The Disappearing Animals of Optus

While pondering what topic I might choose to write on for this blog it occurred to me that it might be interesting to revisit something that I spent a little time considering in a past research project – Optus advertising images. The images, featuring animals as a common theme, were from a laterally extensive campaign that also lasted over many years. In fact, despite the changing styles in which the animals were represented, the campaign ran from 1998 until mid-2013 and, due to the saturation of the images in various print and digital media, became an instantly recognised one.

Now, I have to say that my project [Honours] was back in 2001, so I knew there would have been some changes over the last decade or so. Therefore, it came as a bit of a surprise when just recently I realised that Optus were no longer using [dare I say exploiting] images of animals to sell their products. After doing a little investigation I found some comments made in various press releases and interviews by representatives of the company. But before I expand on these I’ll offer some perspective by briefly describing the styles of the ads as they changed during the course of the campaign.

The initial ads utilised [in very deliberate ways] idealised images of real animals, in pristine, ‘natural’ surroundings, looking healthy and ‘happy’, despite troubling or precarious environmental situations in the real world for a number of the species represented. As time progressed, the campaign saw animals becoming more and more trivialised, anthropomorphised, less like real animals and more caricaturised, to the point, for example, where meerkats wore little pinks skirts, penguins cruised in open-top sports cars and little birds carried elephants through the air.

While the campaign appeared to have abruptly ended around the middle of 2013 (replaced by a round animated ball shape with little black stick legs), animals were being erased well before this in subtle (and insidious) ways. One of the latter stages of the campaign saw animals appear as mere shadows to humans. Literally. Where the lighting on each person or group of people would cast a shadow the shadow would be in the shape of an animal.

By around mid-2012 the animals became nothing more than “ ‘easter eggs’[which were] subtly realised to reward close viewing”. In the linked article Canning cites Optus head of segment marketing, Gavin Williams, as using the term ‘easter eggs’ to describe the odd fleeting appearance of an animal in the course of a television ad from this stage of the campaign. Williams is also cited as making some other ‘interesting’ comments: that the ‘animal theme…has underpinned the brand since 2002 (no – it actually began in 1998, meaning an unacknowledged [by Williams] four extra years of profits garnered, in no small part, due to the exploitation of animal images); ‘the rhino represents us…in future ads other animals will represent the company’ (maybe it’s me, but exactly how does the ‘rhino’ represent Optus? By charging?); ‘Whale Song [remember the previous TV commercial with the orchestra on a raft playing to the calls of whales?] was the catalyst to reconnect with the consumer and it was a very emotional basis that that was built on’ (at least some ‘honesty’ here – a deliberate manipulation of the emotional response that people feel when hearing whale songs).

But I don’t intend to single Mr Williams out as I offer this brief deconstruction of company executives’ responses to the ‘elimination’ of animals from their advertising. Optus marketing boss, Mike Smith, was cited by David Blight, from, as saying ‘[t]he animals started as a metaphor, but towards the end they were a prop and they didn’t mean anything anymore. What do we do with animals, I don’t know’ (italics mine).

And this, from Optus head of brand, Nathan Rosenberg: ‘[t]he animals have left the building. They’ve had a nice, pastoral outcome and we thank them for their years of service but it was getting tired’. (At least he thanked them!).

Kevin Russell, chief executive of Optus, at the end of year media party in Sydney, offers the most recent ‘tribute’ to the animals used when he declared ‘the animals in past Optus ad campaigns as “dead”’. Grubb, author of the linked Sydney Morning Herald article, goes on to note Russell ‘said the company had “grown up a bit” and had now moved away from the animals…after 15 years…’ and that ‘Mr Russell said he didn’t know what the original thinking was behind using animals, which were introduced in 2006 (italics mine). “Maybe we got a little bit carried away with some of the animals”’. Hmmm…my maths isn’t that great but from 2006 to now doesn’t equal 15! 1998!

Nice way to show respect to the beings that helped earn you so much profit over the last fifteen years, gentlemen!

And yet….in one of the earliest iterations of the new campaign, supposedly sans animals, there in a full ad pane, approximately 90% of the space is taken by phrases containing the word ‘cat’, which appears 23 times! Seems like they can’t quite let go!

Author: Dian Fowles


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