Slip Slop Shame: The undoing of Australia’s longest running ad campaign

Sam and Dean discuss the long-lasting and memorable Australian ad campaign, Cancer Councils “Slip Slop Slap.” They analyse the recent update to the campaign, which added two more actions, “Seek” and “Slide,” and discuss how it has affected the effectiveness of the original message. Emphasising the power of the rule of threes in branding, marketing, and the importance of simplicity and clarity in messaging, they also touch on the pressure to reinvent and the need for brand guidelines to maintain consistency.

Key Takeaways:

  • The rule of threes is powerful in branding and marketing, as three is the smallest number required to make a pattern and is easily memorable.
  • Adding more elements to a campaign can make it less effective and memorable, as it complicates the message and dilutes the core concept.
  • The urge to reinvent can be overwhelming, but maintaining consistency and simplicity in messaging is crucial for long-term success.
  • Brand guidelines and internal communication are essential to educate stakeholders about the importance of simplicity and to maintain discipline in branding efforts.


  • “The essence of the campaign was to be SunSmart, and Slip Slop Slap was code for that.” – Sam McEwin
  • “In chasing completeness, they’ve broken almost the perfect ad.” – Dean Millson
  • “Clear, simple, practical brand position. Tight, relentlessly applied codes that repeat forever.” – Mark Ritzen

[0:00:28]Introduction to the podcast and topic of discussion
[0:01:09]Slip Slop Slap campaign and its longevity
[0:03:09]Addition of “Seek and Slide” to the campaign
[0:06:14]Rule of threes and the power of simplicity
[0:08:36]Importance of alliteration in the original campaign
[0:09:42]Possible involvement of an agency in the campaign
[0:10:40]The significance of three in completing a message
[0:11:29]Mention of Ken Siegel’s book “Simplicity”
[0:11:58]Discussion about the head of the agency April worked with
[0:12:01]Conclusion of the podcast episode
0:11:55Mention of Wyden and Kennedy
0:12:05Story about Steve Jobs and messaging
0:13:43Discussion on being directionally accurate in branding
0:15:03Analysis of the effectiveness of Slip Slop Slap campaign
0:16:29Mention of the lack of TV ads for SunSmart
0:17:41Pressure to reinvent and update campaigns
0:19:22Importance of brand guidelines and discipline
0:20:06Need for awareness of when to change campaigns
0:21:41Quote from Mark Ritzen on brand position
0:23:06Hope for the revival of the Slip Slop Slap campaign


0:00:00 – (Sam McEwin): Sam.

0:00:28 – (Dean Millson): Yes.

0:00:28 – (Sam McEwin): Here we are again. Welcome to another episode of the Brand Width podcast. My name is Sam McEwen. Joining me, as always, Dean Milson. How are you, Dean?

0:00:37 – (Dean Millson): I’m very well today, mates. How are you?

0:00:39 – (Sam McEwin): I’m doing very well, thank.

0:00:40 – (Dean Millson): Good, good.

0:00:41 – (Sam McEwin): So, for those just joining us, this is a podcast about branding and marketing with a bit of a small business bent, as we like to say. And each week, or each month, rather, one of us comes to the studio with a video with a topic and.

0:01:05 – (Dean Millson): The other no idea.

0:01:07 – (Sam McEwin): No idea. No idea at all. Not planned, not rehearsed.

0:01:09 – (Dean Millson): Who knows where this will go?

0:01:11 – (Sam McEwin): Anywhere. And this time it’s my turn to come with a topic. And so I wanted to talk about a brilliant aussie ad campaign, which I won’t go as far as to say it’s the best, but it’s certainly long lasting and I’m sure you remember it. The SunSmart. Slip Slap. Slap, slap.

0:01:40 – (Dean Millson): Actually, probably sing the song from the early go on.

0:01:43 – (Sam McEwin): You’ve been threatening to sing a song now for a little while.

0:01:46 – (Dean Millson): You don’t want to hear me sing.

0:01:48 – (Sam McEwin): I do, genuinely. I want to hear you sing. All right. I’ll give you bonus points if you can tell me what Slip Slop Slap stands for.

0:01:57 – (Dean Millson): Slip on sunscreen. No, sorry. Slip shit. Slip on a hat. Slop on sunscreen. No. Slap on a hat.

0:02:13 – (Sam McEwin): This is exactly what I did.

0:02:18 – (Dean Millson): In and around there. Just put the sunscreen on.

0:02:21 – (Sam McEwin): Well, that’s very good.

0:02:23 – (Dean Millson): In the end, it was just, wear sunscreen. You got to slip slop, slap, slip on a shirt. Slop on sunscreen.

0:02:28 – (Sam McEwin): Slop on Sunscreen, slap on a hat. And it did come with a great jingle. And I’m singing it in my head now as well. It’s been around in the well, my son started school last year. Yours is this year, I think.

0:02:42 – (Dean Millson): Yes, correct.

0:02:43 – (Sam McEwin): I don’t know. My son returned on the first day of school with a little red bag filled with some books and some stickers and pamphlets and brochures about different things. And one of those brochures was an update to the Slap campaign.

0:03:04 – (Dean Millson): I’ve seen this. They’ve added a couple more things.

0:03:09 – (Sam McEwin): So, well, this is it. I was flicking through the bag, debating with myself the value of providing free books to children in one of Melbourne’s richest suburbs. But that’s probably for another podcast and wondering what sort of propaganda they’d also stuck in there.

0:03:28 – (Dean Millson): Get an insight into your.

0:03:33 – (Sam McEwin): And I pulled out the brochure and it slowly emerged. Slip. Got it. Slop understood. Slap. Great. And I started thinking, oh, wow, what a campaign. It’s lasted 40 years and they’re still going strong. And then oh, hold on a minute. Seek and slide.

0:03:56 – (Dean Millson): Lip, slop, slab, seek, slide.

0:03:59 – (Sam McEwin): It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? And so, yeah, this is what I wanted to talk about today. It is undeniably one of Australia’s longest running or victoria’s? I don’t know. I think it’s probably an Australian national campaign. I think it’s australian Cancer Council, I think, is behind it. So one of Australia’s longest running campaigns. Absolutely brilliant in the fact know, while we couldn’t exactly.

0:04:25 – (Sam McEwin): I got my slips and my slaps mixed up as well, when I was trying to remember it. But the essence of that campaign was still there. We can sing the jingle. It had a great jingle. It had a great character whose name was Sid. Yeah. I think it was a pelican, perhaps.

0:04:42 – (Dean Millson): Of course, had to start with an S. Yep.

0:04:45 – (Sam McEwin): Sid slip. Slap. Slap. And it was really brilliant. But I really did feel this pang of disaster that they’d gone to. Seek and slide. Seek is shade, really. And slide is slide on shade. Sunglasses just reeks of.

0:05:12 – (Dean Millson): Design by committee and just with just no understanding of no understanding of how adding something to that isn’t going to help it. It’s almost like it’s a separate campaign.

0:05:33 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah.

0:05:35 – (Dean Millson): Wow.

0:05:38 – (Sam McEwin): My first thought was exactly. This is what happens. It’s obviously government. Or is it government? Australian cancer. Cancers. I think they are government owned, if not a similar sort of organization. Absolutely. Designed by committee. And technically it’s more accurate. Might not be the word, but it’s more complete, isn’t it? It’s sort of like, okay, yeah, cool. There’s also we’ve incorporated shade and we’ve incorporated sunscreen, sunglasses.

0:06:06 – (Sam McEwin): In all of that, we are now protected from the sun. We filled all the gaps.

0:06:12 – (Dean Millson): Rationally. Correct.

0:06:13 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah, rationally.

0:06:14 – (Dean Millson): Correct.

0:06:14 – (Sam McEwin): Rationally. But the main message, which, as you said, it doesn’t matter that I can’t remember whether it’s slip or Slap or what’s the shirt or the sunscreen, the message was be SunSmart. Think about being SunSmart. And it was brilliant in getting that across. With slip slop slap. It doesn’t matter what they mean. It’s code for be SunSmart. And I would argue that sunglasses and shade, have they really improved it that much?

0:06:44 – (Dean Millson): Yeah. No, they haven’t at all. And I don’t know I say this often in workshops, but I don’t know how true it is, but I’ll go with it. But you easily remember three things. Okay. Any more than that and we talk about this with kind of character brand personality lists. When people have, like, 15 words in there, like, you want three? This, this and this. If you have five different groups of people will remember different three.

0:07:18 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah. That’s important.

0:07:22 – (Dean Millson): I don’t know how truthful it is, but I think it’s real. Like slip, flop, slap. Cool. Slip, slop, slap. See, slide. Look, you probably remember Slip slop slap. I don’t know, maybe if you haven’t seen it before.

0:07:40 – (Sam McEwin): And are you sliding on shades instead of slopping on sunscreen?

0:07:43 – (Dean Millson): I don’t know. But all of a sudden, you’ve just what have you done? You’ve added two concepts. So what’s that? You’ve added 60% more to the message.

0:07:56 – (Sam McEwin): And made it that much less memorable.

0:07:58 – (Dean Millson): Yeah, correct.

0:08:01 – (Sam McEwin): And this is really broadly what I wanted to talk about is the rule of threes is a rule in so many different scenarios. And there is, I believe I read somewhere, like three is the smallest number required to make a pattern.

0:08:18 – (Dean Millson): Yes.

0:08:21 – (Sam McEwin): And there’s the three act structure of a movie triangle is the strongest structure.

0:08:32 – (Dean Millson): Song by De la Soul three is a magic number.

0:08:35 – (Sam McEwin): There you go.

0:08:36 – (Dean Millson): As well, I won’t sing that.

0:08:40 – (Sam McEwin): You’re going to have to sing for us at some point. So yeah, anyway, there is power in threes. It really isn’t. And I’ve come across similar research and whatever documentation that you have is that three is you don’t want to go more than that. You need to simplify it back to three. There’s some of the things I want to talk about and then I asked you before, the word is it alliteration.

0:09:05 – (Dean Millson): Alliteration, yeah.

0:09:06 – (Sam McEwin): The slip, slop, Slap, probably they’ve stuck to that. Well done.

0:09:11 – (Dean Millson): But even adding those two, it was a mouthful. Yeah, wasn’t really a mouthful, actually. I don’t know those three words where we’re getting really granular here, but those three words didn’t really they kind of stuck out together. You go, slip, slop, slap, it’s easy.

0:09:29 – (Sam McEwin): But slide and see, slide and they lost the SL. They had the beautiful they kept it with slide, which maybe they would have chosen a different word if they were it, but couldn’t do it with shade.

0:09:40 – (Dean Millson): Did an agency do it or did.

0:09:42 – (Sam McEwin): Like I don’t know. I’d like to know. Maybe. I mean, you could see that. You can imagine the brief we need to update it to include shader, and the committees made the decision of we must include shader or sunglasses, and some agency has probably done the best job they possibly could within that brief. But the other thing about the threes, which I don’t know whether this has been proven scientifically or whether this is one of those things, but that we understand in our brains, three is complete once we get two is open. So if you’re trying to sort of cause some unease, and they use this in novels and these kinds all the time, then leave the third finish it two, to keep people feeling like they haven’t got the closure that they are looking for.

0:10:40 – (Sam McEwin): But three, we interpret that as being complete. So that’s interesting as well. Potentially, in being more complete, they’ve caused some confusion and our brains are wrestling with this sort of weird number, whereas slip, slop, Slap just feels we’ve got the resolution that our brains are seeking, that anyone who’s done music, it’s always about resolution of chords and key structure. Our brains really respond to it. They’ve gone away from that a little bit. So, to your point, too, there’s one of my favorite stories I should have mentioned this earlier when you mentioned it, but have you read Ken Siegel’s book Simplicity?

0:11:28 – (Dean Millson): Nope.

0:11:29 – (Sam McEwin): Ken Siegel was I think he’s one of the early designers maybe working on the Apple brand. And Simplicity is a wonderful story. It’s a bit of an ode to Steve Jobs and his commitment to keeping simple, but there’s a wonderful story from that book that you might have heard elsewhere as well about the head of the agency that April worked with for years. I can’t remember his name.

0:11:55 – (Dean Millson): Wyden. Kennedy, was it? Wyden. Kennedy?

0:11:58 – (Sam McEwin): Might be. No.

0:12:00 – (Dean Millson): Giant Day.

0:12:01 – (Sam McEwin): That’s it.

0:12:02 – (Dean Millson): Giant Day. Wyden. Kenny’s Nike, Apple.

0:12:05 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah. So, yeah. Shy Day. So there’s a story in a meeting where Steve Jobs one of the rare times I think they were launching the Macintosh and it was one of the rare times that he wanted to include all these different features and benefits, this long list of benefits. And the head of that agency supposedly picked up a piece of paper, scrunched it up, ripped it out of his notebook, scrunched it up and threw it at Steve Jobs and said, Catch. And he caught it and he said, well done.

0:12:44 – (Sam McEwin): And then he proceeded to rip five sheets of paper, screw them all up into five balls, and threw them all to him. And he fumbled around and only caught a couple. And that was the point he made about messaging.

0:13:02 – (Dean Millson): Have you ever thrown no paper that quickly? But that makes sense. It’s a really good way to it’s.

0:13:09 – (Sam McEwin): A nice analogy, isn’t it? And I think that’s that point we can only take in so many messages. And the other thing that I thought of, and I think you and I had a conversation over Twitter or something about this is this statement that I’ve come across recently from Scott Adams, from, I think, Scott Adams, who is the dilbert cartoonist, he talks about being directionally accurate as opposed to actually accurate.

0:13:43 – (Sam McEwin): Is that a thing? Yeah, and I only came across it recently, and it’s really stuck with me. And I think it has application to branding and advertising and comms largely of that idea of, like, it doesn’t I mean, it has to be accurate enough. But to be directionally accurate as Slip Slop Slap was to say, be SunSmart and not to necessarily do ourselves in, tie ourselves in, not seeking this 100% accuracy is not the right word.

0:14:24 – (Dean Millson): Well, accuracy is kind of complete might be better. I know you’re saying like this. They’re probably in their heads going, right, we’re missing out on the shade and sunglasses. It would be irresponsible of us to run with this message because they’ve tried to make it more accurate, and it’s become harder to understand.

0:14:48 – (Sam McEwin): And I think to me, that is, as marketers, it’s about understanding the simple truth of your message. And what is that simple truth that we’re trying to deliver? And I think that’s what broke in, that the simple truth was be SunSmart.

0:15:03 – (Dean Millson): Yeah.

0:15:05 – (Sam McEwin): And Slip Slop Slap, whether it was complete or 100% accurate, was directionally accurate to send us towards that path. And in chasing Completeness, they’ve broken almost the perfect ad. It had the alliteration, it had the rule of three, it had a character which there’s data that’s out there that.

0:15:27 – (Dean Millson): Shows animals and characters being memorable.

0:15:30 – (Sam McEwin): I think one of the most, I think actually scores as one of the highest. Higher than having a celebrity in your ad and all these things. Having a character attached to your ad meerkat? Yeah. Improves your effectiveness. So it had the jingle. We need to bring back the jingle. That’s proven. I can still tell you exactly what the phone number for Pizza Hut is.

0:15:54 – (Dean Millson): Blows my mind.

0:15:55 – (Sam McEwin): Blows my mind, all of these things. So it was almost the perfect ad campaign. And in their quest for completeness, they’ve broken it. Yeah.

0:16:08 – (Dean Millson): Good pickup. I remember reading it and just kind of rolling my eyes and flicking that paper in the bin. So I’m glad you brought it up because as soon as you mentioned it, I remember but they’re not running TV. No, it’s just kind of more of a pamphlet, isn’t it?

0:16:29 – (Sam McEwin): Well, I did go to their website and they have expanded. There’s lots of content, there’s videos which could easily be TV ads and there’s literature about all these things. It’s a tremendous feat to be around for 40 years. It’s still going strong in many ways, it’s supported. Yeah. It doesn’t seem to have the big TV ad budget that it once had, maybe is because it’s been so successful and it’s not too late to change it.

0:17:05 – (Sam McEwin): The other thing that speaks to, and this is common, I guess, if we’re brand managers or owners of our brands, of our company’s brands in one form or another I think one of the learnings to not end up like this campaign is to be sort of I think that the urge to reinvent is really overwhelming. We all want to put our mark on a new brand. We’ve talked about it before, haven’t we? If you haven’t heard it, there’s another one of our podcasts on Rebranding.

0:17:41 – (Sam McEwin): That urge to rebrand is so powerful.

0:17:44 – (Dean Millson): And people working on things every day understandably because of human nature, feel because we all feel like what we turn our attention to is the most important thing. I don’t know what that behavior bias is, but it’s got a name. If I’m working every day with this campaign, it needs to an update because people are bored of it now except this is the classic kind of marketers not forgetting that they’re not the audience just because you work on it every day. I might only see it once a year.

0:18:23 – (Dean Millson): Just very infrequently. So just continuing to prop up that memory structure is great. But that happens all the time, doesn’t it? It happens all the time, whereas yeah, I’d love to know the brief like it should be this campaign is really good, let’s run with it. Or let’s maybe rerecord it for 2022, whatever it is. Update it, but we don’t need to add those things.

0:18:53 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah, it goes the last episode we talked about brand guidelines. It’s probably to that I don’t know if that’s maybe you can tell me is an extension of the brand guidelines. We talk a lot about distinctive assets as the word of word du jour at this time and all these kinds of things is having that document down. And this is the non negotiables that cannot be changed. It should be slip, slop, slap forever.

0:19:22 – (Sam McEwin): But yeah, here’s what can be updated and those kinds of things, but probably enforce, I do not envy, like, marketing managers and heads of client side marketing departments. The pressure to reinvent comes at all angles. It’s also a justification of your job to some degree, I guess.

0:19:50 – (Dean Millson): We’Ll lose it. Yeah.

0:19:51 – (Sam McEwin): Are you seen as simply lazy if you’ve been running the same ads for 40 years? I mean, 40 years is a long time. To run a similar ad for three years, I think would probably turn a few heads of less.

0:20:06 – (Dean Millson): Three months. Sam not getting the leads.

0:20:09 – (Sam McEwin): Kill it. I was a client side mean. We rolled out a new campaign every three months. That was our campaign cycle. And yeah, we updated our brand should I admit this on air? We updated our brand probably every two years. I think we did a complete brand refresh. And some of them were subtle, but others were far too far. So yeah, I see those pressures all the time. Maybe, I think a document like guidelines or at least internal communications of saying, this is who we are and these are the unchangeable and educating the CEOs and whoever else puts pressure on marketing departments within your organization to keep it simple and then have tremendous discipline, ridiculous amounts of discipline, I think to stick with something over and over again.

0:21:06 – (Sam McEwin): I don’t know. And then no awareness. To know when you leave it when you can. Yeah, I think that’s mostly what I wanted to talk about. I can leave us, though, with a quote from Mark Ritten.

0:21:23 – (Dean Millson): Is that ding? I didn’t mention Mark in the last podcast.

0:21:30 – (Sam McEwin): It’s a very short one, but eloquent. And we haven’t, as always, we’ve gone at least three episodes without mention anymore. True.

0:21:40 – (Dean Millson): That’s right.

0:21:41 – (Sam McEwin): So this is what Mark Ritzen would say. He says, clear, simple, practical brand position. Tight, relentlessly applied codes that repeat forever without any fucking about or franchises.

0:22:00 – (Dean Millson): Yeah. It’s an easy job with an idea like that. Really?

0:22:06 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah.

0:22:08 – (Dean Millson): It is fascinating. You’re on a winner, I assume. I don’t know. Well, did they have some data that showed the message was slipping? Yeah, or slopping or slapping. They had to seek a new direction and slide across the table. I might have just made the campaign more memorable.

0:22:29 – (Sam McEwin): I think. You did.

0:22:30 – (Dean Millson): Yeah. Who knows?

0:22:32 – (Sam McEwin): Yeah, look mind boggled. Maybe so, but yeah, I think that’s it. Print that out on your wall. I don’t think I did it justice, but clear, simple, practical brand position. Tight, relentlessly applied codes and repeat forever. No messing around. No messing around. I’ve just ruined our explicit or PG rating podcast. Anyway, that’s my message today, so rip. A wonderful brand execution. I hope they’re revived.

0:23:06 – (Sam McEwin): I hope that someone with the power to change that brings it back. It’s a wonderful, wonderful brand and a small and very understandable mistake that has maybe undone the many other things that they’ve got right. And hopefully they bring it back. And I’ll keep an eye out for whatever government packages arrive at our doorstep, by the way, of my son or daughter, when she the gate.

0:23:37 – (Dean Millson): The gatekeeper. I’m going to go put some sunscreen on myself because it’s a lovely day outside.

0:23:42 – (Sam McEwin): Maybe a hat.

0:23:43 – (Dean Millson): Maybe a hat. Yeah, I’ve got a new hat, too.

0:23:45 – (Sam McEwin): Excellent. All right.

0:23:47 – (Dean Millson): Thanks, Sam.

0:23:48 – (Sam McEwin): Join us next time. See you. Bye.

Leave a Reply