On the day I arrived in Sydney, the chief of police gave his opinion on the new ‘Crimestoppers’ telephone line. He didn’t think it would work. When pressed, he said ‘nobody likes a dobber.’
That’s the moment I fell in love with Australia.
Australians love their mates, the weather, the ocean, the beers – everything else can get fucked.
Over here, ‘no worries’ isn’t a phrase, it’s a philosophy, and it’s why for decades, Australian advertising has been lauded for its colloquial humour, lack of marketing bullshit and fearlessness when it comes to courting controversy. After all, Aussie Marketers were never frightened of the tiny minority that made up the easily offended. If the work was right, it ran.
The simple understanding that one hundred percent public approval is utterly impossible led to work such as ‘No One Thinks Big of You’ – which persuaded young males not to speed as young women might think they had small penises, ‘Big Ad’ which sold beer on the basis that everyone else’s ads were shit and a Cannes winning Toyota ad in which the only word uttered is ‘Bugger.’
And then, in 2005, Sam Kekovich, a retired Aussie Rules football player addressed the nation for the first time as Australia’s ‘Lambassador.’ In a ninety-second rant, he mourned a ‘creeping tide of UnAustralianism’ where the word ‘thong’ no longer referred to what an Aussie wears on his feet but to what ‘pooncy Brazilian blokes wear up their bums.’ And rather than eat Lamb on Australia Day, the ‘soap avoiding, pot-smoking hippie vegetarians’ would rather eat Tofu. The campaign beautifully attacked the slow rise of Australian nationalism and, as expected, it received its fair share of complaints but it also sold an awful lot of lamb.
Ten years on, the campaign is still one of the highlights of the Australian advertising calendar but the media coverage of the latest spot might be the first signs of a changing landscape.
‘Operation Boomerang’ features a military campaign to snatch stranded Australians and bring them home for Australia Day. In one memorable scene a soldier bursts into an apartment and takes a flamethrower to a bowl of Kale. It’s epic. It’s funny and it uses exactly the same anti-vegetarian gags as Kekovich did in 2005, only his spot didn’t see its complaints make national news.
Vegans took to social media, claiming that the spot ‘incited hatred’ towards them. Others thought it was reminiscent of the ‘war on terror.’ A series of complaints argued that the flamethrower would ‘remind people of bush fires.’
Sensing blood in the water, the press leapt on the story. In numerous articles journalists breathlessly waited for the ad to be ‘banned.’ Of course, it wasn’t, but the arguments continued on social media and industry message boards for days.
Ten years ago, a handful of complaints would have been expected and planned for. As a percentage of total views their numbers are absolutely insignificant. Jesus, the Australian government has gone to war with 40% of the public against them.
But that small minority, those easily outraged (closely followed by those who are outraged that something has made people outraged,) no longer scream and wave their fists in private, they’re an increasingly common story for the media. After all, many millions of people being quite comfortable with something isn’t as interesting to the press as a minute handful that aren’t.
This clearly has the Australian marketers worried. Research groups are back in vogue and even the faintest whiff of negativity on social media is enough to warrant a trip to the editors. It seems that, sadly, the industry must now please all of the people, all of the time.
In 1989, an Australian model urged an Echidna named ‘Rex’ to lick ants off her pants and instantly became part of Australian advertising history. I doubt the concept would even make it of the agency these days. As Sam Kekovich would say, it’s all so UnAustralian.
This article first appeared in ‘Shots.’