Black Summer bushfires burned 2,448 homes, while flooding earlier this year left more than 5,000 uninhabitable. Between the two events, Covid sent Australia into the most intense lockdown since at least the Spanish flu. The last five years have been a time of upheaval for many Australians, but they have also allowed some of the most innovative commercial creativity to shine and shine.
At this year’s This Way Up festival, a Google session on The Work Behind the Work took a closer look at campaigns that responded to these crises and managed to engage consumers more deeply. Suncorp and Leo Burnett’s One House to Save Many campaigns; and Volkswagen’s GTI Hijack and DDB Group Australia stood out. Both campaigns turned crises into opportunities to help socially and recreationally.
A house to save Many focused on building a model for a more weather-resistant house. It was born directly out of the “gravity of the weather events that we’re experiencing, which are becoming more frequent and more severe,” according to Mim Haysom, director of marketing at Suncorp.
Mim made this point with a simple comparison; the area burned by the Black Summer bushfires, he explains, was “actually the same size as the whole of the UK”. She described these climate trends as “leading to many communities in Australia becoming uninsurable”, which is where the one house campaign stepped in.
In collaboration with CSIRO, James Cook University and Room 11 Architects, Suncorp created a house that used the classic ‘Queenslander’ design as the basis for a strong new structure. The house has an open plan interior to better observe an encroaching fire; allows for sacrificial gutters to offer ember protection; and it is accompanied by two external water tanks, which act as drinking water supply and fire extinguishing. Other design features protect against flood and cyclone damage by deflecting debris and redirecting high winds.
The work was promoted through a 30-minute documentary that aired on prime-time television, while a website with dedicated content and renderings allowed clients to view the features of the house. The project became a point of discussion and development with governments at various levels. In Mim’s words, Suncorp “continues to work on how we will innovate next; and how we support customers and communities to be more resilient in the future.” He concluded the session by highlighting the importance of campaigns that respond to social realities and take advantage of the opportunity to “create work that works not only for an organization in terms of brand and business results, but also in real and tangible impact”.
Volkswagen and DDB Group Australia’s GTI Hijack, on the other hand, may not have been rooted in broader social changes for Australia, but it wouldn’t have worked without them.
The campaign, explains DDB creative director Tim Woolford, was born out of dissatisfaction with the sheer uniformity of performance car ads. “Everything looks like this,” he says, describing the global commercial for the new VW Golf GTI. Instead, the DDB team focused on trying to break through the similarly styled car video block and eventually came up with the idea of selling that very effort as their creative campaign.
The team developed an in-browser game where consumers could race a Golf GTI after scanning a QR code displayed on their television. In this way, they could “hijack” the entire ad break and keep consumers’ attention on the VW above any other car ads that might follow the initial commercial.
But there was a catch. “An app would kill this idea from the start,” says Tim. “Having to educate an audience to download an app and then be able to play a game that was on TV; It was just never going to happen.” It is because of this obstacle that Tim goes on to say that the team was “cursed and thankful” for Covid-19, because it “taught the world that QR codes are not the ugliest thing in the world.”
“If it wasn’t for the humble QR code, this would never have happened. People were at home during the lockdown. Like me, they were watching a lot of television. And they were scanning a lot of things with their phones and scanning a lot of QR codes. So there was this kind of cultural behavior that had set in… Being able to configure and customize the GTI from home was also a great technology for us. And in the context of Covid, people not being able to visit dealerships was part of the sales method,” says Tim.
These campaigns responded to serious modern challenges in different ways. One was serious, the other more frivolous, but the key shared trait was a willingness to accept the new status quo and develop creativity from that. As Tim says in his closing comments, “It’s a little cheesy, but it’s true that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. If you seize the opportunity, whatever form it comes in, gold truly is at the end of the rainbow.”