Why a New Zealand Telecom Is Airing 46 Almost Identical Ads

Get the Skinny from Colenso BBDO

We could sure go for 46 cheeky commercials from a mobile-service provider right about now. Luckily, Colenso BBDO's new work for New Zealand's Skinny fits the bill.

That's right, they made 46 unique yet extremely similar 30-second spots, briskly directed by Good Oil's Dave Wood, each starring a different Skinny customer. These folks all dress alike and do the same stuff, in the same sequence—ride teeter totters, drive bumper cars, waterski—while reading identical stilted narration, pitching Skinny as a Kiwi brand that knows what Kiwis need.

"Hi, friend and/or family member," each character addresses the viewer at the beginning. "Did you know recommendations from friends or family members are more effective than regular ads?"

Doesn't that sound like fun? Indeed, it is! Here's 6.5 percent of the campaign to prove it:

Three's enough … you get the idea. Check out the rest of the spots at the bottom of this post. (Thankfully, only Jamie rocks a mullet.) Some 15 spots aired on TV during the first night of the campaign alone.

In a nation of less than 5 million souls, Skinny is betting that a whole lot of viewers will have some kind of connection, no matter how vague, to at least one of these 46 brand ambassadors. So, it's friend-vertising on steroids … with wooly sweaters!

"In a new world of social isolation and working from home, connection to our friends and family is more important than ever," says Skinny brand lead Ally Young. "This new campaign feeds directly into that insight, and is a playful take on the importance of social connection."

Hindi, Cantonese, Samoan and Sign Language versions began running last week in prime-time. Out-of-home placements feature folks from the TV ads, geo-targeted to reach those who will most likely recognize them. (Click/tap to see the full images.)

Social-media outreach invites users to generate their own ads targeting friends and family:

Below, Colenso BBDO creative director Thom Darlow gives us the skinny on the campaign:

How the idea came about.

Skinny usually talks about their low prices. But for this campaign, they wanted to talk about the adoration they get from their customers. In the briefing stage, we talked about unleashing the cult—finding a way to give these impassioned customers the tools they need to convert their friends and family to Skinny. We wrestled with a series of god-awful ideas for weeks, before realizing that all we really needed was to give them a platform to do the selling for us by giving them their own high-production ad campaign.

The original plan called for hundreds of commercials.

Believe it or not, we originally planned on shooting 300 of them. God, I'm happy that didn't happen. This project just about broke everyone as it was—in a good way. The adage in New Zealand is that there's only a few degrees of separation. So, by casting recognizable faces from local communities, we hoped to reach most of the country.

The team got creative with targeting.

For targeting, we've placed our out-of-home in areas our talent live, work and play. Near their sports clubs, in the lobbies at their places of work, and, in the case of one who is a bus driver, on the back of his own bus. Ads were placed in our talent's local newspapers, and custom covers of our national newspaper were sent to our talent's workplaces around the country.

Online, we paid to reach our talent's friends and followers, but also targeted their general acquaintances by cross-targeting where they live with occupations and hobbies. For example, if Neil plays social cricket in Hamilton, there is a much higher chance that other social cricket players in Hamilton will recognize him, and therefore, listen to his endorsement of Skinny.

All 46 ads were cast through a single text message.

We wanted faces from local communities everyone recognizes—that football coach that everyone had at some stage, or the corner store owner that has been there for 30 years, or the school bus driver that has driven three generations of family members. Our cast are all Skinny customers and non-actors. We sent a single text to Skinny's customer base and got a few thousand responses. We then selected people based on performance, geography, age, ethnicity, race, look, demography, interests, occupations, social media following and influence. That text was our only recruitment tool, but turns out lots thought it was a scam.

Most of the subjects initially told the agency to "fuck off."

Every single person we brought into this process responded the same way when we briefed them—they said, "Fuck off! No way" … and then they just got on and did it. We shot them over three days—yes, three days, including the stills!—at five locations around Auckland. We shot on a weekend so the cast only had to miss one day of work.

The script is impersonal, yet the ads are the exact opposite.

We wanted the script to feel like legalese—as in, these are the specific words Skinny's lawyers have allowed us to say. Kind of like the Colbert Wheat Thins "Sponsortunity," or Traktor's "Hello Mosquito" ads for Discovery Channel. Our editor, Simon Njoo, did an amazing job of teasing out the tiny differences in each delivery to give everyone their own moment to shine. The more you watch, the more fascinating the campaign gets.

You can check out most of the remaining commercials below. A few were held back to freshen things up at a later date, so "only" 42 are available. Watch 'em all on an endless loop! You WFH now, the boss won't know!


Ally Young - Chapter Lead – Brand
Hunter Haines - Brand Partner – Social
Frith Wilson-Hughes – Chapter Lead - Social
Janine Casis - Paid Social Partner
Otto Gebhar -  Automation Analyst 
Steve Imm - Skinny Product Owner
Krissy Martin - Customer Marketer – Skinny
Shannon Evans – Skinny Mobile Product Owner
Steve Hay – E2E Journey Specialist
Gareth Killip – Chapter Lead – Skinny DevOps
Rhys Huber – Customer Marketer – Trade
Emma Biggs – Legal Business Partner
Ryan Drew – Chapter Lead – Performance Marketing

Agency: Colenso BBDO
Media Agency: PHD Media
Trade and Digital Agency: Platform 29

Production Company: Good Oil

Director: Dave Wood
Executive Producer: Lee Thompson
Executive Producer: Andrew McLean
DOP: Crighton Bone
Editor: Simon Njoo
Colorist: Pete Richie
Online Editor: Richard Betts at Blockhead

Sound Design: Liquid Studios
Sound Design: Craig Matuschka
Music Producer: Tamara O'Neill
Music Producer: Shirleyanne McDonald-Shaw
Stills Production: Match
Photographer: Troy Goodall
Retoucher: Jason King at SixtyFour

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

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