Just released documents have shown that the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) was warned its now infamous ‘Old mate’ ads were inappropriate months before the campaign even launched.
The ads, released in September, were the work of creative agency TBWA and were roundly condemned as being “offensive”, “terrible” and “depressing”.
But new research obtained under Freedom of Information laws and reported by ABC News has revealed SATC was warned that the ads were “not child-friendly” and would only appeal to grey nomads.
According to the report, the ads were shown to focus groups prior to their public debut with respondents bemoaning the campaign as depressing, lacking diversity and being too male-centric.
The documents also stated that “most interstate travellers agreed that it’s not child-friendly and potentially aimed at older travellers or ‘grey nomads’”.
“More variety in the attractions shown in Adelaide/SA would help counter this and enhance the impact.”
Focus group attendees commented: “I can’t take my kids to any of these locations … I’d be more interested in activities for families.”
Another added: “This type of holiday is about 30 years away.”
“I am not sure that they show that there is really enough to do and see there,” said another.
“This ad would be further enhanced, however, by showing different people from different backgrounds or different demographic profiles enjoying the variety of activities in SA,” commented another.
South Australia’s Labor opposition led the chorus of complaints about the ads, lambasting the government’s decision to award the creative advertising work to a Melbourne agency and for cutting the state’s tourism budget.
“Let’s get that advertising contract out of Victorian hands, back into South Australian hands and get our state’s marketing back on the right track,” opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said.
“Steven Marshall’s got an opportunity now. He’s the Premier of South Australia, he’s the Tourism Minister. The buck stops with him and he’s got the chance to reverse that.”
Was the campaign really a failure, though?
In response to the ABC News report, SATC executive director of marketing Brent Hill said it was normal practice in marketing to run focus groups and hear a cross-section of views.
“We knew that not everyone was going to love it, but that it would cut through and generate a lot of conversations about Adelaide,” he told Travel Weekly. “We knew that going in.
“So, when some in the focus groups didn’t like it or commented that it didn’t show enough to do, that’s normal. That happens every campaign, every ad we put out. You never get 100 per cent agreement.
“Labor just chose to pick out some of the worst verbatims and paint it as if it was something that everyone felt.”
Hill also disputed Malinauskas’ claim that the SATC works with TBWA’s Melbourne team, noting that the agency has had an office in Adelaide since July 2017.
Furthermore, the campaign generated $2.6 million in ASR, reached 12.3 million Aussies through earned media and 1,510 articles were generated across the full three ads.
The campaign’s total audience reach across paid, earned and digital media was 22.3 million, off a $1.2 million budget.