'I met Hoges for coffee behind a nursery': The inside story of how Tourism Australia wowed the world with its Crocodile Dundee Super Bowl ad

The original, Paul Hogan, makes a cameo in Tourism Australia’s Super Bowl ad.
  • Tourism Australia is spending $36 million over 3 years in a bid to increase the US tourism spend Down Under to $6 billion annually.
  • Tourism boss John O’Sullivan met with Paul Hogan in a Sydney cafe last year to pitch the idea.
  • Some of the biggest Australian stars in Hollywood wanted to join in at ‘mates rates’ to support the tourism push.

Most Americans know two Australians.

Paul Hogan and Steve Irwin.

It’s more than three decades since Hoges took on the world in Crocodile Dundee, a film that cost $A8.8 million.

It went on to become the highest grossing Australian film of all time, pulling in more than $410 million at the box office and producing a generation who grew up saying “that’s not a knife, THIS is a knife”.

Now Tourism Australia is hoping for a similar pay off, investing $36 million in an audacious marketing campaign based around a supposed Crocodile Dundee movie sequel revealed at this year’s Super Bowl. The organisation is aiming to increase the annual spend by American tourists in Australia by $2.3 billion within three years.

A who’s who of Australian acting royalty, from Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman to Margot Robbie and Russell Crowe, got behind the campaign to support their country.

The project was 12 months in the making for Tourism Australian CEO John O’Sullivan. It’s a story of secret meetings in suburban cafes, the backing of Qantas, and a campaign that’s sparked such a powerful nostalgia and excitement, there’s now a major campaign from fans and the media for a sequel to the 32-year-original to be made.

Tourism AustraliaThe fake movie poster that got fans excited

Tracking down Hogan was its own challenge, not unlike trying to find Mick Dundee in Kakadu. While O’Sullivan and the 78-year-old star had been discussing possible collaborations for a while, Hoges doesn’t have a mobile phone, so the tourism boss enlisted former Nine CEO David Gyngell to send a message to the star to get him call during a visit to Australia so he could to pitch the idea.

“I said look we’ve got this concept we want to present to you, can’t tell you what it is over the phone but I need about an hour of your time,” O’Sullivan recalls.

“He said, look come and grab me on Monday morning we’ll go have a coffee, he gave me the address and I turned up to this house in the suburbs of Northern Sydney, and there I am driving down the road with one of my childhood icons sitting in the front seat beside me.”

It all happened just four days after Tourism Australia’s board signed off on the ambitious plan, which is now being recognised as one of the biggest marketing successes at the Super Bowl.

A 30-second slot during the game is the world’s most expensive ad, costing $US5 million. The campaigns are their own form of entertainment and a key talking point around the sport. Tourism Australia booked one minute just before the half-time break.

“I think we’ve broken an all time record for the number of visitors on Australia.com. So we’re really happy with that at the moment,” O’Sullivan says.

The CEO and his team hatched a Tom Brady-esque plan to throw a long pass in the hope of a tourism touch down in February last year, wanting “to have a bit of a bigger go at the US market”.

While China has been the growth market for Australian tourism in recent years, the US still brings around 780,000 visitors Down Under, generating around $3.7 billion annually. Tourism Australia wants to build that to $6 billion by 2020.

Until now, it’s been like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

“It’s a really expensive market, and the travel category alone is worth $6 billion a year in advertising, and our average spend had been something like $15 million a year,” O’Sullivan says.

Needing something special

When he looked how to target “the biggest chunk of our target audience in one fell swoop” the Super Bowl was the obvious choice, delivering more than 100 million viewers.

He knew it would have to be something special. The good ads are shared by fans and with a potential reach of more than one billion people. You can’t buy that success.

“You can’t go into a Super Bowl spot with something that’s just off the shelf. Brands have tried that before, and they’ve been largely criticised and the viewers literally turn off,” O’Sullivan says.

He wanted to link three key parts of Australia’s appeal. “Our beautiful country, which Americans know. Our great food and great wine, which Americans also know.

“But the third and really important point that we probably haven’t done for a while was really focusing on the people, and the character that makes Australia so lovable to Americans.”

But the challenge has been conversion. Australia might rank highly among Americans in terms of desirability and awareness, but it lags behind competitors when it comes to actual bookings. Tourism Australia needed to score.

“The other thing our research shows us is that once Americans have been to Australia they think that we’re the best country that they’ve ever visited,” O’Sullivan says.

They were pitched “about eight or nine ideas” from three US ad agencies and settled on New York-based Droga5.

“When we looked into the research, the two characters that really resonate really strongly in that market, are Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin,” O’Sullivan says.

Meeting Hoges

The TA boss and chief marketing officer Lisa Ronson hit the road with their idea, presenting the concept and script hundreds of times. The surprise was that it remained a secret for so long, but once they began sharing it, momentum gathered quickly.

“A lot of that time it’s been in cafes with people like Paul Hogan, Chris Hemsworth, you know managers, agents,” O’Sullivan says.

“The stories themselves are quite funny, I mean, with Hoges it was literally done on the Monday of the Queen’s birthday long weekend last year, at a café behind a Belrose nursery.”

Next came Chris Hemsworth, who was shooting Thor: Ragnarok in Queensland.

“Lisa and I then traipsed up to the Gold Coast Hinterland to see Hemsworth in a café and we’re trying to be all secretive and this 80-year-old lady, who lives in the hinterland, sits down besides us because we’re in the sun,” he recalls.

“She wanted to sit in the sun and there’s quite funny stories like that all the way through.”

Once those two were locked in, Hemsworth told O’Sullivan “I really wanna work with Danny McBride”. The pair share the same Hollywood agent.

Tourism AustraliaAmerican comedian Danny McBride as Brian Dundee

Then another superhero, Wolverine, found out and wanted in.

“Hugh Jackman almost became, almost like our chief recruitment officer and put the decks in front of people like Russell Crowe and others to say, ‘hey listen I’m going to be part of this, do you want to join in?’,” O’Sullivan recalls.

“So the whole back story itself is almost like another chapter of the ad.”

And thus Dundee: The Son Of A Legend Returns Home began to take shape, with McBride as Mick Dundee’s son Brian. Chris Hemsworth is Wally Jr, son of the original sidekick, Walter, played by the late John Meillon.

Mick’s son being American makes sense because the original movie has Dundee falling in love with the American journalist Sue Charlton (Hogan was subsequently married to actress Linda Kozlowski for 24 years).

Oscar-nominated Margot Robbie joined in as Lil’ Donk – daughter of the big, brawling tough nut with a beer that Mick Dundee felled with a kiss.

Others involved include Liam Hemsworth, Isla Fisher, Ruby Rose, Jessica Mauboy and Luke Bracey.

O’Sullivan estimates the value of the stars involved is conservatively worth $15 million.

“I can tell you right now that our total talent bill was far less than that,” he said.

Hemsworth and McBride have separate deals and will feature in the ongoing campaign. Hoges gave TA the Crocodile Dundee IP “very much at mates rates, ’cause he loves the industry”.

The rest of the stars “did it for what they call Screen Actors Guild fees, which is basically it’s a mandated union rate that they do. It’s less than $20,000 per person,” O’Sullivan says.

“They all did it, because they’re all immensely proud of Australia, they’re all immensely proud of Hoges, they’re all immensely proud of what tourism does for the country.”

The initial Crocodile Dundee teasers landed in mid-January and immediately generated enormous buzz. In the lead up to the Super Bowl, amid speculation about who was responsible, ad tech firm Amobee found that since the first teaser two weeks ago, digital content engagement around Tourism Australia increased by 1256%.

It all built on social media towards the “official movie trailer” revealed during the game, which also featured cameo appearance by Hogan, as the main protagonists dine at Sydney’s Quay restaurant with Opera House in the background.

History repeats

Crocodile Dundee was not the only back-to-the-future moment for Tourism Australia and Hogan.

Back in 1984, Hoges, then just a larrikin TV comedian, starred in a tourism marketing campaign targeting the US – best remembered for “put another shrimp on the barbie”.

The line was a stroke of genius from Alan Johnston, co-founder Sydney ad agency Mojo’s, who originally had “belt another banger on the barbie” but changed it because he figured Americans would have no idea what they were talking about.

The marketing even included the former Sydney Harbour Bridge rigger, standing on top of his old workplace, delivering a call to arms for locals to offer a friendly welcome to visitors.

John O’Sullivan is a huge fan of the “Come Say G’Day” campaign.

“They were genius ads, I think they were the best ads that our organisation has ever done, because they were so simplistic in their notion about a beautiful country, but with friendly people,” he says.

“I think tourism boards often miss that in the way that we represent ourselves, we sometimes get pretty caught up in scenery and beautiful landscapes, and rolling pictures of food and wine. Where actually the thing that really makes or breaks a holiday for any visitor, whether you’re domestic or international, is the people you run into, right?”

“So it’s the experience you have and that’s I think our unique selling point as Australia, is Australians, or the people who live here. So we are unashamedly going back to that.”

But he admits to being surprised by just how strong the reaction to the idea of a Crocodile Dundee revival.

“Our research showed us that Dundee still is so strong in not only markets like the US but New Zealand, France, Germany, UK, even in Asia where you’d probably think it’s probably got not as strong.

“We’ve seen on social media that a lot of chatter’s been picked up in markets like India and Pakistan, and down in Brazil for example. So from that point of view we’re not surprised, I think what we’re really pleasantly surprised about though is the fact that the first lot of results we’re starting to see.”

So is O’Sullivan tempted to get back into the film business?

After all, a decade ago, Tourism Australia spent $50 million on an international marketing campaign based around the Baz Luhrmann film Australia, starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. The director even made a 90-second commercial as part of the campaign.

Australia became the country’s second highest grossing film of all time, only surpassed by Crocodile Dundee, so maybe Tourism Australia should go for the trifecta.

He won’t commit just yet, despite the growing calls to make it happen.

“It’s been a wonderful project to be part of,” he says of the Crocodile Dundee campaign.

“We’ve done that a few times, so it’s yeah, no. It was good, it was great.”

But to give you some idea of the potential, here’s the extended, 90-second version of yesterday’s Super Bowl ad. In less than 24 hours, it’s already been view more than 1.2 million times.

The legend continues.

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