Published in 2004, in Screen Education, I was asked to review the new campaign released by the Australian Tourism Commission, and to look at it from the perspectives of Australia’s changing campaigns and the prevalent viewpoints of brand strategy. In the 2000s, branding grew massively as a discipline, and the idea of branding an entire country shifted from bewilderment to broad acceptance. All identities get managed at some level, when big dollars are at stake, and Brand Australia is no exception.
During the early 1970s, at a time when Australia House in London’s The Strand was pushing Brits to distant shores for ten pounds, you’d think the Australian Embassy in Paris would have had some decent persuasive literature. They didn’t.
They were handing out leaflets on mastitis in cows. With a shrug of the shoulders they said it was ‘better than nothing’. From a marketing perspective in the early twenty-first century, it’s hard to imagine such a lack of control over the message, and such innocence when it comes to managing the perceptions of a target audience; but then again, the target at the time was an influx of British migrants. Trade relations and tourism are now so important to the Australian economy that the best management of opinion that money can buy is being used by the Federal Government—up to 600 million dollars over four years. This, the biggest ever budget for tourism, will be used to launch substantial international and national marketing campaigns, to develop overseas markets for industry, to assist regional Australia with a tourism development program, to help stage business events, and to increase self-reliance in the event of a major ‘shock’ in the region. The new national tourism marketing body, Tourism Australia, was created following the Federal Government’s Tourism White Paper in November of 2003. The revitalization of Brand Australia, originally created in 1995 by the Australian Tourism Commission (ATC), and re-launched on 18 May 2004, is one of its major initiatives. Its new brand strategy was created by Brand Architecture International, with new logo and de- sign work from Future Brand and The Jumbana Group. A sumptuous advertising campaign has also been produced to present this new brand to the world, created by Whybin TBWA with Director David Denneen, Executive Producer Anna Fawcett, and film production by Filmgraphics Productions. It has already been launched in Australia, the US and the UK.
Branding a country is a trend that is on the rise, and it’s no surprise that Australia is one of the pioneers, given its history and aspirations for the future. Unlike the previous Brand Australia from 1995 and other campaigns from the ATC, this contemporary manifestation aims to capture the hearts and minds of tourists and businessmen alike, both here and overseas. However, it raises questions about whether this is really who and what we are, and whether such questions matter if the objective behind the exercise is more wealth for the economy.
Changing needs, changing markets
At some level, Australia has been a destination brand since the first fleet, and it has been marketing itself ever since. Encouraging immigration to the ‘land of opportunity’ has been necessary in turning this country from a penal colony to a prosperous and pleasant place to live. Assisted passage for the ‘ten pound poms’ after the Second World War is still the most remembered of the early campaigns due to the impact it had on the population. As a nation, being perceived as a brand—or at least through the eyes of the latest marketing technique—is not new. The campaign of the time reflects the needs of the time, and unlike countries that have a greater sense of an organic and substantial cultural history, being re-branded now will no doubt be, in the main, uncontroversial for the Australian public.
Whilst campaigns up until the 1970s were about attracting a critical mass of people to sustain a standard of living for the entire nation—to create an economy of a sufficient scale—the campaigns since have been about exploiting the natural resources and the attributes of the people. This was clearly a pivotal time for the country, as it had finally created the manpower and capability to successfully sell its national products beyond its shores. Joy Jobbins (former marketing executive from The Australian Wool Board, and the publisher of Australia’s first tourist magazine, the ATC endorsed Australia for Players and Stayers) told me that, in the sixties:
“Our economy rode on our wool sales and our wool production and our wool distribution. Oil and minerals had not yet fired in to become the next big income earner. Travel and tourism was an absolutely unspoilt art and there was nothing internationally to present Australia as a desirable tourist destination.”1
Over a decade later, Paul Hogan, in the film Crocodile Dundee (Peter Faiman, 1986), succeeded in portraying the extraordinary nature of the outback and its personalities to the Americans, and his ‘Shrimps on the Barbie’ advertising campaign between 1983 and 1988 was able to build upon that. Whilst many Australians at the time may have liked to see a more sophisticated portrayal of our national characteristics, the campaign clearly brought in a lot of overseas money and lifted tourism to a new level of recognition within the country.
The 1995 introduction of Brand Australia was significant in that, through the brand as a new marketing tool, it identified and presented a consistent core identity to be used on all Australian tourism literature. Not only that, the ATC had conducted market research to uncover a tone of voice and way of presenting the information that was most attractive to its consumers. The literature states that ‘the ATC began to focus on the benefits for the visitor and to develop the idea that a holiday in Australia is about the experience’.2 In some respects this is a growth beyond the success of the Paul Hogan advertising to a view of Australia as being both the place and the people, and not one or the other in isolation. This time, to help guide the consistency of the message and creative output, the ATC also formalized a set of values—genuine, unpretentious, open; a proposition—naturally free spirited; and a logo, with a kangaroo, the sun and water. Most importantly, in this formalization of the brand, it is not just that a key personality can portray an attitude that will sell; but that, in the future, the process can flip the other way, and personalities will be chosen in terms of their ability to match the brand. The ‘ocker’ portrayal of Paul Hogan had done its time and would not be seen again, other than as archival record.
Since 1995 there has been The Sydney Olympics and Ernie Dingo’s ‘See Australia’ in 2000, the 2003 Rugby World Cup, even selling sex on the Gold Coast in 2004. And now Brand Australia—the re-brand—has emerged in 2004. Each of these campaigns has increased their sophistication in understanding the marketplace and the needs of the consumer.
And re-branding Australia is about what?
Whilst it’s tempting to get caught in discussions about what a brand ‘is’, and to list its elements one by one en route to a definition, Brand Australia is not a sun-drenched ‘big red’, a type- face, and a few celebrity advertisements. It is a complex business practice seeking more sales by controlling the message and its perception. As the ATC notes: ‘Brand Australia is the term given to those unique attributes that differentiate Australia from other destinations and the way these are communicated to portray our country’, and that: ‘Since the launch more than eight years ago, Brand Australia has become more than a tourism market- ing tool. The brand has also helped to position Australia overseas as a place to do business and invest.’3 Competition within local and global market- places creates a need to differentiate between products and services based on their specific advantages, both functionally and emotionally. So, whether its flying Qantas to go snorkeling on the Barrier Reef, or the purchase of R.M. Williams Moleskins in New Hampshire, USA, or shares in Bendigo Bank, or putting Sanitarium Weet Bix in your basket in Woolworths, it’s about choosing Australia. With the re-brand the net has widened to capture not only the international tourist dollar, but also the internal and big business bucks.
In the jargon of the industry, Brand Australia is set to achieve this by honing in on unique characteristics that are credible, relevant, sustainable, and different—for tourism and for business. An essence of Australia has been distilled to a set of core values and a proposition (or promise), and that essence provides the guiding consistency that informs all expression of the brand—from the logo to the advertisements, to the web site. Everything must relate back to the chosen values of irreverence, optimism, mateship, integrity, and originality; and everything must relate back to the proposition ‘Life in a Different Light’. These, of course, are revisions of the 1995 brand in the light of social changes and better market analysis.
From a ‘credible, relevant, sustainable, and different’ perspective the core essence of the brand is a fairly uncontroversial set. In a very general sense we can certainly recognize an Australian- ness that has been around for some time. The proposition, ‘Life in a Different Light’, is a powerful insight that acts as a creative springboard, as the new advertisements reveal. It captures the idea of a unique nature, both in the physical aspects of the country as well as in the perspectives of its people.
The lusciously filmed campaign, ‘Looking Through the Eyes of …’, focuses on an Australian tradition of storytelling. This is not to say that other countriesdon’t have such traditions, but that our stories reveal our unique difference, and exemplify the values of the brand. And of course, to brand a nation, the people and the places are its most visible manifestations they are the ‘truth’ behind the representation.
The first idealized round of personalities include the poet Les Murray, artists Barbara Weir and Brett Whiteley (with a little help from Michael Parkinson), singer Delta Goodrem, media personality Jono Coleman, and cricket commentator Richie Benaud. Whilst each is quite different from the other, portraying aspects of Australia from the bustle of Sydney Harbour to the Aboriginal outback and Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, the most ‘on-brand’ and appealing of the series is the one with Jono Coleman. This is more irreverent, optimistic and original than the others, with a real sense that you are seeing Australia differently through his eyes—from the big, rich, earthy red of a 1998 Shiraz, to a pie and pea floater eaten in a dinner jacket. All of the advertisements (except for their use of the thin and unremarkable song ‘I Can Sing a Rainbow’) feel intimate, extraordinary and emotive. Which is good because, as Ken Boundy, CEO of the ATC, has suggested, ‘The aim is to make Australia so aspirational [sic] that people will do anything to be associated with it’.4
Sustainability and truth
Of course, there is a distinction between truth and representation, and between meeting our needs versus defining who we are. Andrew Blake- more, Creative Director for Destination Branding at Landor Associates, says, ‘It’s difficult to define the traditional single proposition [used in branding] due to the multi-product, multi-audience matrix. And the tricky bit is that this has to hold true for all the stake- holders, audiences, and products [manufacturing, tourism, services etc.]. Branding a country is not like branding a shampoo. It needs to hold true for the citizens and the visitors.’5 Whilst clearly a difficult task, a good job has been made of finding the proposition— Life in a Different Light’—and the set of values that go with it. That is a result of the stakeholders being consulted on it—from R.M. Williams to Qantas and Ken Boundy.
In many ways the new advertising campaign is seductively comfortable, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon and expensive. Perhaps that’s exactly what it needs to be for the target market, which initially is only for the UK and US—apparently the most desirable sources of tourism and immigration to Australia. When entering the highly technically advanced web site, (www.australia. com) as an American, the first four advertising banners are: American Express, luxury vacations, 50+ travel, and Tag Heuer-wearing gay travel. The Asian version of the site has more shopping, and the Italian version is swarthy and suave. In the first round of advertising on television in America, however, the large migrant populations will not be addressed.
But the new brand and the advertising is not the whole issue; in many ways it’s just the beginning. A definition put forward by Ron Gossen of the Strategic Communications Group is that ‘Branding is identifying or creating, and then exploiting, sustainable competitive advantage’.6 The thing that’s particularly interesting about this latest re-brand is that the truth factor has been somewhat escalated. Australia can no longer hide as easily behind its distance from the rest of the world and stereotypes that bear little relation to reality. Globalization and proximity through communication technologies is now a factor of everyday tourism and business life. For Brand Australia to thrive, it needs to be both represented and sustained by the Australian people, who are in a great part the product itself. As Joe Hockey, the Minister for Small Business and Tourism has said, ‘It’s vitally important that we identify who we are and what we are and where we’re going as a nation. And that can’t come from the top of this hill [Canberra]. It has to come from the hearts of every Australian.’7
From a branding point of view we could say that he’s speaking about the current fad of ‘living the brand’, where vast companies like BP have award schemes to encourage employees to create green or progressive initiatives (their values) and behave ‘on-brand’. For the sake of the brand there would be nothing better than for every Australian to align their sensibilities with the core messages that it hopes will drive business and tourism. As Walter Landor, the founder of global brand- ing company Landor Associates, has said, ‘Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind’.8 Of course, the more contemporary variation on this theme is ‘winning the hearts and minds’—on the supermarket shelf, on an adventure holiday, in politics, and at war.
And for the next re-brand?
Under John Howard the country has changed significantly, and not in a way that will keep it aligned with the new Brand Australia. ‘Have a go’ and ‘blue sky thinking’—examples of the values of optimism and originality—won’t survive in a country that no longer allows volleyball on the beaches or drinking in the park over a barbeque. Mate- ship and integrity are clearly at stake in dubious new forays into unjustified wars, and fumbling over the word ‘sorry’. Irreverence is on the line when free trade agreements may assist the ongoing dilution of Australian sensibilities in American media content.
But, as the genius of corporate identity, Wally Olins, has said,
… to make money, business people have to exploit and attempt to manipulate human emotions just like political leaders. Businesses have to create loyalties; loyalties of the workforce, loyalties of suppliers, loyalties of the communities in which they operate, loyalties of investors and loyalties of customers. In creating these loyalties they use very similar techniques to those of nation builders. They create myths, special languages, environments which reinforce loyalties, colours, symbols, and quasi historical myths.9
For a country that has been marketed and re-branded since its origins as a colony, to meet its changing needs, the new challenge is not the practice of branding but the slickness of brand- ing techniques in conjunction with a more thorough politicization of branding. Post-election campaign statements about what are core or non- core promises are just one example of the use of brand language and brand strategies in politics. Australia has to decide how much of its authenticity, evolved through hardship, it is willing to give up for its trade and its prosperity; and how much of that authenticity it is willing to cast aside for new values on the front line of another phase in this country’s future. That, as ever, will be a decision about what really matters, and an evaluation of how ‘Life in a Different Light’ could look.
1. Joy Jobbins (Publisher of Australia for Players and Stayers), from an interview, July 2004.
2. Tourism Queensland, ‘Brand Australia’, http://www.qttc.com. au/tq_com/industry/international/ blueprints/americas/image-management/brand-australia.cfm Accessed 2 August 2004.
3. ATC web site ‘The story of Brand Australia’, http://www.atc.net. au/Marketing.asp?sub=0291 Accessed 2 August 2004.
4. Ken Boundy, ‘Brand Refresh’, ATC web site, August 2004, http://www.atc.net.au/Marketing. asp?sub=0291&al=361 Accessed 2 August 2004.
5. Andrew Blakemore, from an inter- view, July 2004.
6. Ron Gossen, APR, & Alicia Gre- sham, Ph.D., ‘Branding as the Foundation of Sustainable Com- petitive Advantage’, August 2004, http://www.brandchannel.com/pa- pers_review.asp?sp_id=146 Accessed 2 August 2004.
7. Joe Hockey, ‘Brand Refresh’, ATC web site, August 2004, http://www.atc.net.au/Marketing. asp?sub=0291&al=361
Accessed 2 August 2004.
8. Walter Landor in Antonio Marazza, ‘The Very Tangible Value of the Brand’, http://www.landor.com/in- dex.cfm?fuseaction=cBranding. getArticle&storyid=288
Accessed 2 August 2004.
9. Wally Olins, ‘Branding the nation— the historical context’, The Journal of Brand Management, April 2002, p.7.