Norm – everyone’s favourite couch potato

Norm, illustration by Alex Stitt

Exhibitor : Jerry Bell

In 1975, the Victorian State Government in Australia was concerned at the increasing levels of obesity in the state. It resolved to encourage people to get out and exercise. Accordingly, they commissioned an advertising agency, Monahan Dayman and Adams to develop a suitable programme. In turn, MDA approached an artist, the late Alexander Stitt (1937-2016), to design an appropriate character. The result was Norm, a couch potato, who used to spend his days in front of the telly with a can of beer in his hand, probably watching sport. 

A great many Victorians could identify with Norm. Adverts were created showing Norm participating in various forms of exercise. Being a Victorian company, Bryant & May were approached to issue a set in support of this initiative, and the result was a set of eight labels, size 33 x 49mm, issued in 1976, showing Norm and his family engaged in meaningful outdoor exercise.

Greenlites were a unique invention of Bryant & May Melbourne in 1956 to deal with the problem of getting safety matches to strike properly in damp and humid climates, which applied to most of northern Australia. They were only made in the Melbourne factory, and in Papua New Guinea. The match heads were always green. They were widely exported and were used by the US Army in Vietnam. E2994 is an excise mark to indicate that the matches were made at the Bryant & May factory in Melbourne. Unique excise marks were a feature of Australian labels from 1932 onwards.

As a result, Norm became such an iconic character that the federal Government took it over from the Victorian Government and ran a series of TV commercials and print advertisements for the next 19 years. Sadly, no more labels were issued. 

Was it successful? Certainly, Norm became a household word, but did the message get through? Australia has an abundance of good food, good beer, and good sport to watch, and obesity is still a national problem, so the outcome was, at best, marginal!

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