A ‘Whopper’ of an opportunity

Saturday 16 January 2021 | Written by Emmanuel Samoglou | Published in Features, Weekend


A ‘Whopper’ of an opportunity
Ina Nooroa, one of the local stars in the recent Hungry Jack’s ad campaign, in production mode. (PHOTO: CREATOR’S HYPE) 21011520

In the midst of a pandemic, local tour guides and creatives found themselves working together to help create an ad campaign for one of Oceania’s most recognisable brands.

With the pandemic raging throughout the world, there’s still no tourists in the Cook Islands. Yet a group of local tour guides found themselves unexpectedly busy recently.

But instead of explaining the splendours of Rarotonga’s landscapes and showcasing the beauty of the lagoon, they were giving their online audiences a ‘tour’ of a tasty-looking burger.

It was an unlikely match when the tourism specialists were recruited to assist in marketing a product for one of the region’s most recognisable fast food brands, but for the advertising campaign’s video director, the two complemented each other like hot chips and ketchup.

When Australia’s Hungry Jack’s teamed up with Uber Eats to promote the return of the fast food chain’s Tropical Whopper – a double cheeseburger with double bacon and two slices of pineapple – it was a twist of fate that a well-known figure in Cook Islands media production circles was already involved in the project.

Australian director Dylan Harrison had been involved in some major ad campaigns throughout his career. Locally, he played a leading role in the production of the much loved ‘Katu Kanga’ video series for Cook Islands Tourism.

Director Dylan Harrison and wife Louise Paiti. (PHOTO: DYLAN HARRISON). 21011521

Those campaigns were done by well-known Australian advertising agencies. Having their ears, Harrison was able to offer some creative input into the Tropical Whopper campaign.

“Whenever it comes up in conversation with Australian creative directors, they just love the warmth and charm of our local people, not to mention the natural beauty of our little paradise,” he says.

“When the Sydney-based advertising agency Special Group developed concepts to promote the Tropical Whopper from Hungry Jack’s with their client Uber Eats, they hit upon the refreshing idea of using tropical tour guides to showcase the burger, given they’re currently bereft of customers due to the ongoing Covid lockdown.

“Given they knew of our experience in both markets, we were the first people they called to turn the idea into reality.”

The agency’s original plan was to use tour guides from across the Pacific, said Harrison.

But his partner is a Cook Islander, and he’s been able to call the Cook Islands home for prolonged stretches of time. He had a suggestion.

“… my response was that they’d find all the great talent and spectacular tropical locations they would need, right here in Rarotonga,” he says.

Not just that, Harrison told the executives at the ad agency that Rarotonga had the production expertise needed to turn around the project with the right results.

It has been slow moving for the local tourism industry of late, with borders shut for the better part of 2020 and any prospect for a travel bubble with New Zealand is still months away.

When local guide Josh Utanga received a phone call asking if he’d be interested in participating in an international ad campaign, he had a mild dilemma.

“As a vegetarian, it was purely a financial decision,” he says with a laugh. “But I knew about Hungry Jack’s, and I’ve eaten a few whoppers in my time.”

Utanga says he had never been in front of a camera, but having competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, representing Cook Islands, he was up for the challenge. And having spent day-after-day in front of tourists showing them the splendours of Rarotonga’s lagoon through his business Snorkel Cook Islands, he was primed for the role.

After getting briefed on the details of the ad campaign – which was to be a series of short videos with each local personality describing in detail, and with a little humour, the features of Hungry Jack’s Tropical Whopper – he was given a script to prepare.

On the day of the shoot though, he still had some jitters. “We stopped at the golf club and had a few brews of liquid courage first.”

And with that, he set off to the beach at Blackrock to make his showbiz debut.

“100 per cent, being in front of tourists helps you build your confidence. It’s what I do, and I love having my back against the wall and having a little challenge. I like the sense of being uncomfortable.”

Work has been re-defined for many in the age of Covid-19, particularly for those working in media production.

Creatives working in remote locations such as the Cook Islands deal with their own unique set of challenges: finding the right gear, uploading massive files through painfully slow internet, and the fear of dropping an expensive DSLR in a salty lagoon.

With their storyboards drawn out, Harrison needed a production team to bring their idea to reality. Covid-19 border restrictions meant they had a short list of companies to work with: they’d have to go local.

Raro-based marketing agency Creator’s Hype ended up getting the call. Led by chief executive Jaiah Arai, a production team was assembled including photographer Tabby Berg and videographer Ben Raela.

“I had worked with (Harrison) on some other projects, and when he told me it was for Hungry Jack’s, I was like ‘damn, alright’,” says Arai.

Over the following weeks, Arai and his team carried out shoots with a number of local personalities including Charlotte Piho, Ina Nooroa, Kura Happ, Steven ‘Captain Moko’ Kavana, and Charlee McLean.

“It was great, we’ve worked with some of them before, so it’s just another day in paradise for us,” he says.

“But it’s for a more high-profile client. That’s the only difference. The energy and vibe is the same. There’s a reason why they’ve chosen these people, they have an outgoing personality and bring something special to the shoot.”

“I give thanks to Dylan for creating that opportunity to work with local creatives here in the Cook Islands.”

With the arduous task of uploading video content and production completed, the videos were released this week on social media, including paid promotions on Instagram and Facebook. On YouTube alone, three of the videos – featuring Utanga, Nooroa, and Happ – have generated over 87,000 views.

“Fortunately, from living in both Rarotonga and Australia, all of the tour guides featured are not only good friends of ours, but we knew they’d be great on camera,” Harrison says. “Like all Cook Islanders with a bit of a cheeky personality, as soon as a camera comes out, they can turn it on and really shine.”

And what started out as a campaign to promote the Tropical Whopper, Harrison says it has now morphed into an Australia-wide campaign promoting the Cook Islands.

“All the talent and crew involved should be very proud of representing their country,” he says.

“The client has even gone on record saying that they were so taken by the warmth and charm of our local tour guides and locations, that they can’t wait to come visit once planes start flying again and tourism is allowed.”

Local guide and musician Kura Happ, starring in the recent ad campaign for Hungry Jack’s. 21011524

For Kura Happ, last year was tough with no tourists to take on her reef walks, but she says she’s always maintained there was something to gain from the downtime. “I’m still enjoying life and still on that vibe, but I still need to make some money.”

“It was easy to film because we had scripts to rehearse from,” she says. “We didn’t have to memorise it word for word, just be relaxed … you know, it’s islands vibes.

“It would be great to see some of these people when the bubble opens up and hear them say, ‘You’re that girl from the Hungry Jack’s video’.”