The World: Insider's View - Australia

Australia's agencies are struggling to drop the national stereotypes cultivated by an earlier generation of creatives, Anthony Freedman says.

Australia Day, which celebrates the country's discovery and creation, has prompted me to consider the notion of national identity. And specifically how, if at all, advertising reflects our view of ourselves and what the the world thinks of us.

Nowhere should national identity better be captured than in campaigns promoting the nation. But when I think about advertising for Australia, I see what marketers might call an "acute perception reality gap".

In 1984, Paul Hogan invited Americans to come and say "g'day" and even offered to "slip another shrimp on the barbie" for them. Australians were outraged at calling prawns "shrimp" as a concession to our American friends. But, otherwise, this was a good campaign that captured the spirit of the times and lives on in the collective consciousness.

"Where the bloody hell are you?" our advertising asked the world 25 years later, peddling more of the same. It made us sound like the miffed hosts of a poorly attended party and offended most of the people it was designed to appeal to (it was banned in the UK). But most of all, it perpetuated a stereotyped image of an unsophisticated nation, friendly and down to earth but uncouth and lacking in social grace.

Australia has come so far in just over 200 years. We've welcomed people from the world over, some for the lifestyle but many fleeing poverty and persecution at home. We are proud of our enduring values of mateship and multiculturalism. We recently took the first step towards some form of reconciliation with our Aboriginal community with a formal apology.

So why is it our national advertising seems incapable of capturing the tone of contemporary Australia?

Best estimates suggest that roughly half the staff in Sydney agencies don't actually come from Oz. Could it be that the people charged with making these ads struggle to see more than a superficial facsimile?

Or, as we increasingly become a global community and grow more similar than different, perhaps we reinforce stereotypes as way of being noticed and differentiated.

Whatever the reason for this "cultural cringe", it's not down to a lack of talent in the industry here.

There are some fantastic examples of tourism campaigns in Australia on a state level. The Tourism Victoria cinema ad for Melbourne captures and evokes the spirit of that city beautifully. Tourism Queensland's recent "Best job in the world" PR campaign saw two million people from all over the world click on its website, in just one day.

I'm hopeful on Australia Days to come, when I reflect on all the great things about the adopted country I now call home, that I'll be proud to list our national advertising campaign as one of them.

- Anthony Freedman is the chief executive of Host, Sydney.

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