And the winner is ... creative advertising
Stole the show ... former The Voice contestant Emma Louise Birdsall.
The balance of power between the propaganda industry and the news media that are supposed to provide a sceptical counter-balance to commercial and political image-manipulation is shifting in favour of the former. The propaganda industry is using its vastly superior resources with ever greater sophistication. You could see the process on Monday night during the most-watched show on television this year.
I never watch anything live anymore, preferring to use iQ, the transformative optional extra with cable television that allows for easy taping of shows and thus the ability to be flexible and to fast-forward through the ads. Something strange happened when I watched Monday night's grand finale of The Voice on replay.
On three occasions, an ad came on that was so instantly pleasing to the eye, so well framed and filmed, that my hand was stilled on the remote control. After watching the grand finale on replay, I re-ran the highlights and they did not include Karise Eden's winning performance, as dramatic as it was. The highlights were three ads.
One of the ads was simply a song, with no product plugs and just the barest hint of the advertiser's name at the end. It was, for me, the best performance of the night, a beautiful retro solo by Emma Louise Birdsall, a contestant on The Voice who was outstanding but did not make the final four. She stole the show.
It was a big show to steal. The ratings for The Voice finale peaked at 4.5 million viewers, one of the biggest audiences ever delivered.
This huge audience was exploited by a huge company that placed three one-minute ads that had never been shown before. Each was a jewel. The cost of making and placing those ads would be measured in millions of dollars.
The ads were produced by Droga5, an advertising company founded by Dave Droga, not widely known outside the advertising industry but a big star inside it. After reaching the creative pinnacle at big agencies in London and New York, Droga formed his own company in 2006 and is now the creative chairman of Droga5, with offices in New York, Sydney and Auckland.
The client who paid for those superb ads is Woolworths. It needed to do something bold, because its great rival, Coles, had colonised MasterChef, which routinely averages more than a million viewers six times a week.
Woolworths, like Coles, also had to arrest a reputation for gouging suppliers, grinding down farmers, sourcing food from Asia, and engulfing market share with its home brands.
Research commissioned by Woolworths found that most people believe a large proportion of the fresh food they buy in supermarkets comes from overseas, when in fact 96 per cent of fresh food at Woolies comes from Australia. Canned and packaged frozen food is another matter.
Woolworths needed a new message and it turned to Droga5. The three one-minute ads are like mini-movies, witty and featuring real people from the Woolworths supply chain.
"There is little doubt that supermarkets can be doing a better job in informing customers about who we are and how we are able to deliver the best fresh food in the country, that's why Woolworths is embarking on a multimillion-dollar brand and consumer awareness campaign,'' the managing director of Woolworths supermarkets, Tjeerd Jegan, said.
Jegen himself is an import, a Dutch national who arrived via an English company, Tesco, after running its operations in Malaysia. He wants Woolworths to start focusing more on its customers, listening to them more.
What has kept Woolworths from being an unpopular company is price. And competition. It does not gouge its customers. It keeps costs low. It is efficient. It makes healthy profits but not excessive profits. It employs, directly or indirectly, more than 100,000 Australians. It has enormous scale and reach, and extracts a punishing exchange from its suppliers.
Woolies, along with Coles, has such a commanding commercial position that it also has a powerful cultural position, and a powerful political position. Australians want cheap food and beverages, and generally get it. Australia has a supermarket oligopoly. The oligopoly companies want us to love them.
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