Forward-thinking brands can no longer afford to align with Australia Day

Australia Day is a brand, argues Dear Storyteller general manager Mike Drysdale, and how you engage with it, or don't, speaks volumes.

Cricket Australia’s decision to drop Australia Day branding from three upcoming matches highlights its alliance with the Change the Date movement and some are saying that the organisation should stay in its lane.

Scott Morrison is one of them, saying: “A bit more focus on cricket, a little less focus on politics would be my message to Cricket Australia.” But brands can’t afford to be apolitical in the purpose and values-driven marketing landscape of today.

Cricket Australia consulted with Aboriginal leaders and made the decision to use their platform to start a conversation. To continue to build pressure to change the date and support inclusivity as a core tenet of our national identity, for their players, their fans, and all Australians.

In this move, CA directly positioned its brand alongside these values. It’s saying, “We too stand for inclusivity and change”. Because here’s the thing: Australia Day is a brand too. It holds its own set of values, imagery, and messaging. And, with the amount of influence held under the umbrella of both brands, alliances are big business.

As for sports and their ability to join political and cultural conversations, the Prime Minister’s statement was reminiscent of Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham’s comment when LeBron James used his platform to talk about social injustice, telling the NBA star to, “shut up and dribble”.

In this instance, a post from former AFL player Brandon Jack seemed to say it best: “I hate the talk around keeping politics out of sport. A) ignoring a conversation is a statement in itself and B) you can’t claim that sport is a central component of this nation’s cultural identity but then say it should stick to the field when it attempts to shift the culture.”

I’ve heard arguments that suggest Cricket Australia’s decision was tantamount to virtue signalling. That its track record makes this decision seem hollow and that this kind of social engineering shouldn’t be encouraged by brands. I too recently warned brands to be more conscious of virtue signalling in 2021 than ever before. However, that’s where my alignment with this argument ends. While many of these commentators use Cricket Australia’s past to blackmail it into staying quiet, I suggest it is motivation for it to do more.

Customers will lose faith in brands whose actions don’t align with their marketing words.

To those brands, I say: Do more, not less. Move with the flow of change and make your actions speak louder than words. Embrace storydoing over storytelling. Because when a brand makes moves to position itself alongside a worldview, political or otherwise, it stands for something. It adds layers to its identity which we, as consumers of that brand, then use to express ourselves.

For brands fearful of missing out on a chance to align their brand values with quintessential Australianism, take a look around. National pride is a funny thing. More young people than ever would like to think of themselves as global citizens rather than fiercely patriotic. Across our lifetime, we’ve seen countless groups and movements dedicated to nationalism look more like a national disgrace than something of which to be proud. Think about the Cronulla riots, or Trump’s “patriots” storming the Capitol.

In my opinion, a post-January 26 Australia Day is inevitable. Like Australia’s attitude to coal and climate change, public opinion has finally caught up with longstanding discourse on these issues.

So for brands, the question is: Who do you serve and what do you want your legacy to be?

Brands that believe their market is conservative late adopters who will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into this new reality will clearly still be celebrating the day.

Forward-thinking brands – with early adopters and young Australians making up most of their market – will continue to distance themselves from Australia Day. Some already do, promoting Invasion Day protests, Survival Day concerts, or Sovereignty Day ceremonies instead.

With the growing buying power of Generation Z and the current buying power of millennials, it remains to be seen how long it will take before the cause-minded generation truly changes the face of Australia. And how much longer it’ll take for some brands to follow suit.

Mike Drysdale is the general manager at Dear Storyteller


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