Thursday, July 3, 2008

80s Advertising Tycoons

Judging by the fact that no one was agreeing with me that the South African woman on Spicks and Specks last night was really hot, Spicks and Specks is on the decline. However, alot of people I know like to watch the Wil Anderson hosted Gruen Transfer on a Wednesday night on your ABC. It's basically a show about advertising, with advertising people deconstructing (how 90s) adverts about chocolate or big cars or whatever. It's not as interesting to me as that show that was on SBS many years ago with the German guy and Dennis Hopper, and I think I know why. The adverts they discuss are a little unAustralian. Last night, they showed this advert where a fluffy dinosaur ate some bunnies to show how a kids show would fit onto a newly formed crime channel. Funny concept. And an interesting discussion about it followed. However, I do lament that they've never ever looked at the true essence of Australian advertising. Insanity. Genuine insanity. Brain snapping bargains. Store owners who have gone mad to bring you the best possible deals. And more importantly, people who make their own ads. In the 80s, it seemed like the most unlikely people could bob up and be advertising heroes, before focus groups decided what people liked and that what they wanted was a camp Mary Poppins advertising pizza.

The king of 80s local Advertising when I was was growing up on the North West Coast of Tasmania was a man called Warren Von Bibra, a used car salesman with an intruiging gimmick. Basically, he would accept anything as a trade in. Where as most car salesmen would sell cars for cash or a traded in car, Von Bibra would scream "I'll TAKE ANYTHING!!!" down the barrel of a hand held camera. To prove it, each ad would feature something that had been traded in for some value off the price of the car (I think - I can't imagine if you took a lawnmower in, you got a Hilux, but the exact details were scant). Most memorably, Von Bibra mugged in his office with a goat, a real life goat, with a bell around his neck (the goat, not Von Bibra). "SOMEONE GAVE ME A GOAT!" he mugged dramatically in an Advocate print ad one memorable Monday. "WHY! I DON'T KNOW!" it said in small print, and there was no exposition after that. Truthfully, I don't think he did know, and I don't think he really ever knew. All I knew was that when he went to BBQs or out and about on the street I can imagine that it was a great conversation starter - no matter what someone had in their hand, say, a saveloy in a bun or a pair of pinking shears (I love a pair of pinking shears) he could jokingly say "Hey, wanna trade that in for a car" and away he could go. Maybe the goat tactic was well thought after all. PETA might not like it, but nothing breaks the ice like a goat. Incidentally, in Hobart the so called king of advertising is Wayne from Waynes car yard, who tried to get his catchphrase "Why do I do it!" up and running, but he's never acted with a goat, and so can't compete.

However, Warren Von Bibra was only a local advertising hero - the Gobbledok was the real thing, a national advertising sensation. A furry brown alien mascot for Smiths Chips, the flimsy premise at first was this alien wanted to eat Smiths Chips because they reminded him of his home planet, Dok, the Potato planet (yes it is flimsy). He ended up with a catch phrase ""Chippie, Chippie, Chippie!" that was repeated endlessly by small children and those people at BBQs who thought they were being down with the kids (those people would soon form socially conscious rap groups that would tour schools and teach kids about safety through rap). I always remember one of my first girlfriends telling me at primary school she couldn't work out how the Gobbledok ate chips without teeth. However, that's not the interesting bit - that's all tedious backstory. The man who created the Gobbledok, Warren Beaton, went to Hollywood (or Hollywood on the Gold Coast) to pitch a Gobbledok movie (at least someone told me) . I'm really annoyed this never came to pass, as it would surely have rivalled Razorback and Houseboat Horror as one of the worst Australian films of all time. I mean, an hour and a half of him trying to get back to his home planet, trying to eat chips, bit of product placement and...what else? A cute kid, some ET rip offs? A cameo from Bill Hunter? I'm scratching my head as to the plot, but I'd love to find out.

I want to end this post on something of an Alexander. One of the most famous ads in Tasmania for people of my age - an ad for Asthma camp which featured a rather wheezy child who, quote, "would like to join a football team or run the Olympic Games". He couldn't achieve those dreams without the support of his friends at Asthma camp (who, rather than us normal kids who wouldn't play with him, loved to play with him and push him on a roundabout) and his puffer. Aside from a fine line in snappy T-shirts, this kid looked a lot like me, so I was quite disturbed when an endless amount of people asked if my twin was alright. Sadly, there was some very dark rumours about this ad including that the kid actually died of an asthma attack on the roundabout on the day the ad was shot and it was all hushed up. I'd love to find out what happened to this kid, and I hope that he did actually run in the Olympic Games (I think he might have been Jane Fleming come to think of it).

Why no one uses Leilani Kai to sell their car yard, god only knows...

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