The MLA lamb ad confirms Australia Day is the latest victim of cancel culture

By distancing themselves from Australia Day, brands could be also distancing themselves from the majority of the population, and, therefore, the majority of their customers, argues Paul Costantoura.

Now that the annual lamb ad has finally hit our screens, it confirms that Australia Day has finally become another victim of cancel culture.

If you haven’t caught up with the concept, it is the evolution of call-out culture. It happens when a negative idea is spread on social media among people who are likely to become outraged by it. And it’s designed to end the careers of individuals and the profitability of businesses that have broken some unwritten social expectation.

In 2020 it seems that (almost) the entire Australian advertising industry has bought into the idea that Australia Day should be cancelled because of the fear of a negative backlash.

I say ‘almost’, because one advertiser actually rose above the noise and attempted to respond directly to the meaning of Australia Day by painting an inclusive vision of Australian identity in 2020.

You’ve probably seen it.  The National Australia Day Council ad, ‘We’re all part of the story’ was launched in early January and presents 20 scenes of the people who make up Australia today. Each person simply offers a few words on their own story.

The campaign was created under the direction of the National Australia Day Council, and produced by Growth Mantra in conjunction with Wolf King and Flint Films.

There are two reasons for writing about it now. The first is that, with the lamb industry removing their own link to Australia Day, the National Australia Day Council is the only player left on the field.

The second is that ‘We’re all part of the story’ achieved extremely strong advertising evaluation metrics.

The ad paints a vision of a mutually respectful Australia in 2020 which recognises our diverse history but doesn’t shy away from the current debate around Australia Day.  It is based on a poem which ends with the words: “It brings us together and tears us apart.  We all have our views, so where do we start? By listening to each other, and sharing our part.”

The final words were delivered by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in a clear statement about the importance of listening, sharing and respecting each other.

Most Australians recalled seeing the ad (64%), thought it was personally relevant to them (67%), thought it represented what it means to be Australian (72%) and said they either liked it or loved it (72%).

These are numbers that any ad agency would be ecstatic to achieve – which suggests the ad was saying something worth hearing.

These results are from an independent survey we ran over the 2020 Australia Day holiday last weekend looking at attitudes towards Australia Day and Australian values. This year, we were supported by analytics business Strategic Precision, and the leading market research technology platform, Cint, that collected data from a representative sample of 1,020 Australians for the study.

The facts about how Australians view Australia Day are always obscured by vested interests – usually the Institute of Public Affairs and The Greens get diametrically opposed numbers about changing the date because they ask different questions in their surveys.

We’ve run the same survey for four years and it shows that there is very slight movement in attitudes towards changing the date from year to year.

At the extremes, in 2020, only 11.4% agreed simply that ‘Yes, the date should definitely be changed’, while 40% agreed that ‘No, the date should definitely not be changed’.

Both of these were slightly down from 2019, when 12.3% were definitely in favour of change and 42.5% were definitely against it, with the balance moving to the middle ground.

In 2020, this left 48.6% between the extremes, spilt between 12.3% who thought it should probably be changed, 15% who thought it should probably not be changed, and 21.3% who really didn’t care either way.

In 2018, I cautioned about jumping on the bandwagon of avoiding Australia Day.

So, consider the numbers in 2020.  By avoiding Australia Day, you are making the decision that the views expressed by 11.4% of Australians over 18 (or some vocal proportion of them) will have more impact on your brand than the other 88.6%.

There is bound to be lots more commentary and debate on the merits or otherwise about the lamb ad and its strategy, timing (towards the end of summer after the BBQ season has finished?), target market (27-year-old females?), complexity and call to action.

Personally, I think it’s a loss because the lamb brand used to stand for Australian identity and spirit, delivered with classically Australian humour.  It’s not clear what it stands for now.

However, for brands and agencies considering your own strategy towards Australia Day 2021, I suggest it’s worth watching the National Australia Day Council ad again and considering if you can craft your own respectful vision of Australian identity and use Australia Day as the opportunity to present it to the population.  

Then do some objective research, rather than only listening to Twitter.

Paul Costantoura is the CEO of Review Partners


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.