Come in Spinner: When one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing

In the space of a month we have had two major national campaigns launched: one a branding campaign for Australia, and the other the latest tourist promotion campaign.

What is odd about them is that they are sending precisely opposite messages. Now it should be said that a branding campaign is a different animal from a tourist promotion campaign. The first is all about encapsulating and re-inforcing the attributes of a brand – in this case Brand Australia. The second is about getting more people to come here.

I was vaguely aware of the branding campaign because a colleague and friend, Kevin Luscombe, had written an excellent piece on why national branding campaigns were a waste of time unless they were anchored in reality. And then a PR person pitched me a story about the campaign and sent me some background research. Admiring the PR person’s chutzpah, I actually read the material and discovered that the campaign is based on quite a lot of research, particularly the Gfk-Anholt Nation Brands Survey, Austrade research and a Reputation Institute study.

In summary the findings are that we are pretty well-regarded around the world (except – surprise, surprise – in India, Indonesia, other parts of Asia and the Middle East) and that we are seen as a friendly, welcoming lot with a good lifestyle in a beautiful country but not very dynamic, innovative or clever. Australia is considered a great place to visit, in other words, but not too flash when it comes to the key components of modern, successful societies. Nobody knows, for instance, how many Nobel Prizes we have won, nor much about our role in WiFi or a list of other innovations and inventions.

The new brand campaign, which seems to be based on a trendy typographer’s idea of what a bracket is, has been launched at China’s Expo and it is supposed to make us look as if we encompass more than people think. This is not a comprehensive description of the campaign, but given an aversion to all forms of jargon, it is probably as close as you can get to an English translation of the marketing speak brand rationale.

At the same time we have launched an international tourism campaign which focuses on the fact that we are friendly, welcoming lot with a good lifestyle in a beautiful country, conveniently omitting any references to dynamism, innovation or being clever. The Opera House does get pictured, but the images are carefully focussed on the exterior, and a group of amateur singers, to ensure that the campaign doesn’t inadvertently inform people that professional cultural events are held inside.

Admittedly, as I said earlier, a branding campaign is different from a tourist campaign but great brands depend on a combination of reality and consistency. What you actually deliver has to be promoted in ways which are consistent with what the core brand attributes are. The communications also need to re-inforce the reality rather than trying to create it.

So, for instance, the Victorian Government can be obsessive about describing things – from our events program to buildings – as ‘world-class’, but the reality is that world-class things don’t need to be promoted. It is symptomatic of Britain’s decline that the ‘world-class’ cringe sometimes surfaces there too, but one never hears New York or Paris talking about world-class – they just are.

The tourism campaign, on the other hand, doesn’t cope too well with reality either. Having a quick look at the images suggests that visiting the various locations would take rather more time than most holiday-makers have. Australia’s fundamental tourist problem is that it is a long way from anywhere else and it takes time to get around when you get here. It’s also the sort of place you tend to see once – as the ups and then long down of Japanese tourist numbers demonstrate – if landscape and beauty are the major motivations.

But whatever the problems with the individual campaigns are, the most important point is that Australia now has two campaigns out in the international marketplace communicating contradictory messages – demonstrating yet again how good we are at clever things like joined up government.

RITUAL DECLARATION OF INTEREST: The author has served on several Boards with Kevin Luscombe.