The Qantas Koala may be the only spokesanimal to badmouth the brand he represented and get away with it. But, in the icon’s defense, he had a really good reason for expressing so much disdain towards the popular Australian airline, Qantas. Tourists traveled to the land down under not to sight see at famous locales like the Sydney Opera House, but rather to witness the country’s biggest attraction: this cuddly koala. All this new foot traffic interfered with life in his natural habitat and it made him cranky, to say the least.
Created by ad agency Cunningham & Walsh in 1969, the campaign was aimed towards American audiences and played up the benefits of flying with the airline. The star was a live koala that was featured in TV spots and print advertisements. Character actor Howard Morris voiced the koala, deadpanning his less-than-enthusiastic “I hate Qantas” reaction towards Qantas spoiling its passengers. The way the koala saw it, the more Qantas became known for providing great service, the more people would continue to fly with the airline — and inevitably come visit him.
For the next two decades, the koala revealed more reasons why he found Qantas to be so unbearable. It was because of the airline that people had discovered Australia — and subsequently the koala. Thousands of tourists were everywhere and flights cluttered up his backyard. His solitude had been disturbed and he did everything he could to get it back. One commercial featured the koala attempting to swim away from Australia altogether, but he didn’t quite make it.
Other spots showed the koala on Qantas planes, most notably the 747B aircraft. The new planes included staircases, bigger lounges, and a promise to travellers that the ride would be quiet. Peace and quiet for the plane passengers, sure, but the koala wouldn’t stand to benefit from those incentives. “I hate Qantas,” he grumbled at the end of the spot.
The koala wouldn’t actually express happiness during the campaign until 1989 when Qantas announced nonstop flights to New Zealand. That meant fewer stops to Australia and more opportunities for the koala to be free to relax without tourists stopping by.
The original live koala used in the commercial campaign was named Teddy. At the time, he was the only male koala in the United States. He passed away in 1976 at the age of 10 at his home in the San Diego Zoo.
Qantas Airways has since retired the iconic ad campaign, but the koala still lives on in the memories of globetrotters everywhere. Most recently, the airline debuted “Koala Class” for four koala bears travelling from Brisbane to Singapore in 2015. The fuzzy foursome was on loan to the Singapore Zoo for six months in celebration of the Asian Republic’s 50 years of independence.
Qantas pulled out all the stops in Koala Class, tweeting photos on Twitter that showed the four bears in first class enjoying complimentary eucalyptus leaves from flight attendants during their seven-hour flight. We don’t have this bit of information confirmed or anything, but we’re pretty sure none of the koalas groaned about hating Qantas during their trip.