Uber Eats’ Australian Open advertisements: harmfully deceptive or creatively ingenious?

Global sporting events are notorious for attracting big-budget, innovative marketing campaigns. It’s a huge opportunity for advertisers, with millions of consumers glued to their screens. Get it right and your campaign could live long in the memory, miss the mark and you could be subject to public ignominy: Uber Eats was unquestionably the former with its innovative tv advertisements at this and last year’s Australian Open.

The Super Bowl is perhaps the most iconic arena for brands to flex their creative muscles – Fox Sports (US), charged USD$5.6 million for 30 seconds of ad time at this year’s exhibition of US sporting pride. In the age of streaming, where traditional advertising is in decline, major sporting events seem to exist as the exception to the downward trajectory.

Although it doesn’t have the same reach as the Super Bowl, the Australian Open is arguably the showpiece event of the Australian sporting calendar, certainly in a global context, offering brands a TV audience of around 2 million for the big clashes. Super Bowl ads are a spectacle in their own right – a significant part of the event, they deliberately draw attention to themselves as ads and exist as almost short branded films. Contrastingly, Uber Eats’ Australian Open ads, introduced first in 2019, were masterful in their disguise. They were executed with such proficiency that viewers only realise they’re not watching real match footage until an Uber Eats takeaway bag is introduced into the picture.

Audiences were treated to footage of Magda from Cath and Kim living her dream of being a ball girl, Nadal receiving a “dinner violation” and the Kygrios finally showing an umpire respect (although the umpire was revealed to be some kind of Kygrios clone). One ad deployed archive footage of the boisterous Jon McEnroe, a clever play to the powerful force that is sporting nostalgia.

The ads catch viewers in a state of susceptibility; glued to the tennis, it’s a lot easier to order Uber Eats than cook a meal.

Consumers are becoming increasingly adept at avoiding advertising. They try to filter out information that doesn’t interest them, Uber Eats circumvented this tendency with craft and guile.

The tactic wasn’t entirely met with open arms; complaints were made to the Ad Standards watchdog related to section 2/7 of the industry code, which requires advertising to be “clearly distinguishable”.

“Same tennis stars in the same clothing as during the game in the same venue as the game,” one complaint said. “When it turned out to be an advertisement that was very annoying, each time.”

The panel’s response concluded that although it “may not be immediately clear within the first few seconds” that it was an ad, the use of “logos, disclaimers and wording after this time” made it clear to most viewers.

It also cited the importance of a space for “parody and satire in advertising”. Fans of Wayne’s World will probably agree.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjB6r-HDDI0

In both cases, the humour and novelty associated with the content is designed to prevent it from feeling distasteful. Because seeing Kyrgios receiving shoulder treatment on an injury timeout, only for the doctor to reveal herself to be Lee Lin Chin, is comical in its disguise. So is seeing Garth head to toe in Reebok.

The marketing landscape can be cluttered and overwhelming, indeed, there are suggestions  consumers are exposed to over 4000 ads per day. Of course, regulations are there for a reason, and must be followed, but brands trying to push boundaries should be welcomed. How Uber Eats freshens things up in next year’s Australian Open should be fascinating.