Is Australia Day approaching its use-by date for marketers?

As the nation continues to debate how brands should be engaging with Australia's national day, brand marketer Nick Foley considers why marketers are withdrawing from the celebrations.

Woolworths’ announcement to reduce its Australia Day merchandise for January 26th set off a variety of different reactions. One of the most notable was the plea by the leader of the opposition, Peter Dutton, to call on all fair dinkum Aussies to boycott the retailer for being ‘un-Australian’.

The response from Dutton is reflective of the growing divide in this country about how people truly feel about the appropriateness of the public holiday. While many Australians see it as a day of huge pride, the number of those who feel less enamoured about it is gradually increasing.

The first major brand to distance itself from Australia Day was triple j. Given its younger demographic, it’s not surprising. In 2017, the radio station announced it would no longer schedule its iconic Top 100 countdown for January 26th, opting instead to run it a day later on the 27th.

Since the move by triple j, a number of companies, including the likes of Atlassian, Telstra, Deloitte and Qantas, have allowed their staff to swap the Australia Day holiday for a different day in the year. This is interesting when Australia Day is compared with the King’s Birthday Weekend in June. Despite many Australians wanting to become a republic, the ‘holiday swap’ option being offered on January 26th does not apply to the King’s Birthday in the same magnitude.

So, is Australia Day losing its sparkle? In brand marketing terms, the relevance of the holiday is clearly waning. Particularly amongst a younger demographic. As this shift gathers momentum, it will be difficult to arrest the decline.

The 2024 MLA ad is notable for its absence of any direct reference to Australia Day. Indeed, the annual commercial is now referred to as the ‘Summer Lamb campaign’. Go back ten years and the TVC was titled the ‘Australia Day Lamb ad’. The venerable Lamb spokesperson, Sam Kekovic, featured prominently, declaring “Barbecue lamb on Australia Day and show them how its done”. And all this while the Australian national anthem crescendos in the background. The decision not to explicitly reference Australia Day in this year’s ad speaks volumes about how the team at Meat and Livestock Australia are reading consumer sentiment.

Another brand to extricate itself from any association with the holiday has been Kmart. Last year the retailer advised it would no longer be stocking Australia Day merchandise. In a carefully worded statement Kmart acknowledged “…the 26th January means different things to different people, and we aim to foster an environment that is inclusive and respectful of both our customers and teams”.

Retailers skew younger when employing people. This affords a useful insight into some of the behaviour we’re now seeing from the likes of Aldi, Target, Woolworths and Kmart. With unemployment at record low levels, employers are competing to attract and retain talent. Entwined within has been the shift in marketing towards deploying brand to drive employee engagement. I would expect to see more companies distancing themselves from January 26th as they seek to engage younger workers.

When positioning a brand, a key element marketers focus on is what gives the brand the right to exist? Over the last decade, the ‘right to exist’ has been repurposed to become, well… let’s call it, ‘the purpose’! Much noise has been made about ‘purposeful brands’ – and for good reason. Brands lacking in purpose struggle to cut through to their audiences.

When we unpack what gives ‘Australia Day’ the right to exist, the fault-lines in its purpose appear. Herein lies why more and more brands are building in distance from the event. What purpose does Australia Day serve in an increasingly diverse, multi-cultural Australia? Whilst the tall ships sailing through the heads of Sydney Harbour is a spectacular sight, what it has come to represent, to many, is less than spectacular. The ‘purpose’ challenge will only manifest in declining relevance as the generation gap in this country grows. Cue the ‘Summer Lamb TVC’ for the year 2024.

Strong brands ultimately come down to four things. What drives relevance? What creates distinction? How well regarded the brand is and how well understood it is. Against such a backdrop, it’s hard to see why marketers would deploy a finite marketing budget to either promote or align with the event.

Of course, none of this means the event is about to disappear. It’s simply that without a cohesive purpose, the relevance of January 26th will diminish. For brand custodians seeking to get the most out of a limited marketing spend, the allure of the National holiday may be approaching its use-by date.

Nick Foley is the director of, an independent brand marketing firm based in Sydney.


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