MLA collage
Monday 10 April 2017

Effies Gold revisited: The Monkeys, MLA and ‘The Most Successful Lamb Campaign Ever’

Here it is: 2016’s Grand Effie winner. The Monkeys’ ‘Operation Boomerang’ took out three categories: ‘Food, Confectionary and Snacks’, ‘Short Term Effects’, and ‘Most Original Thinking’.  The Monkeys were also awarded Agency of the Year. Can any of this year’s entries stack up?

2015 was a great year for lamb, but 2016 was ridiculous. The Monkeys’ ‘Operation Boomerang’ for Meat and Livestock Australia smashed all targets to become the organisation’s most successful Australia Day Lamb campaign ever.

Combining an insightful strategy with a provocative creative idea and innovative media approach, The Monkeys generated phenomenal earned media coverage and sent Aussies to butchers in droves. All this, despite a reduced budget, high retail prices, a more competitive marketplace, health warnings about red meat and changing eating habits – plus Australia Day falling on historically the worst day of the week (Tuesday).

MLA has produced successful Australia Day campaigns for lamb since 2000, so the pressure was high. And so were the expectations, in terms of increased awareness, purchase intent and overall retail sales, plus earned media volume.

The strategy – ‘togetherness’

The Monkeys’ strategy began with the concept of ‘togetherness’, and Australians’ love of a meal around the table. Yet, research showed that 39% of Australians wished they could eat with others more often and 11% said they had feelings of guilt that they didn’t more.

Spending time with consumers in an ethnographic study, The Monkeys discovered something genuinely different about the Australian lamb meal occasion. Unlike chicken, beef and seafood, lamb was more often than not a shared experience. This formed the basis of the long-term strategic opportunity – to be Australia’s national meat.

With Richie Benaud’s BBQ in 2015, The Monkeys proved a successful campaign didn’t have to test people’s ‘Australian-ness’ if they didn’t eat lamb. Then, while searching for a fresh approach to bring Australians together, The Monkeys uncovered an interesting truth that no Australia Day campaign had acknowledged – at any one time, over one million Aussies are living abroad.

This was The Monkeys’ strategic start point. If they were really going to bring Australians together, they had to bring these Australia Day orphans home, to tap into a simple human truth – nothing makes us realise how lucky we are, like the thought of missing out.

Creativity tapping into popular culture

With the big TV spot out of reach budget-wise, The Monkeys had to break the internet instead. To create a national conversation, the creative execution would have to tap into popular culture to provoke a response that couldn’t be bought.

Introducing ‘Operation Boomerang’ – a full-scale mission to bring Australians overseas home for Australia Day. From the cold of Warsaw, to the boardrooms of Tokyo and changing rooms of Twickenham, Aussies of all descriptions were plucked from their ‘lamb-less’ situations and returned home.

The Monkeys called on Australians from all walks of life, from Lee Lin Chin (SBS News) to Mitchell Johnson (retired fast bowler). The Monkeys even reprised Sam Kekovich’s role as patriotic Australian and put George Calombaris (of MasterChef) in charge of BBQ tongs.

With limited resources, The Monkeys’ strategy aimed to get both traditional and social media tongues wagging. They attempted to rescue a recent vegan convert, only to set fire to his bowl of kale. They produced a two-minute film launched via digital, social and PR and let the power of controversy and the internet do the rest.

The results

Despite historically poor outcomes when Australia Day fell on a Tuesday, sales increased almost 2.5 times higher than the target set by MLA. With awareness and purchase intent also spiking, ‘Operation Boomerang’ was the most successful Australia Day campaign to date.

The campaign also generated 1,310 pieces of media coverage, again smashing all targets. The digital, social and PR driven strategy led to 5.4 million views, with the film being shared 55,000 times. It also topped YouTube’s ‘most watched ads’ list. Volume uplift for farmers was the highest of any Australian Day Campaign. With MLA’s charter to drive volume demand for its 50,000 livestock producer members, rather than profit, its marketing can only be judged on its ability to do this.

As a result, ‘Operation Boomerang’ was the the most efficient Australia Day media campaign ever.

Six key learnings:

1. Evolve the strategy, not just the execution. It’s critical to unlock the strategic potential of your brand before jumping to executional solutions. Without evolving the brand strategy, Sam Kekovich, and ‘National Pride’ would have remained the focus of the Lamb brand and its communications. The Monkeys’ strategic evolution placed ‘togetherness’ at the heart of the brand, and is a key reason ‘Operation Boomerang’ was so effective.

2. You can’t buy cultural relevance, but you can plan for it. Finding a cultural reference point can be a really effective way to generate earned media value and drive cultural cachet. Importantly, it doesn’t always need to please everyone. Intending to provoke a response from the cultural sensitivity around veganism helped boost success – delivering value that paid media can’t.

3. The ‘big idea’ is not dead. ‘Operation Boomerang’ is proof that the ‘big idea’ is alive and kicking – and even more important in today’s hyper-connected world.

4. Entertainment is everything. People now have a shorter attention span than goldfish, highlighting the need for ideas that entertain and engage. ‘Operation Boomerang’ was over two minutes in length and was the most watched ad on YouTube in that quarter. So stop worrying about the length of your message, start with the ambition of making it as entertaining as possible.

5. A brave client can be the difference between good work and great work. As an industry, we don’t give enough kudos to the bravery of our clients. Without the support, encouragement and ambition of our MLA client, this campaign would not have been possible.

6. Agencies must work together to deliver great results. This campaign proves that creative agencies must work as a team with their media and PR partners to achieve an outstanding result. Too often, creative agencies get too precious and aren’t open to thinking that’s born outside their walls. This was a genuine case of collaboration between creative, media and PR – all striving to make the idea the best it could be.

7. Vegans don’t have a sense of humour*. *Just kidding

Click here to read the full entry and here to watch the video. On time Effies entries close April 20. Visit to enter.

Recent news