“Down Under”

It’s a little disturbing how well ad agencies create commercials that depict ad agencies as pretentious and self indulgent. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners makes the most of that grand tradition in its first spot for Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

The first half of the spot includes a dusty old coot summoning an army of dune-buggy-driving koala bears, then throwing a boomerang into the night sky to shatter the Southern Cross; or something like that. It’s accompanied by a portent-heavy voiceover: “We are the bold. The brave. The daring. We are the determined. Determined to rise. To drive. Determined to be different.” Heavy, man. But the focus then shifts to show us that what’s labeled as an “American Ad Agency,” which has just screened this proposed spot as part of its “First Presentation” to the “Commonwealth Bank Marketing Team.”

The bankers are utterly stone-faced in response to the spot. When a guy who seems to be the agency creative director (wearing requisite black clothes and silly mustache) ingratiatingly asks, “You like?,” one of the bankers remarks that the tagline is interesting. (Aussie viewers will recognize the tag as the bank’s existing motto. On Commonwealth’s Web site, it is presented in such variations as: “Determined to focus on service and on service and on service.”)

Creative director: “From the top, then?” “No!,” says one of the bankers, as another adds, “Just the last two seconds.”

It’s all fun to watch, but it’s also shrewd, in effect letting Commonwealth have its cake and eat it too: The spot’s weirdness will grab viewers’ attention, while the behavior of the bankers will assure them that Commonwealth itself isn’t weird. After all, weirdness isn’t a quality consumers seek in a bank, particularly in times of economic turmoil.

–Mark Dolliver