The Aussie internet was ablaze after those inquisitive folk over at Gruen found the genius behind the Bunnings jingle.

They tracked down Trevor Hilton in WA, still chilling out with his trusty keyboard that he used all those years ago.

It got us thinking about other iconic Aussie TV adverts and one immediately sprung to mind: Carlton Draught’s Big Ad.

You know the one without even having to see it. Inspired by the recently released Lord of the Rings, the beloved beer company staged a huge comical battle scene using 3000 extras in New Zealand (big thanks to our Kiwi cousins for the location and inspiration).

Half were dressed in yellow, half in red, and they sprinted at each other, with the momentous and spine-tingling classical piece ‘O Fortuna’ used to intensify the atmosphere (it was later used when X Factor contestants took to the stage, very sadly).

The yellow crew ultimately formed the shape of a Carlton Draught pint as the other group formed the shape of someone drinking it, beer and man united in happy unison.

What really made the advert so brilliant, though, were the lyrics: “It’s a big ad. Very big ad. It’s a big ad we’re in. It’s a big ad. My God it’s big! Can’t believe how big it is! It’s a big ad! For Carlton Draught! It’s just so freaking HUGE! It’s a big ad! Expensive ad! This ad better sell some bloo-oo-oo-oody beer!”

It was meta, it was unexpected, and it embodied everything we expect and love about dry Aussie humour. The words signaled that both they knew and we knew that all that was at play here was selling tonnes of alcohol.

No inspirational message; no subtle product placement. It lifted up the veil on advertising and invited the audience inside.

Needless to say, the advert’s success was Big. Even if you were a staunch VB drinker, it was almost enough to change your allegiance. I mean, the advert even has an entire Wikipedia page devoted to it.

It was fascinatingly also one of the first – arguably the first – viral video. More than half a million people viewed the commercial on the internet before it even got on TV screens. In its first 24 hours, it had been downloaded an incredible 160,000 times.

The agency behind the concept was George Patterson & Partners and they won the prestigious Gold Lion award at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

As the Big Ad debuted in 2005, the 15th anniversary made it the perfect time to interview one of its creators.

After a little investigation, we tracked down the mastermind behind those lyrics and his career has been mighty impressive. Ant Keogh was once named the number four Creative Director in the world; he’s like the Dustin Martin of advertising.  

And like Dusty, he’s still at the top of his game. He’s worked for some other of our most well-known brands, including Four ‘N Twenty. An Aussie legend, in other words.

For so long behind the scenes, we thought we’d give Keogh his moment in the limelight! We caught up with him to discuss the crazy place he first came up with the Big Ad’s lyrics, his career since then, and his thoughts on advertising.

Ant Keogh

How did the famous concept for the Big Ad first come about?

Well, I’d been working at an Ad agency in Melbourne on the Carlton Draught account with my creative partner, Grant Rutherford, for a couple of years. We’d already made two previous Carlton Draught ads establishing that piss-take style and the tagline, ‘Made From Beer’. They just had nothing like the budget of Big Ad. 

So when we went to the brewery with the Big Ad script we’d already had some kind of track record of success. The people there already understood the general direction. Otherwise I don’t think an ad like that would have ever got made straight off the bat. 

The words were put to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana ‘O Fortuna’ – was this also your own idea?

The previous ads were essentially making fun of advertising itself, so Grant and I were looking for another thing to make fun of and at that stage there were a lot of big budget ads around for airlines and the like, so we were thinking about that.

We caught the train home from work together and somewhere around Elsternwick we hit upon the thought. And on the train we just got that line ‘It’s a Big Ad’ and actually sung it to the tune of ‘O Fortuna’ there and then, the song just popping in to our heads because I guess it’s just the biggest, most epic, music that came to mind. (Grant and I are both musicians.) Then, that night, I just wrote the rest of the lyrics.

So we had the basic idea by the next day with some general sense of the visuals, parodying big budget ads we wanted to evoke like the famous British Airways ad where they all run across the field – the most obvious reference –  and films like Lord of the Rings. 

Grant and I just gradually filled in more details, like, making the guys in the ad form a ridiculously complicated visual of a digestive system, gags like getting stuck on the fence. I nicked the idea of their costumes because I loved the band The Polyphonic Spree. Plus they looked a little like the people in Qantas ads.

A couple of days later we went into a board room with the client and presented it, acting it out running round the room. And I’d made a rough music track showing how the words would work over the music. To our surprise the client loved it and said they’d try and find the extra money.

Then we got a great film director called Paul Middleditch to come in and he added even more detail and got great people to help make it like the late great Andrew Lesnie, the cinematographer on Lord of the Rings.

Were you aware of the sheer size and cost of the advert prior to writing it?

We knew it would be way over budget. Again, if the client didn’t LOVE it it would not have happened. This kind of thing hardly ever happens because companies are under a lot of pressure to survive and most marketers are risk adverse.

Did working with an alcoholic brand change your approach to the work?

Well there are lots of rules when you do an alcohol ad, none of which particularly get in the way of that concept. But, for example, it’s why you only see the beer  right at the very end. You wouldn’t be allowed for example, to show people drink alcohol and then do all that stuff. In fact they don’t even drink in the ad.

Did you feel pressure working for arguably the biggest Australian beer?

Yeah, definitely. But actually the real pressure happened after we wrote it. The follow up was tense for Grant and me. I mean everyone was lovely to us.  But when something is a commercial success, when the CEO of the company stands up in front of an MCG crowd and presents it at the grand final, a lot more people in suits start to pay attention.

Usually in any commercial / creative endeavour like a film or an ad, business people’s answer, when something works, is to do exactly the same thing again. You’ve probably noticed that when you went to see Hangover 2 or Kindergarten Cop 7. I knew that was not the answer. No one laughs at the same joke twice,

So when we did the next one I was determined to not have hundreds of guys running round being stupid. Instead we had one guy being stupid. (See ‘Flashbeer’ below). I wanted to capture the same spirit but not the same idea. I was involved for the next 10 years with those ads.

Were you a Carlton Draught man before doing the advert? You can pretend if you wish!

Yeah sure. I’m Victorian.

The words really seemed to capture that irreverent and self-deprecating side of Aussie humour – was this something you were conscious of?

Yeah, I mean, we were just going for what we thought was funny. With comedy, that’s all you can do really.

The Big Ad was one of the first true viral sensations – what was it like watching the success of your advert unfold like that?

It was really exciting. It was literally just before Youtube took off in 2005. It was launched on another platform which doesn’t even exist anymore. Which is why, if you look, the YouTube hits aren’t super high.

The weird thing is, about five years ago, it went through the roof again and I could figure out why – I think maybe a whole lot of people in the USA noticed it for the first time.

In 2011, The One Club voted the advert the best beer commercial of the last 15 years – be honest, it must have felt good to beat out Budweiser’s Wassup?

I love that ad. I don’t really think we beat it. But if someone thinks we beat it that’s awesome.

Does working in advertisements ruin or enhance your TV watching enjoyment?

I hate most ads like regular people. They’re annoying and they talk down to people. That’s exactly what I try and avoid. My ads are probably a bit like ads that someone who doesn’t like ads would write. These days I hardly see anything I like but I love it when something really clever or left-field or funny pops up. People say they hate advertising but they tend to love the great ones.

Where in Australia are you from and based? What are you doing in your career now?

I was born in Melbourne. These days I work as a Creative Director at an agency called The Monkeys. They’re in Sydney and Melbourne. They do ads you would know like the Beef ads. I don’t get to write as many ads these days, more help other younger people.

The latest funny thing we did was the ads for Super Cheap Auto at Bathurst with a guy freaking out at a press conference. They’re not a million miles from a Carlton Draught ad.

Revisit the iconic Carlton Draught Big Ad:

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