From the Gobbledok to Not Happy Jan: how well do you remember classic Australian ads?

By Clem Bastow
Australian ads featuring Gobbledock and Not Happy Jan
Australian ads featuring Gobbledock and Not Happy Jan. Illustration: Guardian Design

It is a scientific fact that if you play Gheorghe Zamfir’s pan flute theme from Picnic at Hanging Rock around any Australian of a certain age, they will probably ask if you, too, can smell Nescafe Blend 43 before they ever yell “Miranda!”.

Such is the power of a well-tuned ad campaign: there are catchphrases, lyrics, jingles and jokes embedded deep in the psyche of a nation, buried in the unconscious in the days when the whole family would gather around a chunky cathode-ray tube TV to catch the Saturday night movie.

Ever since Bruce Gyngell uttered those immortal words – “Good evening, and welcome to television” – whether we like it or not, there are ads that have become part of our collective identity.

If you’ve ever asked yourself “Why can I remember the Dick Smith ‘phone zone’ rap but not my my loved ones’ birthdates?” (just me?), your time has come. No prizes for top scores, but you just might find a fellow viewer in the comments to try out your most obscure “Does anyone remember that ad…?” upon.

  1. Since 1988, beloved actress Paula Duncan has been panicking about impending visitors to her grubby house, only to be saved at the last moment by a cleaning spray. Which of the following was NOT a scenario that required an immediate cleaning frenzy in a Spray N’ Wipe ad?

    1. The boss and his wife visiting when the boys had got mud all over the bathroom after footy practice.

    2. The real estate agent bringing around a buyer after the family had held a raging party the night before.

    3. The in-laws hosting a dinner party for investors after the dad had fixed a motorcycle in the living room.

    4. The daughter’s wedding having to be held at home because the venue had burned down.

  2. A character from a Nescafe ad.

    Launching in 1992, Nescafe’s iconic “Valley” campaign ran for years, and featured the tale of a city woman who moved to a bucolic country town, falling in love with the local shopkeeper – all over copious cups of Blend 43, of course. What were the instant-coffee-crossed lovers’ names?

    1. Rebecca and Steve

    2. Gillian and Roy

    3. Carol and Rob

    4. Jenny and Bruce

  3. In the year 2000, the phrase “Not happy, Jan!” entered the Australian lexicon. What had Jan done to invoke the ire of her boss?

    1. Printed the wrong phone number in the Yellow Pages.

    2. Forgotten to put the company’s ad in the Yellow Pages.

    3. Spelled the company’s name incorrectly in the Yellow Pages.

    4. Put the Yellow Pages through the shredder.

  4. In 1987, Smiths Chips introduced a creepy little character called the Gobbledok (from Planet Dok, a giant potato in the sky) who loved to steal “chippies”. What was his origin story?

    1. He hid out in a supermarket until everyone went home for the day.

    2. He crashed his spaceship in the car park of a supermarket and went looking for chippies.

    3. He hitched a ride on a cargo plane full of chippies.

    4. Astronauts working on a space station spot him eating chippies in space.

  5. In 1981, the Cancer Council Victoria launched its “Slip-Slop-Slap” campaign, which commanded Aussies to Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, and Slap on a hat on sunny days to reduce their risk of skin cancer, and went on to become a national mantra. What was the name of the accompanying cartoon character?

    1. Ken the Koala

    2. Wally the Wombat

    3. Sid the Seagull

    4. Rob the Rosella

  6. Naomi Watts in a 1990 ad for Australian lamb

    In 1990, future Oscar nominee Naomi Watts played a young office worker who wins then gives up a date with a celebrity because “Mum’s cooking a lamb roast” that night. Who was the unlucky fella?

    1. Diesel

    2. Patrick Swayze

    3. Tom Cruise

    4. Rob Lowe

  7. In 2000, HBA harnessed the power of cute kids to advertise their insurance policies. Which of the following did NOT happen (according to him) to the kid who encountered a crocodile?

    1. "Bit my guts out"

    2. "Even my legs went that way, and even my head went that way"

    3. "Bit me into parts and pieces"

    4. "Squeezed the blood out of me"

  8. In 2003, a disembodied tongue escaped its owner’s mouth to the tune of Benny Benassi’s Satisfaction and went searching for a Toohey’s Extra Dry beer, revolting the nation. True or false: in 2012, “Tongue” was announced as the most complained-about ad of the decade.

    1. True

    2. False

  9. Beginning in 1968, Victoria Bitter’s “Big Cold Beer” campaign has presented a variety of ways that one might “get it” (“it” being “a hard-earned thirst”). Which of the following is NOT a real bit of VB poetry?

    1. "You can get it strivin’, you can get it divin’"

    2. "You can get it lumpin', you can get it thumpin'"

    3. "You can get it sailin’, you can get it nailin’"

    4. "You can get it jumpin’, you can get it pumpin’"

  10. Diarmid Heidenreich as Douggie the Pizza Guy in a series of ads from the 1990s.

    Launching in 1993, Diarmid Heidenreich won the hearts of the nation’s kids, stoners and mums as Dougie, the Pizza Hut delivery guy. In a fourth-wall-breaking 1996 ad that rivals Marvel’s most ambitious crossover events, Dougie enters his restaurant and encounters another iconic Australian ad personality: who was it?

    1. Paula Duncan from the Spray N’ Wipe ads.

    2. Tim Shaw from the Demtel ads.

    3. The Goggomobile man from the Yellow Pages ads.

    4. Matthew Krok from the Sorbent ads.

Solutions

1:C - Spray N’ Wipe’s iconic earworm of a jingle is based on Ian Dury & The Blockheads’ 1977 tune Billericay Dickie, which contains the verse: Had a love affair with Nina / In the back of my cortina / A seasoned-up hyena / Could not have been more obscener. That might explain why the 1988 ad describes the boss’ wife Linda as “An overdressed hyena, it ruined my demeanour”., 2:B - Back in the day, Nescafe apparently received bags of letters from viewers desperate to know if Gillian and Roy would get together. It was certainly a simpler time back in the 90s; when Blend 43’s 2013 campaign launched in cinemas, advertising company Val Morgan unleashed the aroma of the coffee onto unsuspecting cinema patrons., 3:B - It might be hard to imagine now, but once upon a time the idea of not making it into the Yellow Pages’ two-volume door-stopper could strike fear into the hearts of office underlings. The ad’s executive creative director, Ant Shannon, told the Telegraph that the team had tried to connect with the viewer emotionally. “As a result we developed this concept of ‘scare tactics’, you know? What a disaster it would be if someone forgot to place an ad in the Yellow Pages. And then have to endure a whole year without it there. What that would mean.”, 4:B - The original Gobbledok wasn’t intended to stick around; when he became a hit, and the budget went up, it was determined that he should remain trapped in his slightly janky 1980s suit even if the special effects around him improved. In 2019, creator John Finkelsen told pop culture mag Kill Your Darlings that we very nearly got a Gobbledok movie. “He wasn’t chasing potato chips around the country. He was being hidden by people. It could have been one of the most extraordinary things in the history of advertising.”, 5:C - The immensely successful campaign was updated in 2010 to reflect our emerging climate nightmare reality of longer and sunnier summers, adding "Seek" shade or shelter and "Slide" on some sunglasses. What will the 2040 version include? "Sink" into rising sea levels? "Shut" your fireproof bunker?, 6:C - Watts was just one in a long line of future stars who got a foothold in ads; Cate Blanchett once made a wish on the famous Tim Tam genie’s lamp, Natalie Imbruglia ate Twisties, Jacqueline McKenzie freaked out about curried egg in a P.K chewing gum ad, and Russell Crowe flogged a 1987 special edition Coke can., 7:D - That happened when an octopus came out of “the bath hole” of one of the other kids. Crocodile cutie Alex Breden told News.com.au in 2015 that his grandmother wasn’t impressed when the HBA ad didn’t make it into 20-to-1’s special about classic Australian ads: “She called Channel 9 to complain.” , 8:B - It was only the 10th! The Ad Standards Board released their list of the ads that had received the most complaints since 1999, with “Tongue” receiving a measly 169. The champion, with 359 complaints, was a baffling Nando’s ad from 2007 that somehow linked fast food chicken to pole dancing., 9:C - But if VB did want to use this couplet, they could: after voiceover star John Meillon’s death in 1998, they have used increasingly sophisticated audio technology to create new phrases using the individual syllables from his existing recordings. You’re havin’ a squiz, or writin’ a quiz, you can get it any old how… JK, I don’t drink., 10:B - Tim gives Dougie the “but wait, there’s more” routine about Pizza Hut’s then-legendary $4.95 Lunch Works dine-in options – my kingdom for the dessert bar – only to be cut off by Dougie quipping: “Not in a 30-second commercial, there’s not.”

Scores

  1. 10 and above.

    Wow. You never paused the recording while taping your favourite shows; you wanted to preserve your favourite ads. You're stubbornly brand loyal and you used to be front and centre whenever one of those vaguely postmodern "best ads of all time" shows aired that used to feature an hour's worth of ads... with ads. You've used the phrase "Not happy, Jan" with utmost seriousness.

  2. 9 and above.

    Wow. You never paused the recording while taping your favourite shows; you wanted to preserve your favourite ads. You're stubbornly brand loyal and you used to be front and centre whenever one of those vaguely postmodern "best ads of all time" shows aired that used to feature an hour's worth of ads... with ads. You've used the phrase "Not happy, Jan" with utmost seriousness.

  3. 8 and above.

    Whenever you see a jar of stir-through sauce, you feel a Pavlovian pull to say "I feel like chicken tonight" or "per tre o quattro persone, or... una" – but you've forgotten the words to the Spray N' Wipe songs that you were once able to recite in the playground. You can't quite remember if the Oarsome Foursome promoted cordial or tinned fruit, but you definitely remember when Hey Hey It's Saturday aired the final instalment of Roy and Gillian's Blend 43 love affair.

  4. 7 and above.

    Whenever you see a jar of stir-through sauce, you feel a Pavlovian pull to say "I feel like chicken tonight" or "per tre o quattro persone, or... una" – but you've forgotten the words to the Spray N' Wipe songs that you were once able to recite in the playground. You can't quite remember if the Oarsome Foursome promoted cordial or tinned fruit, but you definitely remember when Hey Hey It's Saturday aired the final instalment of Roy and Gillian's Blend 43 love affair.

  5. 6 and above.

    Not bad. You didn’t slam the "mute" button and leap up to make a cup of tea every time an ad break rolled around, but most of your memory of classic ads is a nonspecific feeling of nostalgia that you can't quite put your finger on. The Gobbledok gave you nightmares but you'll admit that you only know The Swingers' Counting The Beat from the old Kmart ads.

  6. 5 and above.

    Not bad. You didn’t slam the "mute" button and leap up to make a cup of tea every time an ad break rolled around, but most of your memory of classic ads is a nonspecific feeling of nostalgia that you can't quite put your finger on. The Gobbledok gave you nightmares but you'll admit that you only know The Swingers' Counting The Beat from the old Kmart ads.

  7. 4 and above.

    Not bad. You didn’t slam the mute button and leap up to make a cup of tea every time an ad break rolled around, but most of your memory of classic ads is a nonspecific feeling of nostalgia that you can't quite put your finger on. The Gobbledok gave you nightmares but you'll admit that you only know The Swingers' Counting The Beat from the old Kmart ads.

  8. 3 and above.

    Hm. Not only were you not allowed to watch "commercial television"; you plugged your ears whenever your school friends or workmates started singing the latest jingle. You still quote Naomi Klein's No Logo on a regular basis and you're less likely to buy any product with a funny or catchy ad campaign.

  9. 2 and above.

    Hm. Not only were you not allowed to watch "commercial television"; you plugged your ears whenever your school friends or workmates started singing the latest jingle. You still quote Naomi Klein's No Logo on a regular basis and you're less likely to buy any product with a funny or catchy ad campaign.

  10. 0 and above.

    Hm. Not only were you not allowed to watch "commercial television"; you plugged your ears whenever your school friends or workmates started singing the latest jingle. You still quote Naomi Klein's No Logo on a regular basis and you're less likely to buy any product with a funny or catchy ad campaign.

  11. 1 and above.

    Hm. Not only were you not allowed to watch "commercial television"; you plugged your ears whenever your school friends or workmates started singing the latest jingle. You still quote Naomi Klein's No Logo on a regular basis and you're less likely to buy any product with a funny or catchy ad campaign.


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