A piece of magic in 150 years of history

Blog written by Rod Curtis, Executive Strategy & Creative Director at Kommunal

Better late than never to give this a shout–out.

This year the Victorian RSPCA celebrated 150 Years of looking after ‘all creatures great and small’. As part of their celebrations I was invited to be included in their 150 Years Video as a Life Member and former State Council member… and also as part of the team at Leonardi & Curtis who conceived, created, and produced the iconic “Animal Walk” TVC back in 1987. Which feels like not only another time, but another world. But we did more than just make an ad. We helped the RSPCA turn themselves into a licensed brand powerhouse.

As we all know “Success…” to quote the famous proverb “…has many fathers, but failure is an orphan” (not sure how this works in a woke world today) and as a result of tripping down memory lane, lots of stuff came flooding back.

At L&C I had reached out to the Victorian RSPCA to see if we could help with a fundraising need they had. Like most Victorians at the time I assumed they were funded by State Government. Not so. They were running out of money to hire inspectors. Their CEO at the time, Peter Barber, (a terrific bloke who understood the correlation between awareness, emotion, and raising money), jumped at the opportunity to see what these young turks at L&C could do. The first campaign was movement marketing 101 – involve the media with a crowd-engaging idea. The campaign needed a star…a cute loveable dog. We got  buy-in from a local radio station to run a dog talent quest. This was picked up by the dailies and Scruffy was discovered. Scruffy went on to star in the award-winning “trap” TVC which shocked the living daylights out of all animal lovers …and generated much-needed cash. Read on for more about the team behind that spot.

Still from the “Trap” TVC featuring Scruffy the dog

As a result, an idea started forming…could something like an RSPCA actually be viewed through a brand lens? Could that brand, with its obvious emotional strength and conviction, be licensed to earn more money to help more animals? Peter Barber and the indomitable Hugh Wirth backed this dramatic strategy as we went into battle with the Victorian RSPCA State Council. Remember this was the 1980’s. Thinking like this was considered to be heresy. And in some ways, probably still is!

But what did we have to “sell”? We had a name and a very conservative logo. A reputation, which depending on your viewpoint, could be argued, was polarising. But, overall, a very low general public awareness. Nothing much to hang your hat on there.

The first order of business was to contemporise their logo and turn it into something more distinctive and over time, more recognisable. Our Studio Head at the time, the legendary Henry Winkler designed the now-famous animal paw brandmark. I would love a dollar for every vet, dog wash, and pet care business that has since ripped that off.

Next we need a rallying cry, an expression that people would radiate and warm to. Something that would be durable and memorable. Something which could help transform the RSPCA into…a brand.

A great brief. But tough as well. We had no, or little money to make anything. Certainly no media money to show it. Remember again this was the 80’s. No YouTube. No Instagram. If distribution builds brands, we were behind the 8 ball.

This is when the magic happens. When you have supremely talented people like Sean Cummins and Kaye Schirmann, led by a bona fide great Creative Director, Cesare Leonardi, and all inspired by James Herriot, created the Animal Walk TVC. All we had to do was sell it to the State Council. Without knowing how the hell we could afford to make it. That is where you need clients with guts.

CEO Peter Barber, ex-Patrol Officer from New Guinea, no stranger to jungle survival, just backed us to the hilt. “It’s approved,” he told me. “Just make it happen”.

To pull this off, this is where you need a stellar production team. People like Director Igor Auzins, Producer David Tayles, and a brilliant DoP: Ellery Ryan. This is Australian producing gold. Look ‘em up people, to see their impact in Australian Film and TV.

The result, which we all are familiar with, could not have also happened without the last vital ingredient – the Victorian TV stations and ultimately Networks around Australia. In the industry, we all know what a “CSA” (Community Service Announcement) is. However, because in commercial TV world there is no such thing as unsold airtime, these guys really came to the table.

Now, after digitally being remastered (by Enigma Communications as well as The Lab in Sydney and Original Works) it is probably become the longest-running CSA on Australian TV.

FreeTV, take a bow.

Why? Well, it’s something I tell any organisation who wants to mount a CSA campaign. You must produce something that TV land wants to run and get behind.

Make it wonderful.

Make it magic.