Who the hell are we?

It was Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com and the world’s wealthiest homo sapien, who said “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

It’s the job of brand and communication agencies to make sure those “other people” say what you want them to say – to ensure your customers, stakeholders and staff “get” your purpose and personality.

We believe that defining “you” to your audiences is the single most important thing you can do to build successful business, organisational and even personal relationships.

Why then does Australia – which has many millions of other people talking about it – still not have an agreed branding position?

Australia’s Nation Brand project

After a Foreign Policy White Paper in 2017, the appointment of a prestigious Nation Brand advisory committee and expert working group in June 2018, and then the commissioning of ad agency Clemenger BBDO in January 2019, no-one has seen so much as a scribble on a white board. The website hasn’t even had an update since Australia Day.

Presumably there has been lots of activity behind the scenes?

After all, a not so insignificant budget of $3 million was set aside for the agency to come up with a “brand strategy, brand narrative, visual identity, brand architecture, associated brand assets and creative material” that would cement Australia “as a trusted exporter of premium-quality goods and services, a competitive investment destination, a quality provider of education and a great place to visit.”

Seems reasonable? Or has this Turnbull initiative been quietly shelved by Scomo, who sees himself as something of an Aussie ‘tractor cap’ brand in his own right?

Let’s get “philausophical” about the importance of consistent messaging

The real problem with this yawning delay is that in the absence of a clearly stated national brand, various organisations and individuals will create their own view of what Australia is, which just helps to confuse our customers with even more inconsistent messaging.

Over the last three weeks, two of the country’s largest government corporations – Tourism Australia and the ABC – have had a red hot go at doing just this.

Tourism Australia’s (TA’s) latest effort to capture the Australian brand is through a campaign featuring the Macquarie Street-created word, “philausophy”, that attempts to sum up our key characteristics of mateship, enjoyment of nature, our generosity and adventurous spirit, our boundless optimism and no worries-devil-may-care attitude.

Philausophy evidently makes Aussies throw themselves off sand dunes onto surfboards and feed orphaned kangaroos all while laughing uncontrollably as we stroll through red desert cactus gardens.

Love or hate the word, the campaign is a spectacular visual return to the sure-fire selling of our natural attractions – the beach and the bush – as our key points of difference rather than wine glass-swirling in white table-cloth restaurants on Sydney Harbour.

It also gives “no worries” a “philausophical” nod at last.

Back in June 2018, when Australia’s Nation Brand project was announced, I wrote a blog suggesting that “no worries” should be our collective brand tagline – it is our most defining response to all things good or bad, sums up our laconicism and is the first phrase that immigrants learn when they arrive.

I’m waiting for the cheque in the mail.

Naturally there have been detractors (how will Chinese tourists translate “philausophy” on their Huewai smartphones?) but my main criticism is that TA has launched yet another expensive ($38 million) campaign that bears no relationship to the supposedly successful $36 million Chris Hemsworth Crocodile Dundee ad in 2018, or the $180 million “Where the bloody hell are you?” campaign that Scomo oversaw himself in 2006.

Apparently, the importance of consistency of message in branding has been lost on the TA strategists, throwing the umpteenth iteration of Australia at the confused international public like so many shrimp on the barby.

TA would do well to observe New Zealand’s 20-year-old but evergreen 100% Pure campaign, that keeps settling deeper and deeper into the international consciousness (helped along by the most popular Prime Minister in the free world).

So, who the hell are we?

Australia Talks, while ostensibly a check on our cultural pulse, may also provide some useful insights for the Nation Brand strategists.

In its attempt to discover who the hell we are, it revealed lots of useful information – including the insight that the Land of the Long White Cloud is indeed the one place Aussies would migrate to if we weren’t so enamoured with our sand dunes and roos and could bring ourselves to barrack for their rugby team. So 100% Pure must certainly be working!

A statistically small sample of 54,000 people actually completed the Australia Talks survey while ten times that (550,000 viewers) watched the coverage last Monday – proving if nothing else that Australia continues to be a country of spectators.

And while those earnest ABC viewers seem to be maintaining a typically healthy Australian sense of optimism, the “no-worries-she’ll-be-right” mantra is certainly being challenged at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, by not unreasonable concerns over climate change, discrimination against indigenous people, the growing lack of respect for each other and the uneasy feeling that politicians might lie if they are backed into a corner.

The biggest 50:50 divisions in society seem to be about the timing and symbolism of Australia Day; whether there are just two or more genders; and whether the decline in traditional family life is a positive or a negative.

Compared to the concerns of people living in Hong Kong or Syria or Xinjiang or South Sudan or Somalia, Australia Talks just underlines our relatively halcyon existence down here at the bottom of the world. It reveals that we are largely happy and satisfied, the “fair go” social conscience among the majority is still alive and we are taking diversity and multi-culturalism in our stride.

So all of this would contribute to a good tourism and trade campaign…if someone could just get on with bottling it into a national brand.