01 June 2010

There's nothing like the question of identity.

There's nothing like international television advertising for a country to create seismic ructions around questions of national identity, but that's just the effect the newest There's Nothing Like Australia campaign from Tourism Australia is having.

With a collapse in April inbound tourism numbers to Australia from the key markets of the US, UK (both down 6%) and Japan (also down 20%) unlikely to abate, the ink has hardly dried on the launch of this three year $150m campaign before questions are arising not just about it's ability to rescue an already Australia's ailing tourism sector but more importantly it's also raising the question - who or what is Australia? And how should Australia be seen overseas. And who should be in charge of its image?

Only last month Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean announced the launch of the new $20m Brand Australia logo and tagline to promote Australia's image overseas.

“Australia Unlimited has the breadth to market all of Australia’s strengths - grounded in our commitment to innovation and quality,” Mr Crean said.

“Australia Unlimited is aimed at taking us beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message.”

With AusTrade and M&C Saatchi handling the tricky business of Australia's image among business and Australian Tourism and ad agency DDB managing the consumer image both domestically and overseas, the main issue again seems to be what are the core and central messages and images that should be used to promote Australia as both a brand and a destination. Right now (see above) they appear discordant.

At the launch today Tourism Australia chief Andrew McEvoy claimed its research found "80% of Australians wanted to promote their country as a travel destination so we invited them to share their pictures and stories at the campaign website.

“Australians have identified our people, wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle as the things that make Australia a unique and special place to visit. These suggestions are highlighted in all the elements of the new campaign." Unreservedly so it seems.

Regardless of the perceptible quality problems with both campaigns, it seems that while the core of both and the unifying concept is claimed to be Australia's people, there is still little agreement in both as to what Australia represents as a brand and how it should be portrayed, except for readiness to slide back to traditional imagery.

Brand Australia says it wants to take Australia "beyond tourism messages. It will deliver a national brand for Australia through a consistent image and a consistent message."Yet while the sample images it uses seem modern, they are cold and generic and could be interchanged with almost any wealthy western country's brand.

But the new There's Nothing Like Australia with it's singalong and imagery rendolent of "wildlife, beaches, the reef, the outback, vibrant cities and laid-back lifestyle" seems in stark contrast to Brand Australia's desire for "a more contemporary and multi-dimensional light than has previously been delivered". Right now neither serves to build on the other and both seem so fractious as they may even cancel each other out.

Late in the eighteenth century Australia was referred to as Terra Nullius, it's a narrative strain that remains at the heart of the Australian psyche and neither of these programs resolve.

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