Why brands should think twice about celebrating Australia Day

With more and more people feeling uncomfortable about Australia Day, here’s a humble suggestion: you may want to reconsider your brand’s implicit endorsement of the 26th, argues ntegrity's founder and CEO, Richenda Vermeulen.

Tomorrow is Australia Day.  A majority of Australians will take the day off, light up the barbecue, and crack a few drinks. This group likely won’t notice if a brand wishes them a Happy Australia Day or not.

But there’s a growing number who will.

Companies, agencies, and non-indigenous people are finally joining the vast majority of indigenous voices¹ who do believe we should change the date, and view celebrating Australia Day on the 26th as “dancing on graves”.

The ‘national day’ could cause problems for brands, as it has for politicians

So when your brand posts “HAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!” and “20% OFF TODAY WITH PROMO CODE “STRAYADAY” it’s that second group that you’ll be sparring with on social media.

Here’s a humble suggestion: you may want to reconsider your brand’s implicit endorsement of the 26th.

The right side of history

If it seems petty to lobby against brands promoting Australia Day, hear me out.

No, changing the date will not rewrite our history. And yes, we absolutely should have a proper holiday to celebrate this brilliant country. But celebrating on the 26th — a day that marks the beginning of dispossession, violence and oppression of Indigenous people — is on the wrong side of history.

Similar to Marriage Equality, the date of Australia Day is becoming a lightning rod issue. It’s important that companies consider their position.

The tide is already changing

If you think it’s just agency hipsters who are no longer promoting the 26th as Australia Day, think again. Last year, ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, David Jones and Optus all chose not to mention “Australia Day” on Facebook, after years of enthusiastically celebrating it.²

Four of Australia’s largest brands forgetting to wish you a happy Australia Day?

It’s not an accident.

Australia Post went even further. In 2017, instead of going silent, they wrote: “Today, Australians reflect on our history and how we can improve our future together.”

It’s a far cry from their 2015 messaging: “We love our sunburnt country. Happy Australia Day everyone! From all of us at Australia Post.”

When the banks, telcos, Triple J, and the lamb folks all stop promoting the 26th as Australia day, it’s no longer a fringe movement.

Make a call

I recognise many brands don’t want to take a public stance on this. It’s a highly charged and politicised debate, and brands don’t want to be perceived as political or unpatriotic. But I’d argue that celebrating Australia day on the 26th is becoming a political statement as well.

As the group of people who help brands craft their voices and messages, it’s important that we acknowledge our influence, and use it to make this country better, kinder, and more respectful to all Australians. Our voices—when combined—are powerful, and I look forward to the day we see a full-page ad in the paper endorsing a change to the date, just as brands eventually did with marriage equality.

If your brand isn’t brave enough to be an activist voice tomorrow, I’d recommend you simply go quiet on the 26th.

Surely no one will complain their mobile phone provider didn’t wish them a happy public holiday.

1. Initial responses to a 2018 National Congress Survey, a peak representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, found that 83% of organisations supported changing the date.

2. Data from our research on brands facebook posts, all of which had previously mentioned Australia Day, but did not last year. Commonwealth Bank last mentioned Australia Day in 2013, whereas ANZ, David Jones, and Optus all mentioned Australia Day in 2016 (and many previous years) but not in 2017.

Richenda Vermeulen is the founder and CEO of ntegrity 


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