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March 6, 2014

Footy Decoded: Rating the 2014 AFL and NRL TV ads

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Footy’s back and the AFL and NRL have plugged in their 2014 TV promos. One’s gravelly and down to earth. The other’s all smoke, sparks and spandex. Which one hits the mark?

‘Australia’s Game’ was the ambitious theme of the AFL’s past two season opening ad spots. It hammered a clear position – a brand framework for the league’s long-term national expansion. It’s the sort of strategic campaign that could have run for 20 years. Surprisingly it seems to have only lasted two.

After the mixed reaction to last year’s multilingual manifesto the AFL have pulled back from high brand concepts and chosen to go straight down the line. ‘Everything’s Possible’ follows the same formula as their 2011 ‘This is Greatness’ TVC – taut, low-key narration over gritty game footage splashed with digital effects.

‘Everything’s Possible’ is all about setting up storylines. On the eve of what could be the most even season in years the ad sells hope and promises the spectacular.

AFL fans have grown sick of the constant scandal and off-field noise of the past twelve months. ‘Let’s just get on with the game’ is a standard talkback refrain. The AFL is shrewdly presenting 2014’s first bounce as a chance to reset. The tone and message feels right.

I’m sure the ‘Australia’s Game’ tagline will reappear sometime soon (the AFL currently have it before the trademark office). ‘Everything’s Possible’ still carries a distinct Australian flavour. There’s something unmistakably Oz about actor Chris Hemsworth’s dryly understated voiceover. We’re a country that doesn’t feign theatrics. You learn to pull your head in.

Apparently the NRL didn’t get the memo.

Eyes on the prize

Safe to say ‘Straight in Your Eyes’ is the most out-there sports ad made in this country. A hot and hairy 80s mess, the faux glam anthem launches the NRL’s new Telstra powered Digital Pass.

It’s undeniably fun to watch an ad shake things up as much as this. You don’t sell to people by boring them. Better to shoot them in the face with fr’ckn laser beams.

Entertaining though it is, it’s hard to see how ‘Straight in Your Eyes’ fits in with the NRL’s recent attempts to reinvent their image.

Last year the league put all their marketing chips on Jessica Mauboy. She was supposed to be the future face of the game, casting league as fresh, young, urban and feminine. Twelve months later and the NRL’s rolling in cock rock.

‘Straight in Your Eyes’ is a great ad and it might well speak directly to league supporters. But it’s a big U-turn from last year’s focus on broadening the game’s base. Where’s the continuity and consistency of the NRL’s message?

Not only are there no women in ‘Straight in Your Eyes’, there’s little actual match footage either. The digital pass is but a medium – ultimately the game is the product. Shouldn’t it be the hero here?

You might say that this isn’t really an NRL ad: it’s a tongue-in-cheek Telstra commercial that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But it’s the NRL who are making it the promotional focus of their opening round. Shouldn’t the message be about getting out to the game rather than cuddling up to your iPad? Sell out crowds gave the Auckland 9s an enormous pop. Why not start the regular season with the same momentum?

The AFL’s effort might not be adventurous, but it builds on past campaigns and has its sights squarely focussed on the first bounce. “Straight in Your Eyes” is a ball tearer but I’m not sure it holds up as a de facto lead-in to the NRL season. Directing your own image matters. It’s too important to be farmed out to a media partner.


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