That Crocodile Dundee Reboot: Here’s the Whole Story Behind the Movie That Wasn’t

Confused? So was Chris Hemsworth

Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride starred in the Super Bowl ad—there’s no movie—from Tourism Australia. Tourism Australia

Back in November in a place called Adels Grove, deep in a remote corner of the Australian state of Queensland, Chris Hemsworth and Danny McBride were shooting a scene with a water buffalo.

The beast had blocked the road the pair was driving down in their Land Rover, and it was a problem. Leaving Hemsworth inside, McBride ambled out front, attempting to hypnotize the thousand-pound animal with that thumb-and-pinky trick Mick Dundee used so memorably in the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee.

But for such a perilous cinematic moment, there was an obvious problem (apart from the screwy McBride having been cast as Mick Dundee’s son, that is). Hemsworth, a consummate screen professional, was wearing a grin wider than his bushman’s hat. At one point, he looked ready to crack up and blow the scene. And this, as it turned out, was indicative of a larger problem for the box-office hunk.

That buffalo trick: Paul Hogan in 1986 and McBride now

“I kept asking the director, ‘Hang on. So I know it’s a movie, but it’s not a movie but a commercial. And I’m playing a—wait … at which point am I playing a character or playing me?” Hemsworth recalled on a recent afternoon in New York.

“And in the end, [the director] was like, ‘We don’t really know, either. Just have fun with it.’”

Hemsworth’s understandable confusion about Dundee, the film he was ostensibly shooting, was an unintended foreshadowing of what’s been going on throughout the United States in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. As was finally settled by the spot that aired in the second quarter of Super Bowl LII on Sunday, Dundee isn’t a real movie.

Which means Hemsworth’s Wally, Jr., and McBride’s Brian Dundee weren’t real characters. It also means the movie trailers on timed release since mid-January weren’t real trailers, either.

And while there’s been rumor and reporting aplenty about a fake film for the past couple of weeks, it’s now unimpeachably clear that the whole thing was a water buffalo-sized piece of marketing for Tourism Australia, which retained ad agency Droga5 last year to come up with a way to re-energize stateside tourism by creating something memorable.

And that, they certainly did.

But the ambitious staging of the would-be movie, not to mention the rumor mill it generated, is also a kind of textbook definition for marketing in the social-media age, specifically that fooling a web-savvy public isn’t easy, and all buzz is good buzz. As Droga5 founder and creative chairman David Droga told Adweek weeks prior to the big game, “I’m not saying I want [the secret] to get out—but if it gets out, it’s all still good.”

Translation: Maybe the promised but ultimately fictitious Dundee movie made you hopeful, happy or just pissed you off—but it did get you thinking about Australia, didn’t it, mate?

And that, from the get-go, was the whole point. And this is the story of how it happened.

The Land of Oz

Droga has worked for Saatchi & Saatchi in Singapore and London and Publicis in New York, but he was born (and, in fact, got his first agency job) in Australia. Even in a city full of transplants like New York, it seems unusually hard to shake Australia out of the Aussies who’ve come here. So when the phone rang at Droga5, the eponymous agency Droga founded in 2006, it felt like fate itself was calling.

Tourism Australia, the government agency charged with drawing international visitors to the land Down Under, was cooking up a new push for the North American market and inviting proposals.

“We wanted to make something really unique that was going to cut through,” recalled the bureau’s CMO Lisa Ronson. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done, and we wanted to make sure we had the best concept.”

It was music to a creative’s ears—and to Droga’s especially. “It’s the phone call you want to get,” he said. “And, as an insanely proud Australian—and there are a lot of us here—it felt like a chance to do something important.”

“I think, at the time, I said, ‘If we don’t win this, I have to fire myself,'” Droga continued.

The fact that Australia was issuing such a huge RFP to start with was a function of the global economy. In recent years, Tourism Australia had focused on luring the growing middle class in China. The effort was successful. Today, 54 percent of Australian’s tourism revenue comes from Asia. But as a result, it had been over a generation since any major Australian marketing effort had landed on American shores.

Americans learn to say g’day

If you’re over 40, chances are you remember a campaign called “Come and Say G’Day” featuring Australian TV star Paul Hogan. Created by Sydney-based ad shop Mojo with an assist from N.W. Ayer in New York, it featured the rugged, handsome Hogan romping through Australia’s panoply of attractions and, with that infectious accent of his, promising viewers that if they came to visit Australia, he’d “slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for ya.”

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.