Marketing nations is hard. Constrained by bureaucrats, the creatives are reduced to the banal and the exclamatory. Incredible India! Supernatural British Columbia! Uniquely Singapore! Malaysia: Truly Asia! WOW Philippines! England: little and damp!
And along comes Australia with "So where the bloody hell are you?" Ah, bless them. This is perfect. The spot shows scenes of Australia at its most sumptuous, and Australians saying things like,
"We’ve bought you a beer. And we’ve had the camels shampooed. And we’ve got the sharks out of the pool." [An aboriginal dancer adds:] "And we’ve been rehearsing for over 40,000 years."
The execution is not quite as charming as the idea. The punch line "So where the bloody hell are you?" comes from a beautiful young woman on the beach (pictured) and she quite deliberately jiggles while delivering her line. Yes, yes, I know we’ve seen the return of jiggle television, so why not jiggle advertising? It’s facile marketing, that’s why. If you need a jiggling 18 year old to sell your line, well, actually, the line is so good, it didn’t need a jiggling 18 year old.
What’s good about the line "So where the bloody hell are you?" is that it captures what I take to be a peculiarly national endowment. Australians have so perfected the art of bonhomie that they can trade in frankness without being rude. They can challenge without ceasing to be companionable. In the vernacular: Australians can get in your face without getting all up in your face about it. (On the map of cultures, only Italians can do this kind of thing so well.)
Now, in a postmodernist time we know that any generalization about nations is a very slippery business. At the very mention of the word "Australia" our heads fill with panorama, breaking surf, shell-like opera houses, kangaroos, guys called Bruce, girls called Sheila, shrimps on the barbie…and we know all of this is crap. Australia is a very various place, like all countries (with the possible and tragic exception of France) a stereotype in ruins.
But, postmodernists be damned, there are national tendencies. I suspect that Australian bonhomie is something we could identify, measure and confirm. And as long as this is so, those of us who live in cultures that are preoccupied with ceremonial exactitude listen to ads of this kind and go, "ah, a vacation from getting it exactly right."
And let’s face it, Australia is the old America. Heart on the sleeve, tell like it is, forthrightness, this used to be an American virtue. And it was the reason the English kids at Cambridge would sometimes gather round a North American, thrilled and perhaps a little scandalized to be in the presence of someone who didn’t have to get it right every time. It seemed a little liberating (when it was not manifestly risible…some of them could not decide.) No, Australia is to America what American used to be to England, a place not entirely Japanese in its attention to the niceties of social interaction.
And this ad captures that perfectly. And what a value ad this is. To give people a vacation from the perplexing difficulties of their daily life, when old rules have been overthrown, and new ones not yet created, (most of my Connecticut neighbors have retreated into rudeness), this is a good thing surely, and the best way to build a national brand and to wow the would-be tourist.
Marketing nations doesn’t have to be an exercise in the banal and the exclamatory. And as the new consumer goes looking for touristic experiences (not national stereotypes) plainly, it can no longer afford to be. Good on ya, Australia.
Kotler, Phillip. 1993. Marketing Places: Attracting Investment, Industy and Tourism to Cities, States and Nations. New York: Free Press.
Stanley, Bruce. 2006. &@#$%!– Australia Throws Another Tourism Advertising Slogan on the Barbie. Wall Street Journal. March 10, 2006; Page B1. (subscription required)
The "where the bloody hell are you?" campaign here.
Tom McFarlane, M&C Saatchi’s regional creative director in Sydney.
John Howard, Australian Prime Minister for defending the spot.