“Some franchisees liked the previous campaigns, some did not like the previous campaigns, and some did not like the previous campaigns at a personal level but were supportive as business owners given the effectiveness.”
The company confirmed it had retired its “Unexpected Situations” commercials and associated marketing after a change in direction over the past two years.
“The world has moved on and so has Ultra Tune,” the spokesman said.
Emails from 2019 and 2020 obtained by The Age details conversations between the Australian publisher of men’s magazine Maxim And Ultra Tune employees, who discussed fees to be paid by the auto company so their “brand ambassadors” would appear in the magazine.
According to the emails, the $120,000 annual deal included advertising and saw a number of girls featured on the covers of Maxim and in the magazine’s annual “Hot 100” list.
In March 2020, the marketing agency contracted by Ultra Tune emailed the publisher of Maxim in Australia, saying he had been tasked by the company’s marketing committee to “provide greater accountability for all marketing expenditure”.
“Whilst Sean is keen to continue his partnership with MaximI have been tasked with developing a rationale for its ongoing purpose/inclusion in our marketing activities,” he said.
One of the brand ambassadors featured on the front cover of Maxim was Jennifer Cole, Buckley’s former partner. Other ambassadors who were featured in the magazine and also had relationships with Buckley include Laura Lydall and Giuliana Migliorini.
The Ultra Tune spokesman said the Maxim deal was only a small part of its campaign and confirmed Buckley had been in relationships with some women featured in the magazines.
“You have specifically asked whether Mr Buckley had been in a relationship with any of the previous ambassadors/influencers. The answer is yes … The relevant issue is not whether Mr Buckley had a personal relationship with an ambassador/influencer, but the commercial benefits of the campaigns by reference to the key metrics,” the spokesman said.
In 2019, Ultra Tune was fined $2 million for a number of breaches of the franchising code, including a failure to ensure marketing fund statements were prepared on time and had sufficient detail about expenditures.
The code requires a franchisor to prepare, have audited and distribute marketing fund statements within set time frames if a franchisee is required to pay money into the fund.
Ultra Tune was required to follow a court-ordered compliance program, which the ACCC alleges it has breached because it was late in producing and distributing the marketing fund documents.
Ultra Tune’s marketing income and expenditure statements show the company spent about $150,000 a year on fees for “brand ambassadors”, a role it describes as “promoting Ultra Tune brand on social media platforms and such other social media platform as directed from time to time, appeared on the television commercials, and a general promotional work.”
In the year to June 2019, the company paid $1.91 million in television advertising and $611,411 in production costs for “Charlie Sheen Off The Pier”. The following year, the company spent almost $1 million on television advertising, as well as $732,754 for “production costs” related to Pamela Anderson.
Ultra Tune’s Baywatch-themed ad, which starred Anderson and former AFL star Warwick Capper, was the most complained about ad in the first half of 2020, according to the Advertising Standards Bureau.
Roland Rahlinger ended his involvement with Ultra Tune last month, after operating a franchise for more than 20 years.
“They never told us what they were spending the money on. We never had any control. They would just say these are our new ads,” he said.
“But I had a lot of customers who had the shits with the commercials. They were saying: ‘What’s with these rubber girls? It’s all just so sexist.’ ”
Steve Jermyn ran an Ultra Tune franchise in the NSW city of Nowra for a decade before ending his association in May. He strongly opposed the company’s controversial “rubber girls” campaign.
“It’s just disgusting. I came from a corporate background with Hewlett-Packard and I knew what he was doing was wrong, but as a franchisee you had no input,” he said.
“We had no say on where the money was being spent, but one of the main complaints to Ultra Tune, certainly over the first seven years, was the advertising. When they had Mike Tyson [in a commercial] I had a woman come in the front door and she screamed, ‘How dare you have a convicted rapist as your marketing person.’
“I said, ‘Look, I agree with you, but there’s nothing I can do.’ ”
In a video uploaded to YouTube towards the end of last year, Buckley said Ultra Tune’s ad campaigns were designed to disrupt and create controversy.
“In the old days, you’d have a car mechanic on TV saying, ‘Come to us, we’ll give you the best price and the best service.’ People aren’t going to buy that rubbish. People are desensitised to that. You’ve got to have a different gimmick or a different type of angle to attract people,” he said.
He said in the video that he was engaged to one of the stars of the advertisement, Laura Lydall, at the time they filmed the early advertisements.
In the video, Ultra Tune’s national marketing manager Rod Cedaro said Buckley decided to be “a little bit politically incorrect and to try to create some controversy, so the rubber girls were born”.