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"Old Mate" is great, says Tourism boss

Media and marketing

The boss of the state’s tourism commission says the agency’s board was fully engaged with the creation of a controversial promotion that attempts to sell Adelaide to prospective visitors by depicting an old man in tears, saying the campaign has already succeeded in getting “cut-through in a difficult media environment”.

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SA Tourism Commission CEO Rodney Harrex said the “Don’t Feel Sorry For Old Mate” commercial had already garnered plenty of media both locally and nationally, including across breakfast TV and influential panel shows such as Channel Ten’s The Project.

While much of that discussion has been centred on negative responses to the depiction of the weeping septuagenarian, Harrex insists “the reality is we operate in this space that is highly cluttered, and we have to get cut-through”.

“And importantly, we have to get cut through to challenge people’s views about Adelaide and SA,” he said, noting that perceptions such as “the City of Churches” are still well-entrenched interstate.

“We’ve got to challenge that perception, and tell people to engage in the discussion,” he told InDaily after three days of social and mainstream media blowback against the campaign.

“This campaign is designed to get cut-through… what we’re trying to do is trying to get the cut-through in a difficult media environment.

“The ad is designed to challenge visitors from interstate to make a decision – that engagement is happening and it’s a real positive.”

Harrex, an ex officio member of the SATC board, said the board was “engaged during this process”, from concept to creative phase, and gave final approval before the commercial ran.

Board member and Hotels Association boss Ian Horne defended what he called “a brave and bold strategy to get attention”.

“It’s not aimed at entertaining South Australians, it’s part of a broader campaign that has to roll out,” he said.

“It’s provocative [and] I think time will prove it’s a clever strategy.”

That broader strategy features a series of SA attractions, with representatives suggesting viewers “be the judge” about the state’s tourism merits.

‘Old Mate’ is nowhere to be sighted, suggesting the elderly gent’s one-off foray – which has already spawned a gaggle if internet gags – was designed as a ‘gut-punch’ to get attention, with the more traditional sales pitch to follow.

Harrex enthused about the amount of media attention the campaign had garnered, but denied it was overwhelmingly negative.

“I fundamentally disagree with that,” he said.

“Everything I’ve seen [is about] ‘you’ve got to go there, you’ve got to go the Central Markets’… it’s divided, but it’s getting people talking about Adelaide and SA. That’s what the discussion is about. Importantly, they’re also talking about what you can do here in SA.”

Harrex also denies the fallout has been made more fraught by last year’s decision to award SATC’s advertising contract to Melbourne-cased firm TBWA, which has since set up an Adelaide office staffed by six people.

“I don’t agree with that – we went through a process, and they’re a national company [with] offices around Australia,” he said.

“It should be about good creative work that will ultimately get more dollars spent here in SA.”

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