expected to lead the Liberal Party’s election advertising campaign this year. The low-profile operator has been a key member of the Libs’ in-house election advertising unit – known as the “blue team” – since John Howard’s first victory in 1996. Other members include Coles and Jetstar ad man Ted Horton, direct mail boss John King and colourful marketer Toby Ralph.

Liberal Party sources say federal director Brian Loughnane is sounding out the campaign veterans to come back this year, with Pearson at the helm. That’s despite media buyer Harold Mitchell calling them the “blue rinse team” for their advancing years.

Pearson, a former managing director of Sydney firm Ammirati Puris Lintas, is a secretive character — there’s no evidence of him ever granting an on-the-record interview and he hung up quick-smart when The Power Index called. Now based in South Australia and semi-retired, he’s said to be have strong grasp of realpolitik and a tight relationship with Liberal Party head office — if not exactly a reputation as a creative genius.

“He’s good at organising things, but he’s not a killer creative,” a Liberal insider told The Power Index. Said a former Labor Party campaign operative: “His work is always pretty standard cookie-cutter stuff. It’s dull but effective.”

Loughnane has praised the Libs’ 2010 minimalist “real action” ads for resonating with voters — even though one top media buyer panned them in the press for resembling an “infomercial you’d see on Foxtel selling a funeral plan”.

Ted Horton, who designed the L-Plate ads that damaged Mark Latham’s chances during the 2004 campaign, is seen as more of a creative star. But, despite reports to the contrary, he didn’t participate in the last campaign and may not this year.

If the polls remain where they are, of course, the Libs won’t need a flashy, risky campaign; slow and steady should win this race. The Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s decision to announce the election date eight months in advance has also handed the opposition team an unprecedented advantage: they’ve got ample time to road test ads, hone the slogans and plan the ad spend.

Importantly, Pearson and company understand the difference between flogging Coke and running an election campaign.

“His work is tight, disciplined, strategically-focussed,” one leading ad man said. “[T]hat’s better than going to a big agency and getting something that looks amazing but is off strategy.”

“They realise union money and union effort is the one thing they’ve got going for them.”

That seems to have been exactly Labor’s thinking for this year’s election. In October the ALP signed gun creative Mark Collis — who has designed high-profile campaigns for Earth Hour and McDonalds, and was recently head of innovation and creativity at Telstra — to lead its ad campaign. But the relationship broke down around two months ago and Labor has assembled a new team of true believers.

Essential Media Communications, the progressive polling and campaigning outfit behind the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ 2007 Your Rights at Work campaign, is now running the show. Film producer Richard Keddie, who also worked on Your Rights at Work, is also on board. So is Dee Madigan — a vivacious Gruen Transfer regular who once worked under Mark Pearson at Ammirati Puris Lintas. Labor sources say the crew is already working hard at EMC’s Sussex Street HQ, with ALP assistant national secretary Nick Martin overseeing efforts.

While TV and radio remain the crucial battlegrounds, digital is again expected to grow in importance this campaign — with Facebook, rather than Twitter, seen as an influential platform.

One top ad creative describes the switch from Collis to EMC as a “reversion to the base” — a sign sandbagging existing seats, rather than winning new ones, is the name of the game. “They realise union money and union effort is the one thing they’ve got going for them,” they said.

With donations apparently down dramatically, the Labor team can be expected to again work closely with the ACTU and other unions. As Loughnane explained in his 2010 post-election speech:

“It is clear the ACTU, unions and other left-wing groups were fully integrated into Labor’s campaign … There was a period of 10 days — a lifetime in a political campaign — in the first half of the election in which Labor did not advertise at all except for a minor buy in one state. But during this period, the ACTU and unions were on the air attacking Tony Abbott and the Coalition.”

The appointment of Madigan has led to some furrowed brows, given she worked as a key creative on Labor’s disastrous 2012 Queensland election campaign. Madigan was the brains behind the controversial “Campbell’s web” ads which highlighted Campbell Newman’s connections to a series of allegedly dodgy deals.

Labor veteran Bruce Hawker, who worked on the Queensland campaign and rates Madigan highly, told The Power Index the ads were “very effective” early on. But the strategy was later seen as smear when the Crime and Misconduct Commission cleared Newman of wrongdoing before election day.

That doesn’t mean a scare campaign about Abbott — and his supposedly dastardly plans to cut workplace entitlements and government programs — will be off the cards this time around. As one Labor campaign insider said ominously: “Everyone says they hate negative advertising, but it works.”


May 1, 2013


Paid advertising has appeared on a federal government website for the first time, a move advertising baron Harold Mitchell estimates will net the Bureau of Meteorology $2 million a year.

The ads for NAB ran for a limited time yesterday. More will follow.

Weather nerds are up in arms over the commercialisation of their-much loved site, but Mitchell says ads will help reduce the cost of a public service in a difficult economic climate. Medicare is another target, and Mitchell would go as far as the ABC.

“They should have done it years ago,” Mitchell told Crikey. “It’s the perfect way to monetise a service paid for by the people … This is perfectly acceptable and wise and responsible. I’ve always said the ABC, their digital services, that would be another major revenue stream [for advertising].”

The government announced in the 2012-13 budget ads would be trialled on BOM for one year. Private firm Digital Network Sales is managing the process.

BOM has been picked because it’s the government’s most visited website, and it has massive traffic spikes during natural disasters and severe weather. The government won’t say how much the trial might earn and says all the cash will go back to BOM. According to the Bureau, the website received 3.3 billion page views in 2011, and 64 million users visited the site in 2011-12.

Mitchell — a prominent ad space buyer and key shareholder in industry giant Aegis Media — is impressed. “That’s nearly everybody,” he said, calculating the ads would net $2 million a year.

Denis Muller, media ethicist at the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Advancing Journalism, doesn’t share Mitchell’s unbridled enthusiasm. “Presumably it’s going to open up possibilities for other government agencies to also accept paid advertising,” he said.

Muller raises concerns about editorial independence; that the BOM ads could influence the type of weather and climate information run on the site. For example, if a concreting company were to sponsor the site, it could end up devoting more resources to running information about expected rainfall. Would BOM run ads for commercial sites like The Weather Channel and Weatherzone? Similarly, Muller suggests Medicare might one day run ads because of its high online traffic — and asks whether private health insurers will be allowed to sponsor it.

“What about the space on the website, what are they taking off, will it be harder for people to find [weather information]?” Muller asked. “Who gets the money?”

BOM says there will be no ads on pages dedicated solely to weather warnings. Pop-ups and in-page videos are banned. The ads will run on the right side of the webpage, above the fold. Rotating blocs of ads are allowed, but BOM has scotched ads for gambling, lotteries, alcohol, any ads aimed at children or “of a political nature”. The government censors will ensure there is no “advertising containing s-xually explicit content and/or s-xual innuendo”, which would have been quite eye-opening on the staid weather site.

Muller isn’t necessarily opposed to the presence of advertising if it brings a public benefit in the form of revenue (BOM’s annual budget is $324 million), but says there should be a strong on-site disclaimer that the ads are paid for and don’t represent endorsement by the Bureau.

BOM chief operating officer Vicki Middleton said in a statement the ad trial is “a potential revenue stream to assist the Bureau in meeting increasing demand for essential frontline services and flood forecasting systems”:

“Many commercial entities and media organisations use Bureau data in the delivery of weather information, and generate revenue from these activities. It makes sense for the scientific body responsible for this data to benefit directly. While the Bureau is the first Australian Government agency to carry commercial advertising on its website, meteorological service providers in other countries, including the UK Met Office, already carry commercial advertising on their website.”

Mitchell rebutted Muller’s concerns, saying ads could be carefully regulated and consumers understand the difference between information and advertising. The BBC carries advertising (for overseas online viewers only) and the Australia Network (run by ABC International) runs ads overseas. SBS, which receives public funding, has ads on its website and TV channels. Mitchell points out Crikey runs advertising while maintaining its editorial kudos.

Mitchell says digital advertising has soared from a very small base and is likely to be the biggest ad medium in 2014, overtaking newspapers and television. “Why would anybody turn their back on that?” he said.

Graph from BOM’s annual report showing growth in traffic (measured in billions of hits per month), with spikes in summer


Mar 10, 2011


With nearly 1.4 million kids under the age of 12 online it’s no wonder Australia’s biggest food brands use the net to spread their message.

Nutrigrain, Milo, Uncle Toby’s and Cottees are just some of the well-known grocery brands with websites which target kids (at least in part). And unlike on television, the manufacturers can strut their stuff without any pesky interference from government or industry.

In theory, the voluntary codes governing TV food advertising to children apply to the internet as well. But according to the NSW Cancer Council’s Kathy Chapman: “Company-owned websites are exempt from the codes… So for example the Happy Meal website, which is McDonald’s owned … can have characters and games galore.” Check it out. It does.

Many of these websites also use sport and sports stars to build kids’ loyalty to their brands. Milo, for example, ran an internet competition for schools this summer to win coaching from the Australian cricket team. That was great for the lucky winners, but even better for Milo which got all the losers thinking about its brand. Milo ran a similar competition for individuals and in2cricket teams — record a 90-second chant to the tune of Waltzing Matilda or Wild Thing to win a $10,000 prize

The Schweppes-owned Cottee’s website uses the Socceroos to promote its cordial. The site features colourful cartoon characters and promotions for its schools five-a-side soccer competition, which is open to 8 and 9-year-olds. Cottee’s also has a section called Kids Stuff, where kids can build a team logo by dressing soccer players in different shirts.

Nutella’s website also employs the Socceroos to spruik its spread. But its pitch is aimed at soccer parents, who are asked whether their kids get tired or injured during the soccer game and whether they worry that their junior stars aren’t eating well enough for optimum performance. Answer yes to any of those questions and you’ll be clicked through to a nutrition page that advises you to feed your kids Nutella before they play or train.

Nutri-Grain’s website, which features all its Iron Man stars, has a competition that certainly would appeal to my 10-year old. To “Unlock the Iron Man Code” you have to get the numbers from a Nutri-Grain packet and fill in an online entry form. But at least it offers chin-up bars and training kits as prizes. Entrants have to supply an email address and tick a box to say they’re over 18.

Uncle Toby’s website features its “Champions” or brand ambassadors — Grant Hackett, Emily Seebohm, Cate Campbell and Eamon Sullivan. It also has links to its SwimKids program and a kids lunchbox feature. But only a couple of its products fall into the junk food category.

Kellogg’s sugar-filled Froot Loops cereal doesn’t do sport but it does have a website aimed at 5-6 year olds, featuring an adventure playground with heaps of games and cute cartoon characters. In one game, ‘Blasters’, you have to catch bouncing froot loops.

Cadbury’s website, which features a Play School-style landscape with chocolate dog, cow (Moo), family and policeman is currently using a cartoon Easter Bunny to advertise its Easter Egg Hunt and Family Picnic. The blurb says:

“Children aged 3 to 12 years can take part in one of the many hunts running throughout the day and share in over ½ million Cadbury® Easter eggs. The stage will be alight with pantomimes from everyone’s favourite rabbit ‘The Cadbury Bunny’ along with his good friends Freddo® and Caramello Koala® and this year’s special guest Yogi Bear.”

Cadbury’s Freddo Frogs website offers animated 10-part adventures with puzzles and games for children as young as 3. An email address is required and adults can opt to limit their children’s time on the site.

Such cartoon characters feature in most of the websites aimed at pre-teens. And here’s why: in a recently-published US study, 80 children aged 5-6 were asked to taste a new cereal and rate it on a one to five smiley faces scale. Not surprisingly, the youngsters preferred the taste of cereals with cartoon characters on the packet. They also preferred ones with healthy names to ones with sugary names, but those clever cartoon characters helped “override” their “assessment of nutritional merit” and vote for the sugary ones.

Perhaps that’s why Kelloggs Froot Loops character Toucan Sam boasts “magical power”.

Certainly, young kids can pick up brand messages from an early age. A 2007 study in the USA asked 63 preschool children as young as 3 years old to taste five pairs of identical foods and beverages. Half were in packaging from McDonald’s and half were in unbranded packaging. And guess what: these children preferred the taste of foods and drinks if they thought they were from McDonald’s. Furthermore, the more TVs they had in their home and the more times they had been to McDonald’s, the more they opted for Maccas.

Smart people these marketers. They sure know what works.


Nov 18, 2010


Shame on Kellogg’s

For the fourth year running, Kellogg's has been dubbed the worst advertiser of junk food to children in Australia by The Parents Jury. It sure knows how to cash in on kid's pestering,reports Melissa Sweet


Apr 1, 2010