By Libby Gandhi.
In 1984 Paul Hogan offered to ‘slip an extra shrimp on the Barbie’ for Tourism Australia and charmed the world. Australia rocketed from the 28th to 7th most desirable country to visit for North Americans, and the phrase became synonymous with ‘the land of wonder, the land down under’.
However, marketing Australia in the past 40 years has not always been such plain sailing, and recent campaigns have radically departed from Tourism Australia’s rustic roots.
The ‘Come and Say G’day’ TVC campaign of 1984 established Australia as a holiday destination. It moved past Australia’s known attributes of wildlife, the outback and the Great Barrier Reef and engaged Americans on an emotional level by focusing on ‘friendliness, the Australian accent and a cheeky sense of humor’ (Bill Baker, Campaign Co-manager). Paul Hogan was the narrator and star of the ad, which made him a household name.
‘Crocodile Dundee’ – released in 1986 – played on Hoges’ ambassadorship as the ‘Australian everyman’ and was wildly popular worldwide. This epic piece of destination advertisement remains to this day the highest grossing Australian film of all time. The campaign capitalized on technological innovations that made televisions widespread and airfares cheap, and produced a character film and TVC that cemented an endearing Australian stereotype.
A similar approach fell flat in 2006. M&C Saatchi’s ‘So Where The Bloody Hell Are You?’ TVC and billboard campaign was labeled ‘a rolled gold disaster’ by then-PM Kevin Rudd after the TVC faced restrictions in Canada and was banned in the UK for its offensive tone. Mimicking ‘Come and Say G’day’, the ‘06 campaign was heavily narrated by thick-accented, ‘authentic’ Aussies cheekily encouraging the world to come visit. Unfortunately, the tone missed the mark and the number of tourists visiting from the three countries that had most exposure to the campaign – Japan, Germany and Britain – fell.
In response, Tourism Australia began to take itself seriously. Too seriously. Baz Luhrmann was enlisted in 2008 for a sober commercial-cum-destination-film campaign in which he invited the world to ‘Come Walkabout’. While the film was successful, the ad received a lukewarm response. It featured an overworked, unhappy woman in a drizzly city who takes a transformative holiday to Australia and finds peace in an endless ochre landscape. ‘She arrived as Ms K Mathieson, Executive VP of Sales. She departed as Kate’. The multi-platform spot was stunning to look at, but too highbrow for the audience.
By 2009 Tourism Queensland struck gold with its ‘Best Job in the World’ online viral campaign. Developed by Nitro, the effort won them 8 Cannes Lions including the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix and the Direct Marketing Grand Prix. The campaign was innovative because it made the most of a low budget. A million dollars stretched far further online than it could have on television, and by requesting online video applications for the caretaking job on a Whitsundays island the content was mostly crowd provided. Tourism Queensland received 54 million webpage views within 6 weeks of launching.
‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’ is an integrated campaign that launched in 2010 under DDB. At the cost of a cool $250 million, the wide-ranging digital and TVC campaign sought to change the Australian global image from a place of cheeky Bushmen, to a stylish, ‘Instagram friendly’ country.
The campaign first asked Australians to post their favorite holiday photos to Instagram and suggest to the world where they should visit. Entries were compiled into an online interactive map, also available as an app. The visual-virtual campaign made the Tourism Australia Facebook page the most popular destination site in the world in 2010.
The second phase was a dramatic, cinematic commercial focusing on coastal scenery. The message was luxurious and earnest, and Chris Hemsworth’s narration offered a sleek, sultry, and international alternative to Paul Hogan’s everyman. When I first saw this spot in 2017 at the St. George Open Air Cinema the surrounding Australian audience spontaneously burst into applause.
In a final move away from the ‘shrimp on the Barbie’ image, Tourism Australia launched its ‘Restaurant Australia’ campaign to promote the high quality of Australian wine and food.
So why such a rigorous departure from the image that made Australia famous worldwide?
One answer is to elevate country equity for businesses – a sleek, modern country is an investable one. Another is in response to cheap air travel and the proliferation of low-priced destinations, which put Australia’s rustic image out of line with relatively high living costs.
The most important reason, however, is the perception of the Australian ‘brand’ abroad. There is a concern by the international community that Australian content doesn’t travel – Australia is an importer rather than major exporter of film and literature. This perception is based largely on stereotypes – quirky New Zealand, minimalist Scandinavia, gnarly Australian Bushmen spearing crocs with Dundee knives. What once popularized Australia has become her – endearing – weakness.
This latest campaign by Tourism Australia has tried to turn the Australian brand on its head. Despite some criticism for whitewashing and sanitizing Australian culture, it has achieved longevity, franchisability – different states have made their own commercials in a complementary style – and acclaim among Australian and international audiences.
Paul Hogan’s ‘shrimp on the Barbie’ charm has certainly not be forgotten, but now there is another instagramable, 21st Century narrative encouraging the world to #seeaustralia.