A hard-earned thirst and the Bulimba connection

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 9.39.41 am.jpgBy ad industry veteran Gawen Rudder

Don't think I've ever been to Bulimba, but I'm told it's a pleasant enough suburb on the Brisbane River. It was the home to one of Queensland's oldest breweries, passed through a series of owners and was finally purchased by Melbourne-based Carlton & United Breweries in 1960.

Hugh Mackay, then a junior researcher at George Patterson in Sydney, accompanied legendary MD, Bill Farnsworth and his much admired creative director Bruce Jarrett, to a new business pitch in Melbourne for the ailing Bulimba Gold Top brand. Mackay had earlier reported that the beer was not only ailing, but in its death throes, and affectionately known to Brisbane drinkers as 'The Green Death.'  The 1965 launch was off the back of the now familiar reward strategy, 'A big, big thirst needs a big, big beer, and a big, big beer is Gold Top, brewed by Bulimba' with the self-same music track we know today. (Check it out on YouTube.)  The agency won the account. And the campaign worked its tops off. But only for a while ... as Bernbach reminds us, "A great ad will make a bad product fail faster."
Colin Fraser, creative director of Patts Melbourne saw Victoria Bitter as the brand to go into combat against the imminent launch of the UK giant Courage. In an interview 14 years ago, Fraser told me that although locals disliked the monopolistic CUB, they loved the beer, "Even Sydney people used to say Melbourne had only three things going for it, the Melbourne Cup, the MCG and the beer." He wrote a 'Big City' TV ad that was about, "The real Melbourne, the real drinkers and Carlton's long history." Fraser added, "Later we adapted for Vic Bitter the commercial Bruce Jarrett had written for Bulimba."

The brand profile for the two brands was close to a perfect match. Fraser fine-tuned Jarrett's copy to the classic, 'A hard-earned thirst needs a big cold beer... and the best cold beer is Vic,' Same music, voiced by John Meillon (digitally manipulated and remastered after his death in 1989) the campaign saw off Courage and VB went on to become the biggest-selling beer and most valuable brand in the country. (View the spots on YouTube). Until such time as those who thought they knew better, systematically dismantled the brand - never to return to its former glory. By this time Colin Fraser had long gone from Patts. Undaunted, he stayed in advertising until his mid-eighties, and died, aged 94, last week. It is rumoured that in his later years he switched from beer to good cabernet sauvignon.

1 Comments

Paul Green said:

I’m very sad to hear of the passing of Colin Fraser, who was a mentor to me in my early days in the industry. In 1969, whilst working at Channel Nine as a news cameraman, I met Colin at George Patts and he offered me a job in the Audio Visual Department. Colin gave me my start in advertising and I worked for him for 3 years at GP. Colin then went on to recommend me for the role of Commercial Director at Channel 0 – a job I held for 5 years. He encouraged me to form my own production company in partnership with Cambridge Films, and then to form Horizon Films in 1989. Over the years at Cambridge I directed many of George Patt’s commercials, including VB (taking over from John Dickson). Not only was he a great mentor, and taught me so much, but he was a dear friend. A terrific bloke - the industry will miss this pioneer very much.

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