Story time: Special Group takes a deuce at inaugural Australasian Branded Entertainment Awards

Entertainment has long been part of advertising, as evidenced by the (paraphrased) old Saatchi & Saatchi mantra of ‘if it’s interrupting you in your living room, it better be good’. But that idea has evolved over the years, to the point where Cannes added a branded content category into the schedule this year and Mumbrella recently held its inaugural Australasian Branded Entertainment Awards. And Special Group managed to take home a silver for The Gravity Coffee Run in best integration of brand story-telling (non-fictional) and a gold for The Smirnoff Night Project in transmedia. Air New Zealand’s Kiwi Sceptics campaign by Host Sydney took two bronzes in the same two categories. 

“It’s great to be recognised for this kind of work,” says Rob Jack, creative director, Special Group. “Finding new and innovative ways to attract people towards brands is what we are all about.”


The Gravity Coffee Run saw Kirstie Stanway arrive at More FM as a fresh-faced new intern and her first task was to make coffee for the breakfast show DJs Marc Ellis, Amber Peebles and Stu Tolan. Unbeknownst to her, she had walked into a marketing campaign and she was on her way to El Salvador within an hour of arriving.

Stanway had just one week to travel to get the coffee beans, fly back and learn how to blend and roast, undertake a day of barista training from New Zealand’s champion barista and to prepare the perfect cup of coffee, with her journey filmed by Tim Pierce of Robber’s Dog. 

Special Group’s Tony Bradbourne says it was an ambitious project and one week was right on the boundary of how quickly someone could achieve those tasks. But, much like some of its other work for the likes of Orcon, Unitec and MediaWorks, he says it’s all about creating advertising that’s interesting enough to watch. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-qffvFd0gwAs for The Smirnoff Night Project, which took a silver pencil in the television/reality/unscripted category at the One Show entertainment awards, the campaign aimed to get people to come up with kerrrazzeee ideas for events, with the winning concepts brought to life and the highs and lows of the lead-up and execution filmed by Special Problems for an unscripted reality show that screened on Four (if you’re wondering what the hell transmedia is, Frank Rose is your guy). 

Each of the winning ideas was given $25,000 and all the help possible to pull off something incredible, but they only had one week to do it. The first show focused on ‘The Greatest Shark Movie Ever, at Sea’, where TBWA\ creatives Tom Darlow and Beth O’Brien set about achieving the brilliantly twisted goal of showing Jaws on a big screen at night while people watched from floatation devices out at sea.

The next shows followed the other winning events Zombie Apocalypse, Paint the Town White and Gig in the Middle of Nowhere, with Sarah Wilson and Jessica McColl from DDB Group’s Mango also featuring prominently.

At the time, Bradbourne said some of the smarter booze brands had moved away from cliches and towards new, innovative, feelgood experiences that have a loose connection to the brand and fit into the brand’s ethos (like Steinlager’s Pure Futures campaign). 

“Why is this interesting in a marketing sense? Well, it’s kind of the holy grail of advertiser-funded programming,” he says. “It’s not an ad. It’s not product placement. It is a brand co-creating compelling content. It is the future. And it is really quite good. And what’s more it is an alcohol brand doing it in a really responsible, clever and funny way … We think it’s a really interesting space. How do you get people to want to watch your message?”

But it’s not just advertising agencies jumping on this brandwagon. As evidenced by TVNZ’s new branded content initiative, and the success of existing formats like MasterChef, NZ’s Got Talent, The Block and New Zealand’s Next Top Model, programme makers are increasingly looking at ways of infusing clients into the shows, rather than selling them space inbetween. 


The Ship Song Project by The Monkeys for the Sydney Opera House won gold in the best brand-commissioned category and also won the grand prix at the awards. 

“We were surprised and pleased by the volume, quality and of work submitted, and we’re looking forward to an even bigger and better event next year,” says festival curator Cathie McGinn. “The awards really recognise exceptional and genuinely entertaining work in this category. Most remarkably the jury said how much they had enjoyed the judging process.

The winners:

Best use of a small budget:

  • Bronze - Mizone Zonelab by The Hallway
  • Silver –  Medal of Honour – Warfighter by EMG
  • Gold – MJ Bale for Grazed on Greatness by Whybin\TBWA\Sydney.

Best non-screen:

  • Bronze – Bundy Booth by Leo Burnett Sydney
  • Silver – Durex U+ 1 by The Sound Campaign


  • Bronze – Air New Zealand The Kiwi Sceptics by Host
  • Silver – Two Words for Tomorrow by The One Centre
  • Gold – The Smirnoff Night Project by Special Group

Best integration or brand storytelling – fiction

  • Bronze – Fists of Fusion by MercerBell
  • Silver – Operation Intel – The Bourne Legacy by Hoodlum.
  • Gold - Qantas The Great Crusade by Wonder

Best integration or brand storytelling – non-fiction

  • Bronze – Air New Zealand for The Kiwi Sceptics by Host
  • Silver – The Gravity Coffee Run by Special Group.
  • Gold – McDonald’s Gets Grilled by UM & WTFN

Best brand-commissioned

  • Silver – Qantas The Great Crusade by Wonder
  • Gold – The Ship Song Project for Sydney Opera House by the Monkeys.

Grand prix

  • The Ship Song Project for Sydney Opera House by the Monkeys.

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