That’s not a movie; that’s a movie

It was with a mix of disappointment and relief that I found out the recently promoted Crocodile Dundee ‘sequel’ was just a marketing stunt.

Disappointment, because the movie holds a special place in my heart.

And relief because, well, the movie holds a special place in my heart… and after the last Dundee movie (Crocodile Dundee in LA), another stinker would just be sad.

The ‘new movie’ was a prank by Tourism Australia, to be part of the US Superbowl advertising.

Nice idea. But tough competition. Superbowl advertising is often more competitive than the game itself, with the ad spots selling for millions… on top of the cost of producing them.

Car companies and brewers are the mainstays, with tech companies coming and going as fortunes wax and wane. Apple’s first really big breakthrough ad was screened during the Superbowl, and the year 2000 was famous for the phalanx of ads, many for companies that are just distant memories today.

So I wish Tourism Australia luck. And I’m looking forward to the ad. If Paul Hogan himself is part of it — and there’s a decent chance he will be — it’d be even better! After all, Hogan’s famous “G’day” ads of the mid-80s really put Australia on the map for US tourists.

Whether he reprises his oft-quoted ‘shrimp on the barbie’ line is also an open question.

Where’s the next Paul Hogan?

But it got me thinking: where are the iconic ads of today? You know the ones. Not only Hoges, but try these on for size:

“Not. Happy. Jan.”

“I feel like a Tooheys”

“That’ll be the phone, Reg”

Then there’s the Smiths Crisps ‘Gobbledok’ character…

The ‘Oh, What a Feeling’ leap…

Slip, Slop, Slap…

The ‘Life. Be In It’ ads featuring Norm…

The De-De-De-Decore ‘dancing in the shower’ ads, and

“My dad picks the fruit, that goes to Cottee’s, to make the cordial, that I like best”.

I apologise in advance for whichever one of those you can’t get out of your head for the rest of today!

Now, if you’re under a certain age, none of the last few paragraphs will make any sense. And I’d suggest you check YouTube, but I fear they’d be ‘you have to be there’ things. Unless you saw them on one of two or three commercial channels during the 6pm Sunday news, I don’t know that it’d make any sense.

So maybe it’s just all nostalgia speaking. But I do wonder where today’s versions are.

Are they out there, and I’m just missing them? Is it that the cleverness of such ads are only obvious in hindsight? Or has something fundamentally shifted?

Are our advertising execs just not of the same calibre as their 1980s forebears? Or has the fractured nature of media consumption changed the approaches, budgets or opportunities that brought us those old classics?

It’s easy to look back to the past and always see a heyday that seems bigger and better than today. Certainly the characters seem — even allowing for rose-tinted glasses — to be larger than life. John ‘Singo’ Singleton. The team at Mojo.

For another hit of nostalgia, Wikipedia tells me that, among others, Mojo delivered:

“Put another Shrimp on the barbie” with Hoges.
“C’mon Aussie, C’mon” for World Series Cricket
“I feel like a Tooheys” with some of the best old sports footage you’ll see
“I Still Call Australia Home” for Qantas; and
“You ought to be congratulated”, selling Meadow Lea margarine

That is some roll call of wonderful advertising.

Could you name five iconic taglines like those over the last five or ten years? I couldn’t.

Maybe advertisers have become gun shy, preferring safer, lower-risk ads? Or is it that old fashioned ‘brand building’ ads are a luxury that modern marketing directors won’t allow themselves?

I’d guess it’s both. And the elephant in the room is online advertising, of course. More and more money is being spent on online ads — and for good reason.

With the proliferation of ecommerce, advertisers have never been more able to trigger immediate sales — just a couple of clicks can take you from seeing an ad for a new television to having it on its way.

And the data! The old joke was that marketing directors knew half of their advertising budgets were wasted… they just didn’t know which half.

No longer… everything is trackable online these days. You still might get things wrong, but you can change course in an instant. Why spend millions on an ad that might bomb if you don’t have to…

Best of both worlds

Which brings us back to Tourism Australia. They’re doing exactly that. Taking a big risk.

Online might be the new ‘thing’, but Superbowl ads are still the gold standard — as much for the social media buzz they create as for the 30 seconds of airtime. The buzz has already started, of course — newspaper headlines are being written, column inches dedicated to the speculation, and then reporting on the prank — both here and overseas.

So far, so good.

“Viral” is the new “blockbuster”. Fair enough. You can’t argue with results.

It reminds me of one of my favourite quotes, from Thomas Jefferson:

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

The days of catchy jingles selling margarine to the masses on commercial television might be over, but the basics of advertising still remain: grab the viewer’s interest, create a connection, and give them something to remember.

And those ads of 2000 are another data point on that journey. It’s 18 years ago, now. Most have forgotten what that time felt like.

1999 and 2000 were the ‘go go’ years. Everything with a at the end was hot. Stock market valuations, when people dared mention the word, were predicated on how many eyeballs were being drawn to a company’s website. The idea of a ‘business model’ was so 1995.

There are few ecommerce survivors from that time. With good reason.

Yes, the internet revolutionised commerce. It led to smartphones, tablets, social media, online advertising…

… and yet, the principles of sound business and investing haven’t changed, even if the style has.

I hope at least a few of you are thinking ‘Bitcoin’ right now. I hope a few more are thinking ‘lithium’ or ‘pot stocks’.

Stories sell. And not just beer or tickets to the cricket.

Stories, well crafted and well told, illustrate a product or service and catch your interest. If they’re actually representative, they can be powerful tools for good.

But if stories are just that, then they’re more akin to fairy tales than creative ways of communicating reality. By the time you realise that, of course, it’s probably too late.

So stick to solid, sound investing principles. But apply them thoughtfully to today’s reality.

Is it really different this time? Perhaps.

But remember, even though the internet would revolutionise how we live our lives, more than half of the Superbowl advertisers in 2000 no longer exist.

Just think about that for a second:

They spent a small fortune on those ads. The underpinning technology was sound and profound in its impact. And yet, they no longer exist.

I was investing all through that period. I remember the stories. They seemed compelling. And the underpinning seismic shift was completely real.

Maybe cryptocurrencies are here to stay. Maybe lithium-powered batteries will be a ‘thing’ for decades. Perhaps we’ll all be smoking pot — medicinal or otherwise — legally, before too long.

We don’t know.

But we know how the ‘internet thing’ ended. Very, very, very well.

And yet, most of those advertisers are gone. A story just isn’t enough.

Foolish Takeaway

So, here’s to Hoges. And Tourism Australia. May they bring many thousands of tourists to our shores.

But I’m glad there’ll be no reboot of the Dundee franchise. Sometimes — just as in investing — a good story alone isn’t enough.

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