I always find it difficult when we have overseas visitors who ask to have an “Australian experience”. Apart from trotting out to the Opera House and giving them a bit of Vegemite toast for breakfast, I struggle to immerse them in real
Australiana. This struggle is of course much harder for brands who are trying define themselves through their
Australianness or adapt their global persona to an Australian perspective.
Ask any Australian to characterise an Australian and you are likely to get a picture of an old guy in stubbies holding a Fosters in the dusty outback, beside a ute, with his dog - or maybe that’s a kangaroo. He’s perpetually sunburnt and wrestles crocodiles in his spare time when he is not watching sport.
The Australian stereotype is so firmly linked to our limited history, harking back to our convict days. And whilst this bloke isn’t extinct, he certainly doesn’t represent the average Australian (except for the sport bit which is still highly archetypal). How does a brand which wants to represent Australia do so in a modern
way? What does characterise the modern Australian identity?
Who is the average Australian?
According to the 2011 census, "the average Australian is a 37 year old woman, born in Australia … She has English, Australian, Irish, or Scottish ancestry. She speaks only English at home and belongs to a Christian religion, most likely Catholic...She is married, and lives with her husband and two children...in a separate house with three bedrooms and two cars in a suburb of one of
Australia's capital cities…"
Despite the “average” Australian pictured above, the ABS states that NO SINGLE PERSON on census night could have actually been described in this manner. Our diversity is huge and whilst this melting pot has begun to characterise us as a nation, we couldn’t say that acceptance is an Aussie trait – racial violence and the so called tall poppy syndrome are still very present.
So how do we show the average Australian on a tv ad
To characterise Australia is difficult if we try to describe a person, a national dish or costume – things that can be so easy for other countries. We can’t whip out the indigenous archetype because our Aboriginal population is now only at 3%. We are very proud of “our country” – although most of us haven’t seen much of it outside of the beaches (where we bake ourselves despite having the world’s highest rate of skin cancer. But we blame that on the British backpackers).
We CAN show you the large array of toothy, fangy, stingy creatures that could kill you (and we are perversely proud of them) but that’s probably not a fertile area for many brands. To characterise the young nation of Australia we need to personify our values.
So what are Australian values and are they unique?
Mateship is an interesting area that is touted as the very key to Australianness. But ahem, doesn’t everyone love a beer & pie /red wine & brie/ saki & sushi with their friends, not just Australians? As Hugh Mackay once said, we celebrated the Beaconsfield miner rescue as a celebration of Australianness – but wouldn’t every nation want to rescue their kin trapped
We are proud of our fighting spirit which we inherited from our ancestors although we also fancy ourselves to be laid back (although our European friends will tell us otherwise, as will the stats on the number of
hours we work).
We don’t have a strong class system and we are proud of that, which tends to show up in our self mocking humour and our abuse of the English language through our wide adoption of slang. That said, class exists
and the gap grows wider. And whilst we don’t always give everyone a fair go (let’s not even discuss The Boats here), we still hold it up as a something to be proud of.
Hence it is difficult for brands who want to be Australian
because we are a population who has a unique identity, but it is difficult to define given we share many values with the countries of origin of our diverse population. To show “Australian” means understanding the correct nuance of these values. It is an area which is easy to cliché and to get horribly wrong ('where the bloody hell are ya?') but if done right will resonate for years to come…and will go straight to the pool room.