A few years ago I had a gig as a copywriter in a provincial city F.M. radio station. It was in brand-new studios at the top of a high-rise glass office building overlooking a stretch of mangroves and tidal-flats “somewhere in Queensland”. It was a pretty good set-up. They had two on-air studios, a news-room, production facilities with 24-track mixing boards and various other executive offices and a Board Room. It was State-of-the-Art, which is more than could be said for the staff.
The F.M. license had cost the owners, a consortium of local businessmen, a motza. So savings had to be made in other areas. Mainly wages. Most of the jocks were straight out of radio school and the all-important sales team were a mish-mash of failed real-estaters and used car salesmen. They’d had a crash course in radio terms and fancy marketing concepts like “cumes” and “demographics” but mostly they didn’t have a clue how to go about selling radio space. Part of my job as “Creative Director” was to wise them up “el pronto” so we could start bringing in revenue.
One of our early clients was a local pub, “The Do Drop Inn”, that was, for good or for bad, next door to the catholic church. It was an ordinary suburban pub with a theme restaurant attached. The initial advertising brief was on my desk after I got back from a $10 “surf & turf” lunch one day into my fourth month.
“Client wants something creative” the dumb-fuck salesman had written.
Yeah? Like what? How about “Jesus gets pissed in our bar then eats our shit food. So should you”.
I was sick of it. I’d spent the last few months training the sales staff on “how to take a proper brief”. We’d had weekly sessions on it. And still they were giving me briefs like that.
“Put in as much detail as you can” I’d said to them. “You know the product, but I don’t. I’m stuck in this fishbowl trying to write and produce fuck-knows-how-many spots a day”.
One day, for instance, I made twenty-two radio commercials from go-to-whoa and didn’t leave work until ten that night. Then I backed up the next day with another fifteen. That’s a shit-load of work for any guy. And of course every bastard wanted their ad to be “creative”. They wanted funny voices, they wanted jingles, they wanted Sound Effects, they wanted 64-Flavours of Ice-Cream To Go and they wanted something “different”. They wanted Big-City production at Mickey Mouse prices.
As I kept telling the sales team, whatever happened to pushing product? You think putting John Cleese’s voice in an ad automatically sells truckloads of cheese or some shit? It doesn’t. For one thing, some people hate John Cleese, hate the whole Basil Fawlty thing. Not me. I love it. But a so-called “creative” ad just for the sake of winning the client over and writing the airtime can blow up in your face if it doesn’t work. And it didn’t help when all I got was a brief saying “client wants something creative”.
So after reading the “Do Drop Inn” brief I got Mandy, the Sales Rep. responsible for it, in to my office. Behind her back everyone called her “Randy Mandy”. She thought she was God’s gift to mankind. She’d be right in your face so you’d get a lungful of her perfume and an eyeful of her pushed-up tits. She’d flutter her eyelids with what she thought was a dead-sexy “I’m all yours” look. If you were a bloke who hadn’t had sex for a few years or weren’t too fussy it worked. She’d been a model in the Seventies but had been around the track a few times since. The undercarriage was sagging and the Duco was touched-up in places, if you get my drift. I couldn’t stand her. Not many of the staff could. She’d managed to alienate just about every woman in the place after only two weeks. The men, for the most part, thought her a joke. But the General Manager, for some reason, thought the sun shone out of her freckle. Maybe there was a bit of extra-curricular going on. Who knows? So for his sake I had to tolerate her. But luckily I had a few things on her. Things she was rather the world didn’t know about. For one, I knew Johnny Shanks had given her a knee-trembler up against his Holden the night of the ratings party. Apparently she never got over it as she put her car into the river on the way home. Things didn’t go too swimmingly with her hubbie either. She told him a cat ran out on the road in front of her. I guess he knew it had something to do with a pussy.
The ratings party was a hoot. We were all pissed on the free booze by eight. I even missed the staff photo as I was too busy gargling a charcoal-filtered Millers at the bar. It was a good survey. We were the number one station in the region and had only been on air three months. Management had booked a fancy restaurant and all booze was on them until nine o’clock. Things went progressively downhill after that. The Production Manager, a nasty little control-freak that no-one liked but put up with because he was good at his job, had a hooter full of toot and broke a mirror in the Gents. One of the “Call Girls” – the chicks who rang people to see what music they liked, did the “Dance of the Seven Veils” on a table-top, fell off and fractured her arm. Two of the “Traffic Tarts” went skinny-dipping under the pier and everyone had a decko at them through the see-through glass dance floor. And the Jock who did Midnight-to-Dawn and was hoping to be upgraded to Drive went the grope on the Company Secretary who complained to the Chairman who made sure he was stuck on the graveyard shift for another year.
Randy Mandy couldn’t come up with a decent brief to save her life so I went around to meet the client – the Publican of “The Do Drop Inn”.
It was a typical nondescript suburban Queensland pub with a huge neon XXXX sign on the roof and a couple of bars full of sweaty workers in blue singlets and thongs. Very blokey. About the only thing it had going for it was a large faux-adobe Spanish el-rancho hacienda steakhouse sort of affair attached to the beer-garden.
“Jesus!” I thought, “how the fuck am I going to position this dump?”
I shook hands with Smitty the publican. Or rather, he crushed my mit in his, the way those cane-toads do and we looked each other up and down. I knew what he was thinking. “Another smartarse from “Down South”. Me...I’m thinking “this guy’s huge!” He had to be every bit of eighteen stone. And no spring chicken. Maybe the sunny side of fifty. Probably played Rugby League for Queensland in his youth. With a nickname like “Terminator” or “Tanker” or some bloody thing. Eating a dozen cold pies for breakfast like Artie Beetson used to do. But now he had the big beer-gut, the balding boofhead sun-spotted face and the Errol Flynn moustache – a typical middle-aged cane-toad.
We sat in the restaurant and drank Fourex while kicking a few ideas around. Smitty thought he might like to feature the restaurant in the ads. He went through the menu describing each dish. “T-Bone, chips & salad”, “Rump Steak, chips & salad”, “Lasagne, chips & salad”, “Sea Perch, chips & salad”. Like that. Then we had a decko at the bars (the “Sportsmans Bar” and the “Pelican Lounge”) and finished up with a tour of the Drive-In Bottlo and the cellars.
“Whadyareckon?” he says.
What did I reckon? Tell you the truth I didn’t know what to think. It was a pub. A common or garden variety suburban Queensland pub. It wasn’t even on the water. It had nothing going for it. No “U.S.P.” as advertising types used to say. No “Unique Selling Proposition” as far as I could see. But I had to do something with it.
“What’s unique here Smitty? What do you do better than any other pub here?”
The big fella thought for a minute.
“Well……our bottle-shop beer’s bloody cold – coldest beer around I’d reckon”.
“And that’s important is it?”
“It is if you’re a Queensland beer drinker.”
Fair enough. It gave me something to work with.
The first ad went to air three days later. Like this:
“Smitty O’Brien’s a cold bastard. Why is he a cold bastard? Because he sells the coldest beer in captivity. The beer you buy at The Do Drop Inn Drive-In Bottlo King Street, Fairhaven is kept at a constantly-monitored temperature just over freezing point. So by the time you get it home it’s perfect to drink.
Do Drop Inn Beer – probably the Coldest Beer in Queensland. Brought to you by that cold bastard – Smitty O’Brien.
The Do Drop Inn. King Street, Fairhaven. Pick up a pack today.”
A series of 30-second spots followed. All built around the theme of Smitty O’Brien being a cold bastard. The joke being that he was very much the opposite. He was well-known in the community for his generosity and charity. Far from being “cold” he was a warm affable, outgoing kind of bloke with many friends. He was also a bit of a piss-pot which can’t be bad for a publican.
The ads went to air R.O.S. – Run of Station. Which meant we pestered the fuck out of you all day. There would be several in the prime Breakfast slot, a couple in Morning, several more in Drive and one or two dropped on air during Night or Graveyard. The first week established the “Cold” hook and then we had some fun with it using the same gravel-voiced announcer each time. The only problem was we had to drop the word “bastard” and substitute “man” as several wowsers rang to complain. No matter. It still worked like a bewdy.
“Oh no!!What’s the Cold Man up to now? This won’t do Smitty. You’ve lost the plot son!
Free Beer! Yes you heard right - Free Beer!
This afternoon between 4 and 6 they’re giving away Free Fourex at The Do Drop Inn, King Street, Fairhaven.
Buy one Fourex – get one Free!
This’ll never work Smitty. No-one will fall for this. Who’s ever heard of free beer?
This arvo at The Do Drop Inn, King Street, Fairhaven. Free Beer!
Brought to you by that Champion of the Underdog, Master of the Free World, that indefatigable Cold Man – Smitty O’Brien.”
Well...what can I say? It was a free-for-all, an ugly scene. The freeloaders came arunning from miles around – they ran through the bushes and they ran through the brambles, they ran through the places where the rabbits couldn’t go. You’d think they’d never heard of free beer. Well...they hadn’t. They were three or four deep at the bar, getting ‘em in. Then sinking them like there was no tomorrow. Not just the blokes either. The “ladies” were there in force at well. The foam was flying. Talk about ”responsible service of alcohol”. Now days you couldn’t do it. The law won’t allow “encouraging excessive consumption of alcohol by two-for-one offers, dollar-drinks and other special offers and enticements”. But in those days in Queensland, it was anything goes.
Six barmaids couldn’t take the pace and the cellar ran dry shortly after seven o’clock – an hour after the supposed cut-off for the freebies. There might have been a riot had extra kegs not been borrowed from a neighbouring pub to enable the session to go until “stumps”.
A couple of weeks later we ran another beer promotion disguised as the announcement of a betting shop opening. Like this:
“Good news punters! You can now get TAB at the Do Drop Inn. Yes T.A.B. – the Tote, has come to the D.D.I. King Street, Fairhaven, Q.L.D.
So now you can have a pot and a punt at the same time. And this afternoon between 1 and 4, Smitty “fair dinkum battlers mate” O’Brien is laying on Fourex for 95 cents. How good’s that?
Best P.O.Q. down to the T.A.B at the D.D.I., King Street, Fairhaven.
Good on you Smitty Poohs………..love the shirt!”
The last bit was a reference to a lurid Hawaiian shirt Smitty had been wearing the night before when Security found him passed out in one of the Gents at the Bowlo and suggested he might like to sleep elsewhere (But I admit I nicked the idea from “Hey, Hey It’s Saturday).
After this we had to tone the ads down a bit. They worked like a beauty but we were beginning to cop some flak. Several do-gooders and Christian fundamentalist bible-bashers wrote to the papers and rang the radio station to complain. But from my point of view and Smitty’s, it had been a rip-roaring success. Bar sales went through the roof and we attracted a whole new sub-class of low-down, bludging, freeloaders hoping for another promotion like it. But all we gave ‘em was “Fourex Beer Off the Wood” – which is big in Bananaland. The beer came from wooden kegs instead of stainless steel. The punters will tell you it tastes much better. But I dunno – cat piss is cat piss in my book.
During this time Randy Mandy pestered the fuck out of Smitty. She had him in her sights and finally nailed him after a session at the Bowling Club. Apparently they “did it” on the terrace with people in the bar on the other side of the tinted glass. Rumour has it she either sat on him or they were standing up against the glass. The latter probably. After all she already had a bit of “previous” in that department. But either way I gave them ten points for artistic interpretation. And Smitty got her “out of his system” as he put it to me later.
Smitty changed pubs not long after that but his reputation followed. He still got mail addressed to “The Cold Man” and the boys in the bar slapped him on the back and called him “Champion of the Underdog”, “Love your Shirt” and invariably the chant went up “Free Beer...free beer...free beer!”.
Disclaimer: All characters in this bullshit story are just that – bullshit. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. But if you feel you have a strong case for defamation, go right ahead. But I should warn you, the queue forms to the right.