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Playing with snakes and ladders – AUSTAR, men & their wives (2010 Awards)

Award: Gold – Established Service Brand – The APG Creative Planning Awards, 2008
Client: AUSTAR Communications
Product: AUSTAR Sports
Author: Christina Aventi

Playing with Snakes and Ladders: How research helped deliver great work




This is a story about how someone’s ladder can be another’s snake. In our case, sport for dad was mum’s snake so in launching the new sporting season for AUSTAR, a major acquisition pull, we had to be mindful of perching our ladder up a solid wall. After all, taking up AUSTAR was a much debated decision…one that was ongoing. As for sport, dad wanted it but it was a threat to family time, to chore time and it exacerbated mum’s concerns about bringing more TV into the house. We had to find a way to soften mum (or at least keep her neutral) whilst feeding dad’s love of sport. By showing how sport helps men get in touch with their emotions and how this enhances other parts of their life (with tongue still firmly in cheek), we think we just got better at snakes and ladders.



Before we get started…

AUSTAR is a communications and entertainment company that provides subscription TV, mobile phones and internet to regional Australia.

It has a key acquisition drive at the beginning of the year, just prior to the launch of major sporting seasons. In a highly competitive content space, sport is important, one of the key exclusives that AUSTAR can offer.

A strong history of sport based communications, delivered by FOX Sports, had fed the drive for 6 years prior

to 2007, when it was felt that it was time to refresh the campaign before it wore out.  This time it was coming from AUSTAR. It was an opportunity for some of sport’s magic to rub off on the brand, which was experiencing declines in some brand health measures.1 Sport could address this.

A deceptively simple plan…

We wanted to fire up the punters’ love of sport to provide another reason why they should get AUSTAR.

This had to be a campaign, flexible enough to cover a wide range of sports – from cricket to league. We also had to tick off some of the rational proof points (like Monday night football exclusives, every game aired twice etc) as well as making sure it was clear it was for AUSTAR.

As much as sport is fertile, it is also well-worn territory. Our hope was that it wasn’t thread bare. To work out where these threads were, we had to go back to our target market – sports lovers – and how they went about actually taking up AUSTAR.

Who we thought we were talking to…

After many years of communication, we knew many die-hard fanatics had already subscribed. This helped to eliminate some territories. Still, there was a large bunch of new fans (who weren’t necessarily die-hards) coming into the market. Maybe it was because their team had done well the year prior, maybe their financial circumstances had favourably changed or maybe their mate where they used to watch the game had moved, piquing their interest.

Because they liked their sport, we felt that they probably already knew about the ‘rational’ stuff like our exclusives. After all, Free to Air (FTA) had also made the punters aware of Subscription TV’s sporting exclusives although not in a positive light.

We needed to feed and tease that interest. We could do that. We could even minimise FTA flack with our warm brand values. Our problem was sealing the deal with mum.

Who we were also talking to… the stumbling block

Mum, whilst not our core target, still had a big say in the decision process. As the treasurer of the house, she had more than her share of voice at the negotiation table. In fact, the negotiation was identified as one of

‘Snakes and Ladders’ by Blue Moon, AUSTAR’s research agency. This cut through because Blue Moon rejected end user/gatekeeper jargon and brought the buying process vividly to life for us, bringing it to the fore of our strategic and creative thinking. What would happen is that for every positive one party might pose in favour of AUSTAR (like sport), the other party would introduce a ‘snake’ (like less family time) so that the net decision would be NO.

As for sport, it was the python of snakes.

With AUSTAR nudging 30% penetration, we were starting to talk to mums that were not abject rejectors but certainly ‘less warm’ to the concept of Subscription TV.  They thought TV dumbed people down, and that more of it would accelerate this. They worried about their kids becoming couch potatoes and that they too would succumb to its charms. (In defence of subscription TV this is not the case – subscribers watch marginally more than non-subscribers, substituting free TV for more choice).

Sport exacerbated this.

Sport, they thought, had a sedative effect on their husbands. They could feel like Rugby widows as it was when a big sporting event occurred. Bringing even more, 24/7 temptation into the house was a threat, to family time, to her Grey’s Anatomy downtime, to hubby taking the bins out on bin night.

Given this state of domestic affairs, inciting dad’s love of sport, feeding demand only to have it knocked down seemed futile. In fact, the danger was that we were poking the python, antagonising it, ultimately fuelling mum’s barriers. We knew that the AUSTAR debate was an ongoing one, they’d dip in and out of the debate so we could provide tipping points here and there. If we over-shot it, we could shut down the debate forever.


Finding the highest ladder….

We had to find a way to give dad the tools to negotiate without alienating mum and maybe even soften her in the process. We also had to make sure we didn’t fuel the anti Subscription TV angst that Free to Air was trying to ignite and arrest the decline in key brand heath measures. We were about more quality, choice, depth not just more sport.


In so doing, we had to strike the right balance. We needed to highlight what sport could bring to dad’s life yet be mindful of clichés.

Sport was an outlet. It was a safe environment to feel stuff they ordinarily might have to hide or be more measured about, even with the dawn of metrosexuality. They could feel the full gamut of emotions from love to hate to anger, angst, loss, profound loss. They could release the stress of the week, caveman style, during a powerful 80mins of sport. Without sport some men are left without a release, a means to express their emotions. They don’t get to exercise their tear ducts.  Sport was Oprah for males.

For mum, this is something she couldn’t deny or deprive her partner of. She understood emotions. They talked to her strengths and perhaps touched upon a weakness in her partner she’d already recognised.

In fact, whilst the average female uses 7000 words a day, the average male only uses 2000.2 Talking about their feelings and emotions increases a male’s stress levels whilst it eases a female’s.3

This story pacified the python.

This directly led to our proposition that: Sport helped men get in touch with their emotions.

Making sure the ladder was on solid ground…

We needed to puncture this with tone. We didn’t want to be worthy or heavy handed. It needed a soft hand, it wasn’t about hyperbole, and whilst tongue had to be firmly in cheek, we didn’t want to make out that men were emotionally crippled without sport – they were just emotionally enhanced with it.

With this combination of message and tone there was finally a brand that could talk to guys about emotions.

The creative got emotional…

There was an array of ideas, from guys emoting on a Dr Phil style show to a counselling line to a send-up of the book ‘Where did I come from’, explaining the origin of foreign emotions to men. All were funny but some a little too patronising for our liking. It seemed like a cheap larf at dad’s expense, perhaps losing a rung on his ladder.

Where the right kind of tone partnered with message was with ‘Get emotional’. Here, sporting events were used as a form of currency, a means in which to describe certain feelings and in which to answer awkward life questions. It showed the ‘good’ depths of their relationship with sport and how it could positively influence other parts of their life, still with tongue firmly in cheek.

As a TV originated brand, AUSTAR supports the medium and so it was used to help establish the idea.

In one execution, grand-dad, faced with a question on what it is like being old, answers through cricketing analogies, ones that the purist would like, with just enough insider terms for the fans (yorkers, tailenders etc) but still universal enough to be understood.

Execution 1:

Open in an older style home – the kind your grandparents used to live in. Granddad is talking to his grandson.

Boy: Pop, what’s it like being old?

Pop: You’re sorta like a tailender. Ya got bouncers whizzing round your head. Yorkers at your toes. And you’re doing your best not to get hit. Everyone thinks ya going to go any minute, but you’re gonna have a damn good slog before you do.

The boy nods.

Cut to Cricket content.

VO: Get emotional with every game of the Indian tour, live to FOX Sports on AUSTAR.

Super: To subscribe call 132 342.

In others, questions around being the odd one out with red hair, about love, loyalty, about death  were all seamlessly resolved through sporting analogies.

Execution 2:

Open on a man and his son standing in the backyard where a little cross is buried in the garden. At the boy’s feet we see a goldfish bowl.

Son: Why’d he have to go dad?

Dad: Um… it’s like when Dwight left Sydney. I didn’t want him to go. You didn’t want him to go. He didn’t want to go. But he went. And you just have to say, “Thanks for the memories” and cross your fingers that someone like him turns up again.

Cut to A-league content

VO: Get emotional with every game of the Hyundai A league exclusive to FOX Sports on AUSTAR.

Super: To subscribe call 132 342

Key to this was identifying a truth about the sport that fit with the question. An ‘establishment’ game like cricket fit with a question about what it is like being ‘old’, AFL references the draft system and being the underdog to resolve a question about not fitting in. These layers helped add depth and discovery for the fan.

The idea spoke to the fan in everyone, it could be as universal or as personal as the fan liked, it could even warm mum. It was flexible enough to include anything from Rugby League to Rock, Scissors, Paper pro-league. It could be topical, it could translate to all sorts of new, old and middle-aged media. TV was just the tip of the iceberg.

In sport, we have unsurpassed tribalism so digital and grass roots expressions of the idea were critical. This included an online emoti-generator where fans could type in awkward questions to find appropriate sporting analogies or upload their own within their own fan community. Taking it grass roots, encouraging fans to create their own content, playing it online, at the local games all felt appropriate for the idea, not just a default reaction to ‘new media’ buzz. These are yet to launch but still part of the how the idea can spread.

How we’re tracking….

Year on year comparisons are influenced by other variables, for example, different sporting properties and exclusives have formed part of previous campaigns and they’ve been delivered by Fox Sports, not AUSTAR. Still, if we take the A-league campaign in July/August 2007, inbound sales increased by 16% when compared to the same period in 2006. We wait with bated breath for mid year tracking to determine whether it has had a positive effect on the brand.

What planning brought to the table…

Firstly, it is important to note that ‘planning’ encompasses the efforts of the broader team, an ensemble cast from client to the research agency, Blue Moon, who coined ‘snakes and ladders’, not one protagonist (although planning can be credited with a spotter’s fee for running with it). The ‘snakes and ladders’ analogy was embraced wholeheartedly when oftentimes a gatekeeper/end user buying context is lost in simplifying the story for creative development. This evocation of it ensured it was constantly a part of the thinking and actually helped add to, not hinder, creative.

The second was super old school, Stephen King style, it was the articulation of a simple insight around sport that could placate mum whilst not water down the absolute love dad has for sport. Such an insight is rare. Instead of caveat a brief around ‘must not alienate mum’, planning took the responsibility (as it should) to resolve the strategic issue around an insight. It did. And the work is unarguably connected to it.

1) Detail withheld due to confidentiality
2) & 3) ‘Secrets of married men’, Hara Estroff Marano,


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