Conventional wisdom says the way you start an ad agency is to find yourself a couple of like-minded souls, some groovy offices and a foundation client; however, new Sydney-based creative consultancy Cabana Boys aimed for anything but conventional.

They started out with two like-minded souls – ex-Lowe Hunt art director Nik Robinson and former Razor Sydney creative director Stuart Ghent, but that’s where the similarity stops.

Instead of groovy offices, they opened their ‘doors’ under the shade of an umbrella at Redleaf Pool in the Sydney harbour side suburb of Double Bay. And, instead of a foundation client, all they had was an address book, a somewhat risky idea for a name, a month each of credit on their mobile phones and some of the worst timing imaginable.

Cabana Boys cut the ribbon on their new venture just days after the demise of Lehman Bros set the GFC in full flight. The challenge, therefore, was not only to draw attention to their creative capabilities, but also to let marketers know that they were a real alternative for the times – leaner, more nimble, still creatively led but less expensive. And they had to do it with a budget of functionally zero.

Campaign: ‘You’ve been hit’
Agency: Cabana Boys


The Cabana Boys strategy was to go direct to business owners and marketers with a physical demonstration of their point of difference – high impact creative at low cost. Their strategy was to show what they could do for clients by doing it for themselves.

Cabana Boys knew that this market was both time poor and difficult to reach, often protected from marketing efforts by a perimeter of admin and support staff. Getting through to them would mean getting through gatekeepers – anyone from the receptionist to the mailroom clerk, to the marketing department PA or a manager’s personal secretary could kill their chances.

What’s more, they had to recognise that once through to their intended market, it would have had a lot of exposure to advertising agencies and creative product. Their standards would be high. It would not be enough to simply get in front of a marketing manager or business owner, Cabana Boys would have to stand out. 

A conventional approach was simply not going to cut it.


Cabana Boys aimed to create a piece that would charm its way through the gatekeepers, while still making an impact with the intended recipient. With a name like Cabana Boys (a reference to their beginnings at Redleaf Pool and hospitality-inspired attitude to service), the consultancy had a rich creative palette to work with.

The piece they developed was a real-life, ‘hair-shell-milk-and-all’ coconut.

The coconuts were hand-delivered with no personalisation, no address, no salutation, no covering letter and nothing more than an ink-stamped message on the outside, directing the recipient to

At this URL, recipients were told that a falling coconut reached speeds in excess of 80 kilometres per hour and hit the ground with a force equivalent to over 150 kilogram, with 150 people each year killed by being hit by coconuts, it said.

The website then went on to explain that while the chances of a coconut hitting their desk were astronomically low – hundreds of times less likely than, say, their chances of being hit by lightning – it would certainly make a real impact if it did.

The fact that the recipient had clicked through to the website and was still reading was proof positive. What’s more, this was exactly the kind of impact that Cabana Boys was in the business of making on behalf of its own clients.

The recipient was then offered a free creative session on the brief of their choice, to further prove what could be done for them, and were invited to meet with the Cabana Boys “anywhere but under a coconut palm”.

Cabana Boys hand-picked who they would target and delivered only 50 coconuts, following up on each a few days later with a phone call. The delivery phase of the campaign ran over two months.


Cabana Boys creative partner, Nik Robinson, says the consultancy knew it had succeeded with ‘Part A’ of its job from the moment they walked into their first reception.

“People would see us coming and laugh. About half of the people we visited started singing ‘I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts’, while the other half would crack jokes about putting our hairy coconut in someone’s hand. It made people smile. We knew they were going to pass it on,” explains Robinson.

From this notoriously difficult to reach C-suite audience, Cabana Boys achieved 100 percent click-through to the campaign URL, with around 70 percent of respondents navigating through to the Cabana Boys home page. Stuart Ghent reports that around 80 percent of people who received a coconut took a follow-up phone call:

“They got what we’re about straightaway. They got that we do things differently, we’re a bit of fun, but we get results. They were happy to talk. As we anticipated, a lot of people were looking for fresh ways to make their money go further. They’d cut their budgets to suit the times, but had cut as far as they could. Yet they still needed to get out there into the market,” says Ghent.

Of those who did talk on the phone, says Ghent, around 25 percent went on to accept a face-to-face meeting. Of those, in turn, four have gone on to become regular clients, including Fuji Xerox Global Services, Mexican restaurant chain Guzman Y Gomez, not-for-profit YWCA NSW and technology giant Ingram Micro.

One surprising result, according to Ghent, was how few people took up the offer of a free creative session.

“In total, we only gave away two. Most people had a specific problem in mind and, we suspect, knew it would take more than one session to solve. It was absolutely worthwhile to make the offer. It proved that we are prepared to put our money where our mouth is. Conventional direct marketing wisdom says an offer increases take-up. We think it did that, although not of the offer itself,” says Ghent.

Ghent calculates most of the cost was in creative development and head hours – all soft costs. The only hard costs were the coconuts themselves, having a rubber stamp made and building, hosting and running the URL. At the end of the day, their total outlay per unit was just $1.94. Needless to say, the campaign has paid for itself since launching in April 2009. Cabana Boys moved from their poolside umbrella to a more permanent cabana in Sydney’s Surry Hills.

According to Robinson, the effects of the coconut continue to roll on. Having helped bring in four clients, it helped the budding business establish its credentials, allowing it to attract still other business.

The Australia Council for the Arts was one of these, engaging Cabana Boys in early October as the creative lead on its ArtStart initiative, a new grants scheme to help arts graduates with the difficult transition from study to employment.