The World: Holding up a mirror to Australian advertising

Kevin Johns meets the writers of the TV show gripping Australia's adland, and the MD of the agency they helped to found.

Publicity is something we're conscious of not doing too much of. We really do like the idea of 'heads down and let the work speak for itself'," Mark Green, the managing director of the Sydney-based agency Three Drunk Monkeys, says.

Considering fellow agency co-founders Justin Drape and Scott Nowell - plus former colleague Tim Bullock - will soon see their new TV series complete its run on Australia's Comedy Channel, at least half of Green's philosophy has flown out the window.

Although, if the critics are anything to go by, it looks to be the preferable half.

30 Seconds, a six-part ad-agency satire four years in the writing, has been the most-talked-about topic in Australian advertising since The Gruen Transfer. Thankfully, for the agency proprietors who wrote the script, it has been well received.

The ratings haven't been quite as easy to decipher - as 30 Seconds appears on the pay-TV platform Foxtel - but it enjoyed a strong start, ranking in the top-ten non-sport shows at launch. Foxtel says the average audience for the first three episodes was 81,780.

30 Seconds follows the working lives of Martin Manning, the executive creative director at the fictional agency BND, his star creatives, Sumo and Kate, the sassy "suit", Barbara, the agency producer, McBaney, the incoming chief executive, Bill Brooker, and the automotive client, Marion West.

The ensuing episodes paint a stereotypical, but authentic, picture of Australian advertising. It distils some of the trying, titillating and even touching moments of agency life into six neat packages.

30 Seconds is full of wry observations on the ridiculous minutiae that often causes much stress for those working in agencies: be it the absurd amount of stock placed in awards and creative rankings, or how many grill-marks a piece of chicken should have when featuring in a shoot for a TV ad.

Fittingly, Manning is the show's central character, and he comes across as a man who, with a broken marriage behind him, pines for something more meaningful than making beer ads.

Meanwhile, new client West is a woman in a man's world, struggling to juggle a successful marketing career with a fulfilling love life.

So, how did Nowell, Drape and Bullock find poking fun at an industry that still provides their day jobs?

"We did go for the jugular, but we probably could have gone harder if we weren't still in advertising," Drape says.

"We thought about going a lot harder, but there comes a point where it just gets nasty if you take that tone," Nowell adds.

Drape continues: "It is also an easy place to go when you consider our industry, as we can't wait to rip ourselves apart sometimes. But, essentially, 30 Seconds is just meant to be funny. There are moments where it does go quite dark, but it is on the Comedy Channel, so in the end it had to be funny."

Bullock, now a director with Prodigy Films, first worked with the Three Drunk Monkeys founders when he was a suit and they were all at Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney.

"Because we're still in the industry, we're more entitled than anyone to have a laugh at it," he says. "We're prepared to have a laugh at ourselves and we hope the rest of the industry is prepared to feel the same. There are a lot of people with a sense of humour in advertising who are able to rise above it all, and sometimes find what we do pretty hilarious.

"There has certainly been an abundance of moments where I've had to shake my head and think 'could this really be happening?'."

And what of the agency his co-writers - along with Green - have founded? Bullock says he can see little downside to its cross-over creative ethos, where private projects and long-form content merge with traditional ad work.

"They're not tied down or pigeonholed. A few people pioneered it before them in Australia, but the guys have really taken it on," Bullock says.

Green says it was always the plan to create a business as at home in traditional advertising as it is in other forms of content creation.

"From the outset we've had that ambition, and so far we're doing what we set out to achieve. We wanted to establish credibility in areas beyond traditional advertising, and we believe we are doing so. Until you do, there isn't much of a conversation you can have with a client along those lines," he adds.

One of Three Drunk Monkeys' earliest blurring of the lines was to establish a joint venture with the film distributor Hopscotch, a move that most recently saw the pairing develop a cooking-show for the local free-to-air broadcaster SBS.

"We saw things from a brand point of view, and Hopscotch from an entertainment point of view, but we could both see where things were heading for brands," Green says. "We've been able to harness all those entertainment skills from Hopscotch, which is involved in a lot of big movie productions.

"The ideal is to move from traditional advertising to creating products, and owning part of those products. We're still bringing all that together. We're still learning, but we believe we can do it."

And while Three Drunk Monkeys may be helping to edge brands more meaningfully into the entertainment space, conversely it is worth noting that Zapruder's Other Films, the production company behind 30 Seconds, has played a huge part in re-engineering the advertising industry as the subject matter for prime-time TV in Australia.

Zapruder's Other Films, whose co-owner is the influential Andrew Denton, one of Australia's best-known TV personalities, also produced The Gruen Transfer, which has been a runaway success.

Of course, two TV shows don't make a trend. But when 30 Seconds finishes its run later this month, a reversal will nonetheless have taken place.

It will seem the exception, rather than the rule, that there isn't some kind of ad-industry show on Australia's TV schedules.

- Kevin Johns is the managing editor of B&T magazine in Sydney.


August 2006: Three Drunk Monkeys launches when Mark Green leaves Saatchi & Saatchi to team up with Scott Nowell and Justin Drape.

September 2006: Forms joint venture with Hopscotch Films. The agency positions itself as a branded-content specialist.

January 2007: Work for Mountain Dew, Foxtel and Pepsi New Zealand starts carving out the agency's creative reputation.

October 2007: Drape's children's book, I Can Do Anything, is published.

January 2008: Three Drunk Monkeys replaces Saatchi & Saatchi as lead agency for the pay-TV platform Foxtel.

October 2008: Noah Reagan returns to Australia when he joins Three Drunk Monkeys as its creative director from DDB London.

July 2009: Partizan Films' Leslie Ali, whose short, Object, is selected for the Sundance Film Festival, joins.

August 2009: Three Drunk Monkeys, along with Droga5 Sydney, is added to the Telstra agency roster.

September 2009: 30 Seconds launches. The latest Hopscotch venture, My Family Feast, also airs.

October 2009: The agency makes a foray into merchandise for client World Dog Games. Headcount reaches 52.


You have

[DAYS_LEFT] Days left

of your free trial

Subscribe now


Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Become a member of Campaign

Get the latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now