Alan Stuart Morris

In This Section
Library Search ×
Login Join

Introduction

Alan Stuart Morris 1942-2007

Co-founder Mojo advertising agency

Alan Morris was the co-founder of the widely-known Australian advertising agency Mojo. In partnership with fellow copywriter Allan Johnston, Morris took to new heights the approach of selling Australian products by celebrating Australian stereotypes. Throughout the 1980s the partnership enjoyed considerable success - Mojo advertising campaigns not only reflected the Australian vernacular, but also contributed to it in an enduring way, via pithy slogans well-paired with memorable tunes which then caught on as ‘household sayings’, including C’mon, Aussie, C’mon for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket).

Alan Morris (foreground) and Allan Johnston of Mojo Advertising agency, photographed in 1989 by Leo Thomas for the Sydney Morning Herald.

Alan Stuart Morris

Plaque location

120 1/2 Underwood Street, Paddington

Open MapClose Map


Walking directions to this plaque

View all plaques in Paddington

Plaque unveiling

Alan Stuart Morris plaque unveiling
Plaque Unveiling for Alan Morris, co-founder of Mojo - L-R Cllr Harriet Price, Cllr Anthony Marano, Allan Johnston, Cllr Susan Wynne, Mayor of Woollahra, Asher Morris, Don Morris, Erin Free (plaque nominator) and Cllr Peter Cavanagh with the newly unveiled plaque.

Alan Stuart Morris plaque

A plaque commemorating Alan Morris was unveiled on 24 February 2021.

The plaque is located on the footpath near 120 1/2 Underwood Street Paddington, site of the Mojo advertising agency from 1981-85.

Watch the plaque unveiling video

Read Allan Johnston's speech

History

Alan Stuart Morris 1942 - 1 April 2007

Co-founder Mojo advertising agency

Alan (‘Mo’) Morris was one-half of a creative partnership which produced innovative and memorable advertising campaigns of the 1970s and 1980s – work which exceeded its original commercial purpose to become a part of the culture it celebrated. Together with Allan (‘Jo’) Johnston, Morris pioneered commercials that spoke in the Australian vernacular and embraced the larrikin spirit. The Morris/Johnston agency Mojo was one of Australia’s most successful, its solid foundations embedded in the strength of their creative work.

Jo and Mo

Allan Johnston (left) and Alan Morris (right). Image courtesy of Allan Johnston

Family Background and Early Life

Alan Morris was born in wartime Melbourne, the second child and eldest son of Carl Doble Morris and his wife Viola Frances Morris (née Johnson). In March 1942, some four months before Alan’s birth on 27 July, his father had enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force, rising to the rank of Captain by the end of his military service.i However, it was Carl Morris’s civilian employment which proved the vocational forerunner in the lives of his two sons, Alan Stuart and Donald Malcolm Morris.

Beginning his working life in clerical duties, Carl Morris was employed by 1942 as a copywriter,’ii and listed his occupation as ‘advertiser’ on war service records.iii Following the war, Carl Morris was one of a group of former servicemen who founded a new Melbourne-based advertising agency, United Serviceman’s Publicity – known simply as ‘USP’ in the industry, prior to various mergers.iv

Carl Morris had been born in Randwick,v and grown up in the eastern suburbs of Sydney,vi but relocated to Melbourne with his marriage to Viola in 1935.vii Carl and Viola and their first child – a daughter, Gail Margaret - were living in Ludstone Street Hampton when Alan was born, but the family settled in Comer Street, East Brighton after the war.viii This became the family’s long-term home, where the three Morris children - Gail, Alan and Don - would spend their childhoods.

Speaking with journalist and author Anne Coombs in 1988, Alan’s younger brother Don described the family life which shaped the two brothers:

We were a very ordinary Melbourne family; happy, secure, a very comfortable home life – all that. It was a very informal family. Dad always preferred to talk to the garbage man than to the toffs of the business world. He was, is, a man with the common touch. I suppose that’s where Alan and I get it from. We used to go on holidays to Torquay, fishing, camping. I suppose we were the clichéd happy Aussie family.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb. Heinemann, 1990 pp. 213-214)

The advertisements which Alan Morris would co-create through his firm Mojo were grounded in this world of middle Australia, the qualities of which were held up as a source of happiness and satisfaction and a matter of celebration - a product of Alan’s own life experience and world view.

Alan Morris Piano

Alan Morris (standing) and Allan Johnston (seated at the piano). Photographed in 1979 at 191 Glenmore Road, Paddington by David Bartho for The National Times.

Education

Alan Morris attended Haileybury College Brighton and Brighton High School, before finishing his formal education at the age of 15,ix leaving school to earn a living and to travel. With no training, his first job was in retail, selling spear guns.x Abandoning his schooling and shunning the opportunity of university study were matters which later played on Alan’s mind, when feelings of insecurity or regret intermittently surfaced.xi However, the course Alan Morris embarked upon at this early age led quickly to his first job in copywriting, steering him into a career which would reward him on many levels. Not the least of the rewards was the opportunity to engage in a process that was for him, compelling, absorbing and exhilarating.

Personal life

Following a formative period of youthful travel, gaining early experience in copywriting in North America, Morris returned to Australia and made Sydney his base. His parents had moved to the Sydney suburb of Cammeray in 1963,xii and his brother Don, having soon after completed studies at Melbourne and Monash Universities, would eventually gravitate towards the world of advertising and the city of Sydney. This allowed Don and Alan’s careers to intersect in the 1980s in the exceptionally successful Paddington-based advertising agency Mojo, which evolved from a copywriting consultancy of the same name, co-founded by Alan in the 1970s.

Alan Morris married Judith Anne L'Armand in 1966,xiii and the two made their family home in the suburb of Woollahra, living firstly in Spicer Street and later in John Street.xiv Judy Morris, as she is still known, is a successful Australian actor and screen writer, and the mother of Alan’s only daughter, Mikhalia. After their divorce, Alan remarried and with Lissa Louise Morris became the father of two sons, Ronnie and Asher. Family was especially important to him. Asked at the end of 1987 – a roller-coaster year for his family,xv for his business and for the world economy - what he would do when there were no commercial or creative challenges left, Morris replied ‘Do there have to be challenges? …I enjoy my kids. That’s enough.’xvi

Some eighteen years later, Morris received a diagnosis of cancer which would eventually claim his life on 1 April 2007. He continued to work and live life fully for as long as possible, exceeding his physician’s expectations. Don Morris commented, “He had 16 months when he was only given three … plenty of time to bury his demons, make his peace and say goodbye."xvii

His parents having both predeceased him, Alan was survived by Lissa and his three children, his brother Don and sister Gail. Obituary writers in 2007 consistently featured one other name as central to Alan Morris’s life. This was Alan’s creative and business partner Allan Johnston who, while not family, was certainly as close to him as any family member – the ‘Jo’ to Alan Morris’s ‘Mo.’

Early career

Alan Morris gained his initial experience in copywriting, not in his father’s Melbourne firm, but in Canada, funding his travels in North America on his first expedition away from home. Whether he had ever foreseen himself pursuing a career in the same industry as his father is unknown, but it is unsurprising that he sought out a working environment familiar to him from his family life. More significant to his personal story is that in doing so, he discovered he had a natural aptitude and liking for the work.

Returning to Australia, Alan Morris worked at the Sydney firm of Rogers Holland and Everingham. It has been said that he quickly established a reputation among his advertising peers and clients for his ability to write ‘sharp catchy copy,’xviii which eventually earned him the Creative Directorship at Mullins Clarke & Ralph, and a shareholding in the firm.

The material rewards of this success were unquestionable, but a necessary sense of fulfilment apparently remained elusive. Revisiting those days some thirty-five years later in 2006, in an interview with Gawen Rudderxix of the Advertising Foundation of Australia, Morris commented,

I became very comfortable and had a red Triumph TR4 and quadraphonic sound in my Range Rover. Christ, I was up myself. I had a pretty wife and a beautiful home in Paddington and thought: “Where the [expletive deleted] is this going mate?”

(Rudder, Gawen, “Mojo working”

Adnews 30 June 2006)

The short-term answer to Morris’s hanging question appears to have been that he was headed towards a period of diminished financial circumstances offset by new freedoms: short term contracts and freelance work, and long afternoons in Paddington and Woollahra pubs, where Morris met other ‘creatives’ at similar moments in their own careers.

A bar-side meeting with another freelancing copywriter, Allan Johnston, would change the course of both men’s careers. Over a series of conversations at the Park Inn, they discovered they shared a resolve to never again be employed by a large agency, and the ambition to secure sufficient autonomy over their working lives to be able to place the emphasis on the creative element of the advertising process. Out of this recognition would eventually come an obvious answer - to set up a two-man consultancy, writing copy to order for agency briefs.

Park Inn

The Park Inn, Woollahra, where Morris and Johnston mapped out their future partnership. Photographed 1982, Woollahra Libraries Digital Archive.

The Birth of Mojo - creative consultancy c1975 - 1979

The consultancy name Mojo – later the name of the Morris/Johnston advertising agency – was born from the irresistible compilation of the first syllables of Morris and Johnston’s surnames, and they adopted the nicknames ‘Mo’ and ‘Jo’ to overcome the awkwardness of a shared first name in an office of two. Collectively, the two were known as ‘The Boys,’ by their clients and later by their staff.

Morris and Johnston had begun their collaboration cautiously, working independently, but sharing the cost of a dedicated workspace to cancel Morris’s need to ‘drive around the block to pretend I was going to work'.xx The partners leased office space in Burton Street, Darlinghurst for $50.00 per week.xxi They shared a second-hand Mini-Moke for economy, and would joke in future years that a job for Peter Carey of advertising agency Grey’s, was done in return for two cast-off desks, to fit out the office.xxii

Closer to truth, the pair had industry contacts and their individual abilities were sufficiently well-known for commissions to flow their way, increasing as the strength of their combined talent was recognised. Morris and Johnston pooled their shared capacity for snappy lyrics and clever rhymes with Johnston’s talent for writing music - which was not only a vehicle for the words, but an integral part of the message. Some of the best known work of their collaborative output dates from the days of the copywriting consultancy:

  • You oughta be congratulated (product: Meadow-Lea margarine)
  • I feel like a Tooheys (product: Tooheys draught beer)
  • C’mon, Aussie, C’mon (product: Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket).

All of these campaigns translated into promotional success for the products featured and are well-remembered, more-or-less verbatim, by Australian television viewers of the era.

This period cemented the winning formula for the Mojo brand. The obvious ingredients were the ‘singable jingles’ with snappy, memorable lyrics, unselfconscious nationalism and a pervasive humour drawn from the dry, quietly mocking tone of Australian television comedy of the day. Probably less obvious to the viewer – but a feature which nevertheless elicited subconscious viewer response – was the Morris/Johnston hallmark of overturning the central focus of the pitch:

The pair's heyday came in the 1970s and '80s when advertising campaigns tended to talk about the product rather than the customers. Mo and Jo turned that on its head and made the housewife, the cigarette-buyer or whomever was the target of their ads, the hero of the commercials. "We figured the people at home shopping or at the pub were more important than our clients," Morris said.

(Lee, Julian ‘Ad man and his C’mon Aussie’

Sydney Morning Herald 5 April 2007)

In line with putting the consumer at the centre, the language and style of the Mojo ads reflected the everyday world of the product user. Morris observed, ‘All the best advertising borrows from the vernacular, and we just give it a twist and put the brand name in there,’xxiii downplaying what was described by a fellow creative from a competitor as ‘an intuitive ability to get to the Australian heart – it’s uncanny’.xxiv

The famously relaxed Mojo working style was also developed in this period – a model which Mo and Jo attempted to embed as Mojo corporate culture, with varying success as the firm grew. Their early agency clients, however, appreciated and enjoyed the unorthodoxy of the Mojo office. Many were, or became friends of The Boys, and all came to recognise that the Mojo partnership could be relied upon to consistently deliver what was needed to sell the products they represented.

Among the first advertising agencies to brief the fledgling consultancy was Hertz Walpole, former employer of Allan Johnston. Principal Jim Walpole would recall this period in conversation with Anne Coombs, author of Adland – a study of the firm published in 1990 – as the high point for both the two creatives and their early clients, although it pre-dated the heady success of later years.

Jim remembers the best days as that time when Mo and Jo were working on campaigns for Hertz Walpole, and the three of them [Walpole, Mo and Jo] would work at the old round table in the office The Boys then had in Glenmore Road, Paddington.xxv These were the days of the truly great campaigns.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 22 )

191 Glenmore Rd

No. 191 Glenmore Road, Paddington, the second office occupied by Mojo. Photographed 1982, Woollahra Libraries Digital Archive.

From consultancy to agency

The transition from copywriting consultancy to advertising agency came about as Morris and Johnston realised that while they could make a comfortable living from commissioned work,xxvi there were limits to the operation which they itched to push beyond. Mo and Jo would laughingly claim the decision was sealed the day they observed that a visitor to the Mojo office, local agency head John Singleton – and someone who had counselled them against their agency plans with the authority of personal experience - had parked his Rolls Royce beside their shared Mini Moke.xxvii The reality was presumably more complex.

At the same time, Morris and Johnston entered the new arrangement with a resolve to avoid the ‘treadmill’ which both associated with large multinational agencies, to maintain creative autonomy over their work, and to avoid every aspect that each had disliked about corporate life regimentation, big office blocks, client ‘interference’ and any other obstacle to the independence they had come to value.xxviii

With the formation of the agency, Alan Morris’s brother Don was brought in as a third partner, as the necessary ‘suit’ for the organisation. Don Morris had never planned to work in advertising, but had discovered early in his working life that qualifications in Law and Economics did not translate into work which held his interest. Resigning from the last of a series of positions which had failed to engage him, he had doorknocked advertising agencies, eventually placed by Greys as a junior account executive.

Given this background, Don Morris brought to Mojo both experience in the advertising world and also the qualifications and discipline to take on the administration and management of the new agency. He also added the quality he noted as conspicuously lacking in Mo and Jo, and critical to the new agency’s success - the self-confidence required to aggressively seek out new accounts and to ‘front’ the firm when a spokesperson was necessary.xxix

Mojo Australia opened as an agency in 1979, on a public holiday (because they had overlooked the date’s gazettal) and with just three employees – Mo, Jo and Don – announcing their continuing commitment to simplicity and authenticity with the slogan: ‘Three chairs, no waiting.’

Mojo Australia – campaign style, reception and awards

The new Mojo agency benefitted from the strength of the former Mojo consultancy’s work. A number of accounts were delivered directly to the Mojo agency as a result.

The first phone call was from Tooheys and they gave us their business on day one. And Meadow Lea shortly afterwards, and Summit Restaurants. Those guys, those clients, all became good friends and as we grew, the discipline was . . . you can’t let friends down.

(Rudder, Gawen ‘Mojo working’ AdNews

30 June 2006 )

New clients – such as the Australian Tourism Commission, introduced to the agency by Don Morris – increased Mojo's exposure and reach into the industry. Other government contracts followed, the agency successfully bidding in 1986 with Melbourne firm Monahan Dayman Adams (MDA) for the Australian Bicentennial Authority’s promotional campaign.

Of the commercial accounts, the takeover of many brewing companies by Alan Bond, coupled with Mojo's status as Bond Corporation's preferred agency, led to a proliferation of Mojo advertisements for a range of beers beyond Tooheys. Successful campaigns were also produced for the Australian Women’s Weekly – then the leading women’s magazine in Australia and an ‘institution’ with broad appeal. Securing this work indicated that the trust had been won of the notoriously demanding Kerry Packer of Australian Consolidated Press – presumably aided by the achievements of the earlier C’mon Aussie C’mon campaign for Packer’s cricket competition.

Jo and Mo Flag

Allan Johnston (left) and Alan Morris (right) with two of the Australian brewed beers advertised by Mojo - Toohey's draught and Castlemaine's XXXX. Image courtsey of Allan Johnston.

Morris and Johnston retained their winning formulae, although it would be wrong to imply that every advertisement made by the agency was cut from identical cloth. The soft-focus Amco jeans ads differed greatly to the blokey exuberance of C’mon Aussie, c’mon.

Nor did consumers uncritically accept all Mojo's productions, or clients see Morris and Johnston as the answer to all promotional challenges. In 1985, Bond Corporation turned not to Mojo, but to USP, when launching its new Swan Premium export lager, having defined its target market as ‘Young Urban Professionals’ (‘Yuppies’). The resulting ads broke new ground in using a female voice to advertise a beer, enlisting the smoothly sophisticated tones of American artist ‘Sweet’ Nancy Wilson. This sound underpinned images of an attractive young couple ‘in their expensively furnished apartment,’ as Paul Bailey described the visual content of the television ad in a ‘Good Weekend’ article, commenting, ‘No sweat and singlets here.’xxx

In a similar vein, Anne Coombs, in her 1990 book Adland, noted that, for an agency which claimed to appreciate what the average Australian wanted from their life and purchases, Mojo's failure to understand women as a market was a jarring one.xxxi Alan Morris, who had a traditional view of the role of women, would remark – with no intended irony – that Mojo's, ‘You oughta be congratulated’ series for Meadow-lea margarine offered a sincere ‘salute’ to the nation’s wives, who were, after all, women who cared for husbands like him.xxxii While the Meadow-lea advertisements were undeniably a commercial triumph when aired and the central slogan retained long-term in promotions, this perception of women could be seen as already dangerously narrow when Coombes observed it and troubling within an industry where responsiveness to shifting social attitudes is vital.

However, Mojo's extraordinary level of attainment was scarcely dented by the agency having been overlooked for the promotion of a single, niche-target beverage from the Swan label. The early to mid-1980s was a period of escalating success, capped by Mojo winning firstly, the award of (local) Agency of the Year in 1986, eclipsed only when the American journal Advertising Age (now the online Adage) named Mojo the International Agency of the Year, in August 1987. In between came the admission of Morris and Johnston to the national Advertising Hall of Fame, in July 1987 – the first individuals to be given that honour by their industry while still living. It was ‘a tremendous accolade by their peers’, as Adland authorxxxiii Anne Coombs noted.

Growth of the business from 1979 to 1985

With the level of success accumulated by the Mojo agency came the inevitable need for its expansion. By 1980, Mojo had moved to new premises,xxxiv a former Paddington factory-turned-art-gallery-turned-agency, with dual frontage to Victoria and Underwood Streets, which could physically accommodate the necessary expansion in personnel, while offering the scope to create an office unlike the typical corporate arrangements which Morris and Johnston so disliked.

Morris and Johnston similarly accepted the unavoidable need to increase human resources, while maintaining a determination to limit the impact on the firm. They worked to a recruitment principle summarised as ‘no prima donnas, no elitists and no phonies on staff.’xxxv

Despite these confines, finding employees posed no problem:

Soon, people were lining up for jobs at Mojo because they knew Mo and Jo would back the creative product and not be pressured to change it. The atmosphere of the place was different from other agencies. At Mojo, going to work was like spending the day at home with friends, with a hot lunch prepared by the agency cook, Hortense de Kretser, and drinks around the kitchen table in the evening. The Boys gave good salary and conditions, and in return they received loyalty and results: the tribe was formed.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 21 )

Jo Mo Sandra

Allan Johnston (left) and Alan Morris (right) with Sandra Wheatley (centre) - long-term secretary to 'The Boys.' Image courtesy of Allan Johnston.

Creative staff could dress as they pleased and work as they wished in a workplace which dictated few, if any, specific directions to its employees, provided the work was delivered to required standards. These standards proved, in fact, to be exacting. Journalist Anne Coombs, in a year spent observing the Mojo operation, recounted more than one episode in which staff work of seemingly high level was dismissed by The Boys, who then took over the brief.

Clients, too, deferred to the Mojo standards of excellence, in that they were not allowed to rush the creative process.

…Jo always said the big idea had a gestation of a couple of months. This was Mojo’s secret: not allowing themselves to be rushed. Mo would say: ‘The embarrassment of asking for more time lasts a minute; the embarrassment of seeing a bad ad on air can last for years.’

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 241 )

By 1985, Mojo was the third largest Australian-owned agency. Some seventy people worked from the Paddington complex, to which was added the small staff which managed each of the three branches, based in Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth, but all well-known to the Sydney office. The whole was described as one very close ‘family’ by Mojo executive Richard Whitington.xxxvi

Expansion had been managed without the loss of creative independence, and had preserved The Boys’ preferred working culture. The full-scope of that achievement is best appreciated when viewed against the subsequent history of the Mojo agency, beginning with developments which arose the following year.

Alan Morris Flag

Alan Morris (left) and Allan Johnston (right) raise the flag for Mojo's 'Naturalisation Day' - 17 October 1985. Photographed by Alan Purcell for the Sydney Morning Herald.

The merger with MDA

In mid-1986 an announcement took the local advertising industry by surprise: the merger of Mojo with the larger and longer-established Melbourne-based agency Monahan Dayman Adams (MDA). The seeds of the plan had perhaps been planted, or at least nurtured, by the two firms’ engagement in a successful joint-bid for the Commonwealth’s Australian Bicentenary contracts earlier in 1986.

The two agencies had some foundational points in common. Each took pride in their respective independence from foreign ownership and each had a nationalistic edge to their corporate thinking. Beyond that, this was an unlikely union – ‘the marriage of the Beatles with the Post Office,’ as seasoned advertising executive John Singleton is claimed to have quipped.xxxvii However, the merger was seen by both parties to have the potential to yield benefits to both – and the markets agreed. In January 1987 the share price was soaring and the newly created agency was ‘the darling of the trade press.’xxxviii

At the time of the merger, MDA had been the largest Australian-owned advertising agency, a publicly listed company since 1984, with overseas holdings and an acknowledged reputation for campaigns which impressed in government as well as commercial circles. Founded in 1964, MDA had in 1977 secured the Qantas account – then ‘the biggest account to change hands among Australian agencies for years,’ and won by the wholly local MDA from American-owned agency Leo Burnett.xxxix This had given MDA the impetus to open offices in Singapore and Hong Kong, to add to its existing offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Auckland.

The smaller Mojo was keen to expand globally and saw opportunity within the moves already made in that direction by MDA. It was also considered from both outside and within Mojo that the agency could gain from joining forces with a large, well-organised, professional company. Mojo was known for being ‘undermanaged’. There were no position descriptions or even titles, formal meetings were rarely if ever held and administrative minutiae kept to a bare minimum. The agency had a ‘flat-topped’ structure as opposed to the standard pyramid of the MDA organisation and the salary bill was weighted towards paying creative talent well, with little allowed for management and low-level administration.

‘I thought that we would supply the creativity and they would supply the management skills,’ Don Morris remarked to author Anne Coombs, who noted that ‘undermanaged’ had in fact been mistaken for ‘badly managed,’ an erroneous belief which ignored the fact that Mojo enjoyed a healthier staff-to-profit ratio than MDA.xl

But there was an additional reason to make the take-over attractive to Mojo; the smaller agency carried a debt of some $6 million, incurred when the firm had engineered the buy-back of a stake held in the company by the American firm Masius.xli Much as the reinstatement of full Australian ownership had pleased the principals of Mojo ideologically, this debt made the financially conservative Johnston and Morris uneasy and the prospect of its erasure with the MDA merger was comforting.

From MDA's perspective, Mojo was ‘hot property’ for its acknowledged creative edge. While MDA was considered staid in comparison with Mojo, the need for sound creative talent was well-understood by its founders, Brian Monahan and Lyle Dayman. Monahan clearly viewed it as the most vital resource in any advertising agency’s reserves. Interviewed ten years prior to the Mojo merger, Monahan had stated that ‘the most significant event in the history of the firm’ had been the addition of Phillip Adams to the Monahan Dayman agency team in 1967, with Adams providing,

…that missing link, the creative thing that every agency needs. He gave us added impetus into getting into some good, albeit small, national advertising.

(Haselhurst, David The Bulletin

17 Dec 1977 p. 99)

Monahan presumably hoped for a similar refreshment of MDA with the injection of talent from the Mojo creatives. However, acquiring Adams, a single new dynamic staff member who was then elevated to partnership, was not a comparable precursor to the complicated task of intermeshing two fully-formed corporations. It is unlikely that Monahan expected a neat assimilation of the Mojo staff and culture into his own, but if he did, he was to be disappointed.

What followed the re-listing of the merged firms as the new Mojo-MDA, was effectively a reverse take-over, with Mojo personnel ultimately dominating the key positions once the jockeying for place led to shuffles, resignations and earlier-than-anticipated retirements. Among the staff, the cultural mismatch was pronounced. Some adapted – others gradually found new jobs. There was overall considerable wastage.

The strength of the Mojo product was quickly demonstrated by a preference from certain MDA clients to have Johnston and Morris work on their campaigns. The $10 million Australia Post account was a case in point – handled from the Melbourne office of MDA, its future with the agency hung in the balance at the time of the merger. Australia Post’s loyalty was rekindled after a fast trip to Melbourne by Johnston and Morris, who created a winning campaign in ten daysxlii – a haste they disliked and usually refused to countenance.

In terms of corporate strategy, as with previous change, the Mojo Boys were protective of their ideas – especially when it came to overseas expansion, which had been a major impetus for Mojo's acquiescence to the take-over. MDA had favoured, and intended to continue, a program of acquiring existing overseas agencies, allowing each to function relatively unchanged, but under the Mojo-MDA umbrella. The favoured Mojo approach, however, was to plant small-time start-ups to seed the Mojo culture from the ground up, on foreign soil. The Mojo plan required less initial capital, while nurturing the Mojo vision in which its own brand of advertising flourished in agencies dotted around the globe. With hindsight, it seems unlikely that this ambition was entirely realistic and sustainable. But in the event, neither strategy was destined to be fully tested.

Forces far greater than anything one Australian company could control would factor against the plans of Mojo-MDA in the last quarter of 1987, with the October stock market crash. As the sole Australian-owned listed advertising agency, Mojo-MDA was peculiarly exposed as a company. Coupled with this, senior members of the firm suffered individual losses, which led to a re-thinking of the short and long term futures of all involved.

The acquisition of Mojo-MDA by American firm Chiat-Day was no doubt a blow to those on either side of the 1986 merger, in terms of their shared belief in Australian ownership of Australian companies and their pride in having been part of that attainment. The completion of the transfer in July 1989 saw Australia’s only publicly-owned advertising agency delisted from the stock exchange.

There is little point in considering what may have happened to Mojo in those global circumstances of 1987 had the 1986 merger been resisted. Amidst those developments, Mojo had prevailed on many of the manifold points of difference between the two firms – but valuable energy and time had been expended on ultimately futile internal disruption and debates, which not only went unresolved, but in the long run, didn’t matter.

It was not an entirely wasted period. Out of it came one of the most enduring of Morris and Johnston’s campaigns, built on MDA’s holding of the Qantas account – the advertisements based on Australian singer/song writer Peter Allen’s I still call Australia home, the lyrics re-worked by Morris and Johnston. Launched in the Bicentenary year, the campaign rewarded Mojo's hopes of a worldwide account, with an Australian version of the advertisement used across the globe to promote the national carrier.

The end of Mojo

The Mojo brand name remained for some years as part of the naming of a series of agency combinations – but the reality of the Mo and Jo influence was initially muted and finally extinguished. Alan Morris left the company in 1991, ending one of the most fruitful of local advertising’s creative partnerships.

In 1993, Foote Cone and Belding (FBC) bought out Chiat/Day Mojo, selling to True North in 1995. Morris observed of the last of these transactions, ‘True North bought a brand name, but the package is empty. The ingredients, Jo and I, have gone.’xliii

Ultimately, the name Mojo also disappeared – surviving until 2016 as Publicis Mojo, as part of the French multinational Publicis Groupe.

The local significance of Mojo

The story of Mojo is inextricably linked with the Paddington-Woollahra locale. The pub where Johnston and Morris decided to form a partnership and where the line, ‘I feel like a Tooheys’ was born, was the Park Inn on the corner of Oxford Street and Victoria Avenue and opposite Centennial Park – today known as the Centennial Hotel. Paddington’s Grand National was another favourite and conveniently located Mojo escape – or alternative working space, as the spirit of the creative team moved it.

Grand National

The Grand National, Paddington, was conveniently located near the Underwood Street office of Mojo. Photographed 1982, Woollahra Libraries Digital Archive.

The Mojo copywriting consultancy operated from two Paddington addresses before the move to the building with which the firm is most commonly associated – the intriguingly numbered 120½ Underwood Street. Morris and Johnston firstly rented at 12 Mary Place in 1975 and then moved in 1977 to the larger and more imposing end-house of a terrace of four, at 191 Glenmore Road.xliv

While many advertising agencies of the era were based in the city or North Sydney, Mojo's locale of choice, while perhaps initially determined by the home address of both Morris and Johnston and their joint desire to simplify work-life arrangements, also anchored the business to a suburb well established as a hub of creative activity. Not only was the agency’s Underwood Street headquarters housed in a former art gallery – the Bonython - but the building at 12 Mary Place where the consultancy had begun, was and is associated with a gallery,xlv art establishments being a prevalent and permanent part of Paddington’s landscape.

12 Mary Place

No. 12 Mary Place, the first Mojo premises. Photographed in 1982, Woollahra Libraries Digital Archive.

As the firm grew, however, the choice of locality became not only a statement to clients and competitors of what Mojo stood for as a business and as the producer of creative material, but also reflected the desire of the firm to be surrounded by an environment that fostered imaginative, visionary output. Writer and academic Dr Peter McNeil offers this 21st century definition of the role of the suburb as a muse to successive generations of artists:

Flexible, quirky, inventive, once boisterous, somewhat crude but often open-minded, Paddington has flourished from the 19th century to our own times as a creative haven of arts and skills. Paddington retains its allure as a place of inspiration.

(McNeil, Peter Paddington: a history/ed. Greg Young

Syd., New South/Paddington Society, 2019 p. 255 )

It is also telling that, when the merger with MDA dictated the need to house a larger team than could be accommodated at either Mojo's Paddington establishment or MDA’s Sydney branch offices, the temporary solution was to house all the ‘suits’ of the merged Sydney team at MDA’s traditionally corporate premises at North Sydney, and all the ‘creatives’ at Paddington. According to the account of the merger by author and journalist Anne Coombs, former Mojo suits struggled with the transition to North Sydney, but equally, the ‘creatives’ from MDA were challenged as they ‘felt their way’ into the ‘alien, if charming’ new environment at 120½ Underwood Street, which Coombs summarised as, ‘Mojo territory, fiercely different from the concrete and glass high rise of North Sydney’s adland.’

120.5 Underwood St

The Passageway leading to 120 1/2 Underwood Street, Mojo's final Paddington premises. Photographed 1982, Woollahra Libraries Digital Archive.

Coombs saw the Mojo establishment in Paddington as a powerful influence on the creation of the agency’s character and unlike any other workplace she had experienced.xlvi

The offices, for it was more like a cluster of offices, were approached down a long paved and very narrow drive-way with ferns and high walls on either side. The driveway opened into a large courtyard with willow trees, a fernery, a bench to sit on and space for half-a-dozen cars.

A white-painted building surrounded the courtyard, double-storey on two sides and single-storey on the other two sides. Offices on the ground floor opened into the courtyard through glass sliding doors. Upstairs, where the offices of the ‘heavies’ were, French doors opened on to the black-railed, wisteria-covered balcony that overlooked the courtyard. An old timber and iron staircase led from the courtyard up to the main door…

Just to one side of the main door was the kitchen, the hub of Mojo. It was here, around the big white bench in the centre, over a few drinks or one of Hortense’s curries, that the state of an ad, or the agency, or of the Australian cricket team, would be discussed.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 pp. 9-10 )

When the new headquarters of the merged Mojo-MDA at Cremorne was designed by architect Alex Gencur, Mojo's architect and a personal friend of The Boys, he attempted to create a building which captured some of the appeal of the previous Mojo home. The building’s necessary scale was downplayed by its tiered, low-rise configuration, and muted by its blue tinted glass, while outdoor ‘escape’ areas were incorporated for those pining the Mojo courtyard. The Cremorne site itself had been selected for a unique feature – the opportunity to preserve within the development a heritage house, Alma, for use as a separate working environment for The Boys and key personnel of the new enterprise.

These gestures did not stop the remaining Mojo team at Paddington from holding ‘wakes’ for the loss of Underwood Street in late October 1987 as the move to Cremorne approached. And in the restored Alma, the spirit of a small piece of creative Paddington was transplanted into a North Shore setting.

Mojo Cremorne

Allan Johnston (left) and Alan Morris (right) reprise their famous 'profile photo' outside the new Cremorne offices of Mojo-MDA. Image courtesy of Allan Johnston.

The legacy of Alan Morris and his work

It was noted of Alan Morris’s career that he was unquestioning in his acceptance of his sphere of work, seeing no need to be an apologist for what he did. This uncomplicated belief in the worth, let alone legitimacy of advertising - coupled with his sheer joy in writing copy and all aspects of production – was a key to the success of his output and of the firm he jointly built with Alan Johnston and his brother Don.xlvii

Anne Coombs, after a year of intermittently interviewing, socialising with and working at close proximity to Alan Morris, came to the conclusion that the man was more complex and enigmatic than generally realised.

The Morris who emerges from both Coomb’s account - and other industry commentary - was not always the embodiment of the notably easy-going persona he created for himself. As an employer, he was known for outbursts of temper, and as a creative equally known for mercurially changing direction on a campaign at the last moment, sometimes when the copy was already type-set. Even his close relationship with Johnston was not immune to periods of ill-humour and eruptions of professional jealousy, and both men were at times victims of their own perfectionism and fear of failure.

These moments, however, neither undercut nor defined the relationship enjoyed by Alan Morris and Allan Johnston, which ran much deeper than a mere working arrangement and as a result delivered much more.

Jo’s my compatriot, my partner, and probably my best friend – whether he admits it or not. It’s pretty hard to split us up. It’s impossible.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 299)

Morris also confided to Anne Coombs that Allan Johnston was the most moral person he knew – and mutual trust and respect clearly shaped and enabled what the two jointly built in Mojo.

At the end of her year’s association with Mojo, Coombs returned to the fact that the achievements of Alan Morris and Allan Johnston were bigger than both of them and that their work amounted to something far more than the advertising of products. She saw Mojo as

… one of the great success stories of Australian business. Not just in financial terms or because of the creative standard of its advertising, but because one of the driving principles of the people behind it has been the desire to give Australians pride in their achievements: to stop the cringe. In the agency’s advertising this at times verges on an unfortunate jingoism, but in the way the company operates, particularly in the international sphere, it is characterised by a refusal to cower before Britain or America.

(Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama.

Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 5 )

With Australians in general, however, neither the commercial success nor the business model of the Mojo enterprise resonated as greatly as its output – and this continues in revivals and reminiscences. Mojo slogans and jingles not only drew from common Australian usage to speak with the voice of the consumer, but also contributed to the Australian vernacular, inventing or amplifying catchphrases which came into common speech via the commercials Mojo clients aired. While very much part of the marketing strategy, the catchphrase sometimes long outlasted the product it was designed to sell, becoming an enduring part of popular speech. C’mon Aussie C’mon is one case in point.

In this sense, Morris and Johnston can be seen as falling within a tradition of Australian humourists, raconteurs and wordsmiths such as CJ Dennis, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, whose collective works furthered the emerging identity of Australia at the opposite end of the 20th century to the Mojo phenomenon. Like those ‘bards of the bush’, Alan Morris would seem destined to be best remembered, through his creative work with Johnston at Mojo, as a national voice for his time.

Sources

Published works – books, journals and major newsprint commentary

Bailey. Paul 'Sweet Nancy Wilson gives the sweat and singlet mob a nudge', The Canberra Times 8 December, 1985 p. 81

Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama. Melb. Heinemann, 1990.

Crawford, Robert, But wait, there's more ...: a history of Australian advertising, 1900 – 2000, Carlton, Victoria, Australia : Melbourne University Press, 2008

Haselhurst, David ‘Guess whose firm’s landed a jumbo,’ The bulletin, Vol. 099 No. 5088

(17 Dec 1977) pp.98-99.

Lee, Julian ‘Ad man and his C’mon Aussie’ Sydney Morning Herald 5 April 2007

Rudder, Gawen, ‘Mojo working’ Adnews 30 June 2006.

Shoebridge, Neil ‘Legendary adman kept message simple’ Australian Financial Review 3 April 2007.

Thoeming. J Peter Here’s Too’ee: the history of Tooheys. Bathurst, Crawford House [nd., 1997?]

Unpublished, electronic and manuscript sources

WMC – Building Registers and Index series

WMC – Assessment, Rate and Valuation records

NLA TROVE – miscellaneous newspaper references.

Footnotes

ii Commonwealth electoral rolls for Henty, 1936, 1942.

iv Due to buy-outs and realignments the firm was later reprised as firstly USP-Benson and then USP-Needham.

v BDM NSW Online index ref: 9726/1913

vi Commonwealth electoral rolls for Wentworth 1934; Sands Sydney Directory 1932 [final issue published]

vii Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Ref 13557/1935.

viiiAustralian Electoral Rolls for Victoria 1903-1980 (Sandringham/Henty): 1942 Carl and Viola Morris listed at 6 Ludstone Street, Sandringham; Australian Electoral Roll for Victoria 1949 (Balaclava/Brighton East) 1949 Carl and Viola Morris listed at 50 Comer Road, Brighton East.

ix Coombs, Anne Adland. Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 18; p. 215.

xi Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama. Melb., Heinemann, 1990 p. 18; p. 216

xiiAustralian, Electoral Roll for Victoria 1903-1980 (East Brighton/Balaclava): Carl, Viola and Gail Morris listed at 50 Comer Street East Brighton; Australian, Electoral Roll for New South Wales 1903-1980 (Werriwa/Cammeray): Carl, Viola and Gail Morris listed at 32 Cowdroy Street Cammeray

xiii BDM NSW online index, ref no: 10682/1966

xiv NSW Department of the Valuer general, Valuation List 1968 pp 1982 and 3362

xv Viola Morris died suddenly in June 1987 - The Age 24 June 1987 p. 26

xvi Coombs, Anne Adland: a true story of corporate drama. p. 18; p. 336

xvii Neil Shoebridge “Legendary adman kept message simple” Australian Financial Review 3 April 2007

xix The interviewer and writer was also a former Director of Network Communications for Mojo

xx Rudder, Gawen, ‘Mojo working’ Adnews 30 June 2006.

xxi This was probably No 12 Mary Place, where the Sydney Telephone Directory first records Mojo in 1976.

xxii Rudder, Gawen, ‘Mojo working’ Adnews 30 June 2006.

xxiii Lee, Julian “Doing very nicely, thanks Jan” Sydney Morning Herald 28 October, 2004

xxiv John Nankervis quoted in Coombs, Anne Adland p. 146.

xxv The reference is to 191 Glenmore road, Paddington – the consultancy’s address in the Sydney Telephone Directory from 1977 to 1979.

xxvi Billings were cited at $A14 million by academic Robert Crawford, Crawford, Robert ‘The Rise and fall of the Mojo empire’ The Conversation 2 October 2019

xxvii Rudder, Gawen, ‘Mojo working’ AdNews 30 June 2006

xxviii Coombs, Anne Adland p. 20.

xxix Coombs, Anne Adland p. 214-215.

xxxi Coombs, Anne Adland pp. 20; 280-281

xxxii Rudder, Gawen, ‘Mojo working’ AdNews 30 June 2006

xxxiii Coombs, Anne Adland pp. 196-197

xxxiv The year of the move is based on the firm’s address in the Sydney Telephone Directory as recorded in 1979 and 1980.

xxxv Murphy, Justin Report on the Mojo-MNA takeover by Chiat-Day – Sunday program, Channel 9, 1989.

xxxvi Coombs, Anne Adland p. 286

xxxviii Coombs, Anne Adland. p.13

xxxix Haselhurst, David ‘Guess whose firm’s landed a jumbo,’ The bulletin, Vol. 099 No. 5088 (17 Dec 1977)

xlOp.cit p. 32

xli Coombs, Anne Adland p. 29. D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, was a large US company with a long-standing presence in Australia

xlii Coombs, Anne Adland p. 46.

xliiiAdnews, 3 May 1995 p. 19

xliv Address and years taken from entries for the firm in the Sydney Telephone Directory.

xlv Mary Place Gallery, 12 Mary Place.

xlvi Coombs, Anne Adland pp. 9-10.

xlvii Coombs, Anne Adland pp. 18; 161.

Nominate a person or event

New plaques are added based on nominations from the community, which are then assessed by the Woollahra Plaques Advisory Committee and adopted by Council.

Find out more and nominate a person or event for a plaque.