Opinion

Brands, stop trying to muscle in on Anzac Day

In recent years, brands have gotten themselves into hot water when trying to piggyback off Australia’s most sacred day of remembrance. Spinach’s Ben Willee advises they don’t try having a crack this year.

We’re fast approaching that time of the year when Australian brands get themselves into an entirely avoidable balls-up. Yes folks, it’s almost Anzac Day.

In recent years we’ve seen seemingly well-meaning businesses fall foul of the Australian public and the media by attempting to align themselves with the national day of remembrance. It’s been three years, but Woolworth’s Fresh in our Memories campaign is still held up as one of the greatest Australian marketing mis-steps of all time.


And despite the backlash that followed that and other memorable Anzac Day blunders, such as Zoo Magazine’s 100 things every Aussie should know about Gallipoli, brands continue to get into hot water. You have to ask, how does this keep on happening?

At the heart of the issue is a failure to understand how the nation feels about Anzac Day and, even more importantly, how those who have served and are serving our country view the day.

As a Navy Reservist and a third-generation Naval officer, I straddle the two worlds of marketing and the armed forces. I often work in a role that spans the Army, Navy and Air Force so I have a good understanding of how serving members feel about Anzac Day.

It is a very solemn day to reflect on the sacrifices made by everyone, from the people who served Australia’s interests when we were a fledgling colony all the way through to the mates and colleagues that are right at this minute putting themselves in harm’s way.

Anyone looking to associate with that would want to ensure they are being incredibly respectful, because we’re talking about something we don’t often discuss in marketing communications: matters of life and death.

With my marketing hat on, I know brands naturally use events throughout the year as a hook to add impact to their messages. It’s standard practice for marketers to tie sales, events and product launches to a cause or a particular event they know is going to generate a lot of interest. That could be sponsorship of the Olympics or an International Women’s Day campaign.

Just about every event or day on the calendar is open for brands to jump on board apart from this one day. That’s not a reflection of any moral judgement or any set of established rules. That’s a reflection on the mood of the nation, and the mood of the nation is that this day is sacrosanct and it’s not to be messed with.

But surely there are some brands that are okay to align with Anzac Day, right? VB’s Raise a Glass campaign ran for seven years and did its best to be respectful to serving members past and present, but it appears they eventually lost out to the weight of public opinion. Or was it lack of commercial benefit?

The fact of the matter is, brands looking to promote or sell a product off the back of Anzac Day should not, under any circumstances, get involved. Events, however, are a different story.

The AFL and NRL’s affiliations with the day have been described as “Australia’s perfect living tribute” and I’d have to agree. But these organisations have gone out of their way to invite the Australian Defence Force to participate, marking all the traditions associated with Anzac Day, and ensuring those traditions are very much respected.

We’re an industry that likes to push boundaries, but it’s safe to say this is not a boundary you should be pushing. Most who have tried have failed.

Still, it has happened in recent years and I promise you, it will happen again. In their haste and enthusiasm, marketers fail to realise they are repeating history. There are plenty of very experienced, intelligent marketers in Australia and there should be enough checks and balances to protect brands from making this mistake yet somehow, these things slip through the cracks.

Right now, there’s likely to be a marketing team sitting around the boardroom table spitballing how they can piggyback off Anzac Day and to them I say, stop. Put yourselves in the shoes of the average Australian and ask yourself how they would feel about your actions. Are they likely to see them as exploitative?

If you want to focus on an event, Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Double down on that. Alternatively, take the money you were going to put into what is guaranteed to be a botched marketing initiative and donate it to a charity such as Soldier On, Legacy or Young Diggers who do fantastic work supporting returned veterans.

Ben Willee is the GM and media director at Spinach.

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