Australia Day: Get in or get out of the way

When it comes to Australia Day, brands need to pick a side of the fence or simply get out of the way, writes The Media Store's Kirsten Nicola.

If America has the Superbowl and England has Christmas, then Australia Day is the do or die moment for advertisers in Australia. Brand participation in the day fluctuates year by year, however there are some who have consistently stood by the day as an advertising opportunity.

According to Review Partners’ annual Australia Day research study, there is a growing movement towards changing the date of Australia Day, however at this point in time the majority of people are happy to keep the public holiday where it is. Australia Day is rife with controversy regardless of whether brands choose to engage with it or stay far away.

Source: Review Partners, Australia Day 2017 & Australia Day 2018

Some iconic Australian brands have had a go at Australia Day advertising in the past to mixed degrees of success. Coopers Brewery ran a national OOH campaign for the public holiday in 2017 that celebrated its pale ale and historic Australian identity. The campaign failed to generate much discussion online and may have been the beginning of Cooper Brewery’s 9.1% drop in total beer sales for the year.

With alcohol consumption per capital having substantially decreased over the past ten years, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it’s unsurprising that beer brands have been reluctant to jump aboard the Australia Day bandwagon.

Iconic beer brand VB did launch a campaign on Australia Day in 2018 that was heavy on the nostalgia and although it did focus on the ‘Australianism’ that is synonymous with Australia, not referencing the day in any form does not a true Australia Day campaign make. If one of the most recognisable aspects of Australia Day no longer makes an advertising impact on the day, what’s left?

Meat. The answer is meat, and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) have got this one nailed. MLA have run highly successful, read highly controversial and discussed, campaigns over the last five years that have embraced the Australia Day message.

Its 2019 ‘Share the Lamb’ campaign leans into the brand’s history of divisive content and laughter to evoke the idea of Australia Day without focusing on the day. The campaign is a change in tone for MLA who had previously run ‘Operation Boomerang’, ‘You Never Lamb Alone’, and ‘Lamb Side Story’ campaigns in 2016, 2017, and 2018 which generated greater media coverage and online views due to its pointed controversial message regarding the day.

With MLA’s consistent Australia Day messaging as a core aspect of its advertising, it recorded a 21% increase in average weekly lamb sales compared with average retail sales over the previous five years. The divisive content matter of the campaigns have also earned MLA over three thousand pieces of earned media resulting in over 150 million opportunities to reach their target. Due to MLA leaning into the controversy surrounding Australia Day and maintaining their message, it has reaped the rewards to become one of the most discussed and recognised campaigns each year.

Source: WARC & Nielsen

Other brands have dipped a toe into the churning waters of Australia Day but have had no real commitment either way. Mercedes-Benz ran a print campaign in 2018 for Australia Day that focused on the barbecue imagery of the day however it didn’t quite follow up on this messaging online, leaving the campaign feeling half-hearted.

Qantas has participated in Australia Day in the past through engaging stunts within Sydney Airport which was supported online. Although the brand has not done anything for the public holiday recently, its past campaigns which focused more on Australian brands and interaction with customers through its ‘Tim Tam Biscuit Carousel’ in 2015 and ‘Australia Day Emergency Packs’ in 2017 created more genuine feeling publicity. In a day that is full of discussion, having a perfunctory campaign is not good enough and will only get lost in the turmoil leaving brands unable to rise above.

The lack of participation in Australia Day by some iconic Australian brands should be noted however their reasons for not joining in are their own and will vary.

There’s nothing more Australian than a sausage sizzle at a hardware store, a flavour-less wheat brick, a no longer made in Australia vehicle manufacturer, and a drop-bear rum brand so where is their messaging on this public holiday?

It is completely understandable as to why any brand would not want to commit to Australia Day advertising due to its divisive nature but like any contentious issue, saying nothing still says something.

In the end, this is not a day for brands to just dabble in and expect to get away with. Brands need to either steer into the controversy and embrace everything that goes along with Australia Day or stay far enough away from any potential backlash to begin with. Australia is a nation that prides itself on its hardy nature and killer attitudes. The advertising world should be no exception.

Kirsten Nicola is research and insights executive at The Media Store.


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