Your favorite Chief Tomorroist (and Mediapost contributor) Jon Bond recently sat down with Sean Cummins of Cummins&Partners to discuss a new concept hitting the agency world and this industry as a whole: Australian Rules Advertising. Fresh off a Mumbrella Agency of the Year win, Sean gave Jon (and now you) the inside scoop.
SC: All good advertising agencies have one thing in common; the quality of their work. Amazingly, the quality of work is not a differentiator. Most good agencies, by and large, do the same things—everyone has their own proprietary processes and invented terms and tools that try to reconcile what we all do. But, differentiation is really important, and the concept of Australia Rules Advertising is a response to pitch consultants and clients who are trying to understand what our agency is all about.
JB: I’ve always thought that the only true differentiator for an agency is their culture. How much of that comes from your identity as a, or perhaps THE quintessential Australian agency?
SC: Our Australian pride is very deliberate. Localization of advertising has been a countertrend to the globalization of advertising. Consider the Crispins, the 72andSunnys and the Wieden+Kennedys, they all come from not New York, not London. They come from places that have their own local culture, mores and values. It’s no different with Australia. Australia Rules Advertising is really paying homage to our roots. Do we add a certain style and personality? Yes. Australians are very different from other people. We’re easy-going but hard-working. We’re very blunt but empathetic. We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our work very seriously. We want to succeed, but we have this ability to self-deprecate. We try and let the work do the talking, rather than talking about doing the work. That’s a fundamental difference.
JB: To me, every agency’s great campaigns are always a reflection of their unique character. Your “Best Job in the World” campaign, which literally reminded the world of Australia’s place on the map, is a good example of that.
SC: That campaign really exemplifies what we are all about. Our advertisements are not done for outrageous budgets, they are very clean, simple ideas, and they punch above their weight. Sometimes we get fed international work and we have to find ways to adapt, but then you find ways to make it relevant. So, you cannot rely on just leveraging someone else’s creative equity or their profile or style. You have to invent for the brand itself, and I think that’s just a different way of thinking.
JB: How have you invented your brand?
SC: Well, I’ll start by saying that Australian advertising isn’t perfect by any means. There are a lot of advertising agencies in Australia which, for perfectly good reasons, sacrifice their distinct Aussie flavor to emulate global advertising agencies. Cummins&Partners is peddling its own kind of Australian advertising, and at the end of the day, the majority of agencies are multi-national, so only the independents like us really fly the Australian flag. As a result, we’re very inventive because we have to be—because we can’t just buy our way out of a problem.
JB: I am curious, what exactly characterizes your work as distinctly Australian?
SC: Well, it’s a difficult question to answer because advertising is not fashion. In fact, advertising is almost anti-fashion. Most advertising is all the same, and everyone thinks you should be doing a very specific style of campaign. We are all kind of purveyors of tech, we are so obsessed with what’s happening in the digital sphere—social media and so forth—that we wrongly fascinate ourselves with being on technology as opposed to what we put on it. Cummins&Partners really tries to focus on the latter, and we are certainly faithful to our Australian origins in the process. That said, Australia Rules Advertising will never be something you can pinpoint, but hopefully it is always fresh and new.
Sean Cummins, a 30-plus year agency veteran, founded Cummins&Partners in Australia in 2011 and opened the agency’s New York office in 2014. Among his more memorable campaigns are “RSPCA: All creatures great and small” and Tourism Victoria’s “You’ll love every piece of Victoria.” He’s helped launch major brands into the market including Virgin Blue with Richard Branson, and the relaunch of Jeep.