Louie the Fly: master of the death scene
Pest control spray Mortein this week announced the impending death - for good, this time – of its long-term mascot and Aussie ad favourite, Louie the Fly.
We were going to talk about it on the 7PM Project on Tuesday, so I knocked up a news story for the website. But the story was dropped from the TV show, and so the news item never got online.
What a waste of a hard morning’s work YouTubing ‘Louie the Fly’ ads! Including this one, where you can see his many deaths, some of which are in Spanish.
But my hard work won’t go to waste. In the news story, it was my job to report, in a balanced and professional way, the impending retirement of an Aussie commercial icon, while also raising the possibility that it might be a publicity stunt.
But now it’s a blog entry, so I can tell you what I really think. And I call Louie’s ‘death’ a pile of exactly the thing that Louie would bring straight from rubbish tip to you.
Let’s go back a step. Louie the Fly has been a regular on Australian TV screens since 1957, joyfully singing of his grubby adventures before copping a face full of flyspray. An early ad can be seen here.
The company boasted that 90% of Australians recognized the crooning critter. No one seems to have noticed that Louie’s continual resurrection in subsequent ads suggests Mortein isn’t really up to the job, long-term.
Nonetheless, you can’t question Louie’s Aussie pedigree. He was voiced by TV pioneer Ross Higgins, much-loved as Ted Bullpitt in Kingswood Country during the 1980s, and much derided as Ted Bullpitt in Bullpitt! in the 1990s.
Louie’s famous jingle was even written by Bryce Courtenay during his pre-fame advertising days. It is one of the few works by Courtenay which came in under 500 pages.
But now Reckitt Benckiser, the multinational company that owns the Mortein brand, says Louie no longer represents the diversity of its products. It seems that these days, Mortein can be used to kill a broad range of small creatures going about their business. Not just flies, you see, but mosquitoes, cockroaches, spiders, and talkback radio hosts.
The news was announced in a statement by the company, and reported widely. Like here and here. On Sydney’s 2GB, host Ross Greenwood spoke to RB’s marketing manager Chris Tedesco, as well as Ross Higgins, pleading for a future for Louie (between talking up what a great company Reckitt Benckiser is).
But some marketing industry insiders aren’t quite ready to place a wreath on Louie’s grave, sniffing a pine-scented PR stunt.
Media website Mumbrella sounded a note of skepticism about Louie’s death, seeing similarities between it and an award-winning UK campaign to ‘save’ Heinz Salad Cream.
The theory goes that the public, outraged at the loss of an icon, rallies to the cause. Sales spike, the icon is saved, and the brand - previously taken for granted -is restored afresh to the top of consumers’ minds.
The signs are there. I read RB’s announcement in preparing my earlier news story. Sometimes, I’d use a quote from the statement. But Mr Tedesco’s contribution to Louie’s tribute was so full of corporate plugs, I didn’t think it was appropriate for a website connected to a serious news show.*
He spent more time plugging the Mortein brands than paying tribute to the Aussie icon he was out to bury. That’s like me spending the whole eulogy at my wife’s funeral telling the ladies that I’m now single again, and listing why I’m such a great catch.
Anyway, when a company is changing an advertising strategy and dumping a much-loved character, who risks a nation’s wrath by putting out a statement about it and doing interviews?
But the big giveaway, for me, is that Mortein has started a Facebook page so that customers who "miss" Louie can "stay in touch" with him over summer.
Yes, you can follow that character they’re putting out to pasture because he’s no longer relevant to their brand.
So I call ‘stunt!’ on the suggestion that Louie is heading off to the great TV commercial break in the sky, joining much-missed fictional corporate mascots like Rita the ETA eater, the Smith’s Chips Gobbledock, and Cadbury’s Julius Sumner-Miller.
And yet, in trying to be Mr Oh-I’m-Too-Savvy-To-Fall-For-This... I have, in fact, fallen for this.
Look at this crap. I’ve just written a blog-long plug for Mortein. And YOU read it, so you’re just as guilty.
Most readers probably weren’t aware of the diversity of Mortein’s brands until they read the tenth paragraph of this article. Touché, Mr Tedesco. You have had the last laugh.
My attempt to put my hand up as the next host of Media Watch has actually made me more likely to be a panelist on The Gruen Transfer. In trying to expose the machine, I have become the machine.
So if you really believe Louie the Fly is heading permanently to the rubbish dump, you could probably get onto Mortein and tell them what you reckon. Which is exactly what they WANT you to do.
If you think it’s a big old stunt, meet this writer at the local supermarket, where he’ll be spraying himself with a can of one of Mortein’s competitors, perhaps the Australian-owned Hovex, to see if it is powerful enough to kill the stench of corporate deception. That’s ‘Hovex.’
But I think the best response would be for the entire nation to stop, shrug, say "Meh," and carry on with life. Just for the fun of watching Mortein scramble to announce that they're bringing Louie back by non-existent public demand.
* If you missed Tuesday's episode of this serious news show, don’t forget to catch Steve Carell’s new film ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ in cinemas now. And stick around after 7PM tonight for The Renovators.
Do you believe the hype? Has Louie flown his last? Are there any old favourite corporate mascots you miss? Any you’d like to see the end of? Have your say below!
The opinions expressed in The 7PM Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The 7PM Project or the Ten Network.