A burning question: Stihl and DDB give Kiwis a dilemma with alternative ending campaign

The sibling rivalry, cruelty and dastardly power (tool) games seen in Stihl and DDB’s advertising first kicked off in 2009 with ‘Bequeathed’ and returned a few years later with ‘Mercy Dash’. And now the brothers are back in another campaign that asks Kiwis a difficult question: in a raging barn fire, would you save your cherished chainsaw or a cute little lamb? 

“Alternative endings in ads aren’t new,” says DDB’s chief executive Justin Mowday. “They’ve been done a lot around the world. But I think the clever thing with this is that we’ve moved the campaign on from the brothers fighting.”

  • Check out the two different endings here

There’s still a bit of brotherly banter on display, of course. But the campaign, which was once again shot by Adam Stevens of Robber’s Dog, is more focused on the dilemma; “the ultimate question of choosing between the chainsaw or Flossie”. And while Mowday is aware it has the potential to cause some controversy given it shows a man running into a burning building and could be construed as endorsing cruelty to animals by giving punters the option of leaving a lamb to fry, he thinks it should be taken in the humorous spirit in which it is intended. 

He says it pre-vetted the ad with the Fire Service but they weren’t able to endorse it as it was against their safety codes. And as for the cruelty angle, there was an animal handler present during the shoot and the flames were all CGI, so there was no chance of an unintentional lamb roast. 

“It seems strange to me that you can show Bruce Willis running into a burning building at 7.30 in a movie. But you do the same bit of entertainment in an ad and suddenly it’s an issue. People aren’t idiots. Everyone knows not to run into a burning building. We’re not playing this in kids’ time and there is room within the code of advertising for hyperbole. The ad has a shot of a cowboy riding across the horizon, so this is very firmly in the realm of cinematic storytelling.” 

So far, he says it’s gone down well with the target audience, and the dealer network is also getting in behind the campaign, with talk of trying to sell lamb chops alongside chainsaws in some of the Stihl Shops or trying to put Stihl stickers on lamb in supermarkets. 

Stihl is a fairly conservative German-owned company and Jim Bibby, the chief executive, is a fairly conservative man in his 50s. But it takes a few risks with its advertising. The dark humour in Bequeathed meant it was the second most-complained about advertisement of 2009 according to the Advertising Standards Authority and the volume of complaints might have got the better of most companies. But Stihl held its ground for two reasons. 1) it was convinced a Stihl chainsaw does create that level of lust. And 2) it knew those who were complaining were not its customers, because they would love the irreverence of the commercial and the overall message of the advertising.

The company’s belief is that if you’re not appealing to your target market and instead kowtowing to the complainers, you’re wasting your money. And Mowday says Stihl is “enlightened” in this regard. That attitude has obviously served the company well, with year on year growth in revenue and units sold. And, as a result of its shift from a brand used by almost exclusively by professionals, to a high-end brand used by homeowners that was competing against cheaper powertools on offer at Bunnings and Mitre 10, it took the transformational categroy win at last year’s TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards

He says Stihl’s business is heavily weather oriented and it’s been a good year for the company, with lots of heat and lots of water leading to lots of growth. 


Client: STIHL
Agency: DDB Group New Zealand
Executive Creative Director: Shane Bradnick
Creative Directors: Mark Lorrigan, Chris Schofield
Art Director: Adam Barnes
Copywriter: James O’Sullivan
Group Business Director: Scott Wallace
Executive Producer: Judy Thompson
Agency Producer: Samantha Meehan
Production Company: Robber’s Dog
Director: Adam Stevens
Executive Producer: Mark Foster
Producer: Caz Hearn
Managing Director: George Mackenzie
DOP: Mark Pugh
Editor: Paul Maxwell
Grade & VFX: Blockhead
Music Composition & Sound Design: Liquid Studios

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