The Making of the National Commercial

ABBA in "Benny & Frida's apartment"

In the northern summer of 1976, an Australian film crew travelled to Sweden to film commercials featuring ABBA for the Japanese electronics manufacturer National, the brand name for Matsushita Electric Company (Australia) Pty Ltd. The commercials were devised and created by the advertising firm of George Patterson Pty Ltd and public relations consultants William Love & Co. ABBA received a reported 1 million (Australian) dollars, which was used to offset the costs of their concert tour the following March.

Prior to the arrival of the film crew, ABBA had recorded new lyrics to their hit song ‘Fernando’, which extolled the virtues of the National brand and incorporated their slogan "(just) slightly ahead of our time". The lyrics were probably written by staff from the advertising agency.

Filming of the commercials took place in Stockholm over several days, at both indoor and outdoor locations.

Frida riding a bike Agnetha riding a bike

Firstly indoor scenes were filmed in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel. ABBA were filmed miming to the new version of ‘Fernando’, wearing their famous "cat dresses" and also their "kimono" costumes.

Further indoor scenes were filmed, in what was reported at the time to be Benny and Frida’s Stockholm apartment. ABBA are seen using various National products, such as toasters, vacuum cleaners (a funny scene of Frida lifting her feet so that Benny can vacuum in that spot), record and cassette players, televisions, et cetera. Both couples were also filmed inside a television (so that it looked like they were on the TV) saying the catch phrase "remember this whenever you hear their name, National is just slightly ahead of our time" which was used near the end of the TV commercials.

Finally outdoor scenes were filmed in the grounds of Drottnighholm, the Swedish Royal Family’s summer palace. ABBA are seen at a lavish picnic, surrounded by National products such as portable radios and cassette players. They are also seen riding bicycles, walking down a path singing the song (Björn and Benny playing guitars), and using more National products, such as Benny and Frida chatting on two-way radios, and Agnetha playing with a battery operated toy donkey.

Agnetha with the toy donkey Bjorn playing the guitar
Frida with camera Benny listening to a radio

Still photographs were also taken at all three locations for use in publicity and printed advertisements.

The commercials were then edited back in Australia, with additional voiceovers recorded by Phil Halderman, a veteran of hundreds of Australian commercials who can still be heard to this day!

The advertising campaign was officially launched in September 1976. Such was the anticipation of the advertising campaign that in the month leading up to the launch over 20 major newspapers in all Australian states featured a series of behind-the-scenes articles on the making of the commercials. In conjunction with the campaign launch, the nationally-distributed magazine Australian Women's Weekly ran a competition to travel to Sweden to meet ABBA, which was won by a 12 year old girl from Sydney.

Advertising the National commercials

Initially five commercials were made to be shown on Australian television. These were so eagerly anticipated and so popular that newspapers featured advertisements advising when the National commercials would be on television! The commercials made their debut during the screening of the US Rock Awards on the Nine Network and associated stations in October. All five were also broadcast during the special ABBA From The Beginning at the end of October, and where shown extensively throughout the rest of 1976 and into 1977.

In addition to the television commercials, the campaign included print advertisements in newspapers and magazines, radio commercials, 24 sheet billboards, and a range of point-of-sale items such as posters, set top displays, brochures, postcards, et cetera. ABBA’s campaign was also used extensively in retailers’ only publications.

National billboard

The initial campaign won the prestigious gold award in the television Commercial category at the 4th Matsushita Overseas Advertising Contest in May 1977, beating entrants from over 40 countries.

In June 1977 three new television commercials debuted on Australian television, featuring additional footage of ABBA using National products shot during the production of the initial five commercials. This campaign focused on the products advertised, rather than the National brand, which was the focus of the initial campaign.

A new look campaign in 1978 featured National products being used by an "average family" in an all white setting, though the ABBA song was still used.

The National ABBA campaign had an enormous impact, raising the profile of the National brand in Australia.

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© 1998 by Ian Cole, Sydney Australia

The National Commercial