Mainland aims for the feels with heartwarming tale of old love

Mainland NZ has released a new heart warming campaign, via Colenso BBDO, that tells the love story of Bob Eggerton and Millie Pullman. However, as group creative head Mick Stalker tells us, there’s also a real story behind the action, equally capable of warming the heart of even the most stoic Kiwi. We talk to the creative about Mainland as a storyteller, the talent and the choice to use an older cast.

Mainland has a long history of storytelling in its ads. Do you want to elaborate on this a little? How does the most recent one build on the history of Mainland advertising?

Mainland isn’t just a place, it’s a philosophy. Anyone that comes from Mainland knows the value of time, as they know that good things take time. From day one Mainland has told stories that reflect the company values rather than trying to shove cheese down our throats. The ads of the past have been described as ‘breaks from the ad break’ as they gave one particular research group member the feeling of a mini holiday (a combination of Murray Grindlay’s amazing score, the epic landscapes, and the soothing tones of the storyteller).

Every resident of Mainland has a yarn to share, and these yarns can be analogies for life. From the original ‘Four Seasons’ which told an epic tale of friendship, to the story of ‘Gilly’ the guy that checks the ice to make sure it’s thick enough to walk on, to Kevin and Terry and their patient wait for the cheese to be ready – each character has a sense of patience and an appreciation for traditional values. This is the part of the brand that New Zealand has loved and trusted for so many years. There is a huge pressure not to screw it up.

The latest tale comes from this heritage but has a slightly new angle. We want people to explore more variety within the Mainland range, so we wanted to introduce the idea that trying new things is a good thing. The executional style remains, a good story well told, leaving us with a little pearl of Mainland wisdom.

Any other thoughts on the latest campaign?

This script has been on the table for a while, originally written in partnership with Hugh Walsh; a great storyteller and strong link to the history of the brand. Originally it was a story about having time on your hands, and we all loved the story, a small twist made it perfect for talking about keeping life interesting. Big thanks to Hugh as he has been invaluable in helping an Englishman really get into the Mainland way.

Who are the folks in the ad? Is it based on a true story? 

The story isn’t based on a true story but it is based on a truth and that is true of all of the Mainland spots. That is why they resonate so deeply with all ages. Our cast were a mix of found talent and experienced talent. Our lead male in the ‘New Tricks’ spot, Ginger, was a bit of a legend. He had come for an audition years back for a role as an extra in a Mainland spot and failed – so he gave up on the whole shooting match. He was persuaded to join the casting this time and was completely shocked to find out he’d got the gig. More so on the day, when he found out he was the lead. He was an absolute delight to work with and couldn’t have enjoyed the VIP treatment more. Ginger lost his wife after 53 years of happy marriage, he talked about her all day on the set which was beautiful, so we rewrote the number of years Bob and Millie had been together in the script as a tribute. He was very touched.

Were there any fun anecdotes from filming with the couple?

Ginger was a real character. We listened to him all day as he talked himself through what he was doing. We could hear him revving himself up and got to enjoy phrases like “Pickle me tit, what have we gotten into Ma?” as he kept his late wife beside him. An absolute legend of a guy and now a local hero in his home town. The entire town got together to watch the first spot live. Ginger will tell you he was treated like a king, having left the set with a new wardrobe full of clothes, three whole salmon (props but “still good eating”) and enough cheese to choke a donkey. He would have been lost without Judy, his leading lady, whenever the nerves got too much, she gave him a reassuring word. It’s great to work with people like that, they bring such good energy to the set.

It is somewhat unusual to see an elderly couple star in an ad? Why did you take this approach? Isn’t there a risk of attaching the product to an older target market?

For this story we wanted a relationship that had been successful for years so that led our casting. Mainland exists as an attitude. It’s ageless. I don’t buy into holding a mirror up to an audience. Where’s the escape in that? Where’s the interest? I don’t think you alienate an audience by having a cast that is older, I think you endear them. These Mainlanders are sage, interesting, characterful people, I reckon we can all see someone we can relate to in them.

  • Mick Stalker is group creative head at Colenso BBDO.

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