‘Some things shouldn’t be for sale’: Agencies stand against Sydney Opera House ads

Is the Opera House Australia's biggest untapped billboard, or is it an iconic landmark which should remain unattainable for brands? Senior industry executives have their say on whether or not brands should be able to advertise on one of the world's most famous landmarks.

After the New South Wales Government announced it would be running ads for the upcoming Everest horse race on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, Australia is divided over whether or not brands should have access to the iconic landmark.

The news has sent Australia into meltdown with contrasting opinions on whether the world-renowned landmark should be left alone.

Mumbrella reached out to senior agency executives to get their take on the debate, and the message was loud and clear: “Some things shouldn’t be for sale”.

Adam Washington, senior consultant at Orchard, says:

Washington says: “Content that celebrates national culture or art passes the test”

“The Opera House is a global landmark, up there with The Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, so the content it promotes should be subject to stricter scrutiny than your average billboard. That’s appropriate, because Australia’s endorsement is implied.

“To me, content that celebrates national culture or art passes the test (e.g. The Olympics or the art of Vivid Festival), but advertising doesn’t. The Everest is commercially-geared event with close ties to gambling, so in this case I disagree with Alan [Jones] and Scott [Morrison], it shouldn’t be on the sails.

“It’s a slippery slope. Even an ad man wouldn’t want to see price points and CTAs on the House down the track.”

Laura McRae, senior planner at The Royals, says:

McRae says: “It seems like you could argue both sides”

“In light of recent news, it seems like you could argue both sides. From a purely economic standpoint, advertising on ‘the biggest billboard in Sydney’ would seem like a brilliant idea – a sure way to get high awareness for whatever you’re advertising. But the Sydney Opera House isn’t a billboard. It’s a work of art, a piece of Australian culture that holds World Heritage status.

“If the Sydney Opera House can be deemed ‘just a building’ and in a moment’s notice become an advertising billboard, then where does it stop? Does this mean we can advertise on Uluru tomorrow? It’s just a rock, right? Not everything in our communities can become advertising space; some things hold cultural significance and need to remain sacred.

“Art, in my point of view, is a form of communication which represents whatever the artist, or in this case the architect, intends it to mean. Since its inception, the Sydney Opera House has been created to generate feelings, thoughts and observations in its admirers, making it an iconic ‘piece of art’. Therefore from a personal and moral standpoint, I cannot support the use of The Sydney Opera House as advertising space. Additionally from my understanding, The Sydney Opera House management have a policy of never displaying branding and logos because in doing so, it risks losing its World Heritage Status.

“Unfortunately, the NSW government’s recent decision to override this policy has given us insight into what some politicians value more: pure economic gain versus the protection of Australian arts and culture.”

Nathan Birch, CEO at Interbrand, says:

Birch says: The sails of the House belong to Sydney, and Sydneysiders have said “no”

“The Sydney Opera House is an international icon and UNESCO heritage site with a brand value, as an asset, running into the millions of dollars. Projecting a horse race on the sails would be simply imbecilic. The argument that a barrier draw is equivalent to the Wallabies, Vivid or the Olympics is misinformed at best. This move is contrary to everything the Sydney Opera House has worked on in the past several years.”

“As a cultural icon, the recent push to turn it into a glorified billboard is not the kind of brand Interbrand envisioned when we led their rebrand in 2016. On a personal level, I think it’s tawdry idea. But from a strategy perspective, it’s absurd.

“As Alan Jones so forcefully said, ‘we own the Opera House’. The public’s reaction has been heartening. The esteem people have in the brand and the connection they feel with the Opera House has been made clear over the last few days. The sails of the House belong to Sydney, and Sydneysiders have said ‘no’.

“The recent drama shows a very naïve view of the value a brand plays in the economy of our state. Cheapening what it stands for just to promote a horse race will only hurt not just the Opera House but the international image of Australia in the long run.”

Nickie Scriven, CEO at Zenith Australia, says:

Scriven says: “I don’t think it should be seen or used as Australia’s biggest billboard”

“The Sydney Opera House is the most iconic Australia building and I don’t think it should be seen or used as Australia’s biggest billboard.

“The Opera House is an arts, culture and entertainment precinct so I really don’t think there is an acceptable argument to allow the promotion of events that don’t occur in this precinct. There are more than enough ‘out of home’ sites and billboards available. Let’s leave our Australian icons alone and allow our community and visitors to enjoy them in the form for which they were developed.”

Simon Brock, creative director at Digitas, says:

Brock says: “Some things shouldn’t be for sale”

“Two feats of cultural vandalism in 24 hours – one self-inflicted by the artist, the other inflicted by those with no concern for art.

“‘The urge to destroy is also a creative urge’. Those famous words of Picasso were the comment that accompanied Banksy’s video, published over the weekend, depicting one of his artworks self-destructing after being sold for a nudge under $1.5 million.

“Perhaps all those in favour of transforming our ‘masterpiece of human genius’ (UNESCO’s words, not mine) into ‘the biggest billboard Sydney has’ (Mr Morrison et. al.) are simply feeling that same creative urge to destroy.

“Although our two sets of cultural vandals may be vastly different, they reaffirm the same point.

“Some things shouldn’t be for sale.”

Sarah Keith, managing director at Publicis Media Exchange:

Keith says: “I love the idea that national sports teams and events can be lauded or celebrated appropriately with messages and images”

“I echo Joseph Skrzynski with this commercialisation being at odds with the 2007 World Heritage status of the Opera House when he said: ‘The policy has been to be sparing in the use of the sails, they are not a billboard for hire… it has been lit up for cultural and community events which are consistent with the activities that occur at the Sydney Opera House. It’s not about being elite, it is about appropriate usage.’

“I am a huge fan of Vivid and the sails being a focal point in a winter arts festival that brings more than 2.5 million people to the heart of Sydney. I love the idea that national sports teams and events can be lauded or celebrated appropriately with messages and images.

“We have a thriving out of home industry here in Australia with many iconic sites such as the Glebe Island silos and the Coke sign at King’s Cross that immediately spring to mind. Each of these OOH companies works hard to build and install high quality panels that work sympathetically with each location; we don’t need the Opera House too!”

Toby Barbour, CEO at Starcom Australia, says:

Barbour says: “A commercial application to promote random brands or events seems about pure commercial gain”

“The Sydney Opera House is a World Heritage site, not to mention an iconic global landmark, and should be respected as such. It should invoke national pride and therefore support such causes or recognise national achievement. A commercial application to promote random brands or events seems about pure commercial gain for the individual brand or event and not the national agenda or pride. Lighting up the Opera House for Marriage Equality makes sense, or illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer month makes sense, as does a culturally relevant event such as Vivid or even the Olympic Games. But to promote a horse race, with the obvious subliminal undertones of gambling? I don’t think so, Scomo.”


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.