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The Sound of a Smile





Positive Provocation

‘Club songs’ are at the heart of Australian Football fandom, but what if we could make them more inclusive for fans with hearing difficulties? 

Our approach

The challenge with established brand platforms is keeping them fresh, balancing repetition with novelty.  In Colgate’s case, the ‘Smile Strong’ platform had become overly familiar, and the smile had become a little forced.   

In Australia, Colgate has used a sponsorship of the Australian Football League (AFL) as its key delivery mechanism for ‘Smile Strong’.  Throughout 2020 and 2021, feel-good content featuring popular AFL and AFLW players overcoming Covid adversity made the fans smile.

But in 2022, the impact of the warm fuzzies had started to wane.  While still a clear category leader, Colgate’s brand tracking indicated it was losing distinctiveness and emotional connection.  It was these declining metrics that the client charged us with reversing.

Through our ongoing Channel 7 AFL broadcast partnership, we unearthed a story from a regional AFLW club, where a team that contained a hearing-impaired player had learnt the club’s anthem in sign language, to make her feel more included.  VMLY&R turned the story into an emotionally charged TVC that spoke perfectly to the mainstream sentiment of diversity being a positive thing.

Wavemaker’s task was to ensure the story became more than just a TVC seen only by footy fans and become a genuine cultural conversation.


It’s a long-held belief that a large part of the Australian identity is built on a love of sport.  That’s still true, but it’s no longer the cliché of an Aussie bloke being a passionate but mostly passive supporter of elite male teams.  Modern fans include women and families.  They support men’s and women’s teams.  As Tokyo 2021 showed us, the Paralympics rivalled the Olympics in terms of ratings and public interest.  Contemporary sports fans reflect contemporary society with a desire to be more inclusive. 

Further, modern sports fans are more participatory.  It’s no longer enough to sit on the sideline and watch.  In 2022, every sports fan is a coach, a commentator, a critic, a cheerleader.

These insights informed what we could do with media to make the creative work harder for Colgate.   We had a beautiful story –the Yeronga Devils women’s team, from a small Queensland community, learning sign language so that they could sign the club song to their deaf teammate Jamie Howell.  We would use media to make this bigger than Yeronga, bigger than Jamie, and create a story that involved all Australians, that they could feel part of, making them much more likely to amplify. 


We started with Jamie.  Like her Yeronga Devils, Australian football clubs have a rich tradition in club songs.  These uniting anthems are a powerful shared moment of optimism.  We had Jamie create sign language tutorials for each of the AFL clubs, so that players and fans throughout Australia could emulate the Yeronga Devils’ camaraderie.  

When you want to teach people new moves, there’s only one place to be: TikTok.  When you want to ensure people participate and share those new moves, there’s only one TikTok format to use: Duets.

To draw a larger football audience, we recruited the AFL’s most popular men’s and women’s players and had them Duet with Jamie.  

To draw an even broader audience, we used INCA to help us recruit leading Australian TikTok influencers, including some hearing-impaired creators, to also Duet with Jamie.  Using personalities and behaviour endemic to the platform, we soon had the TikTok audience spreading the content and the companionship organically, becoming part of the #SmileStrong movement.

We also created high-impact interactions harnessing cinema’s unique audio attributes.  The opening audio of the TVC is muffled, to imitate the hearing-impaired experience.  Wavemaker produced a cinema version that made that audio effect even more memorable.


Colgate’s IPSOS 2022 report: “The communications supported this year have had a positive impact on equity and perceptions of the Masterbrand –particularly emotional attributes and those centred around brand distinction.”

Colgate recorded YoY increases in:

·        Courageous, caring and a leader

·        Does the right thing by the community

·        Distinguishes itself clearly from other brands

·        Increase in optimistic attributes 

By making it more than just a TVC, the campaign made an entire community feel heard and included.  It was picked up and praised by AFL fans, the Australian public, the hearing-impaired community, and even a member of parliament. 

Higher than TikTok Industry Benchmark

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