Marketing nations: good news from Australia


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. 

17 thoughts on “Marketing nations: good news from Australia

  1. Peter

    As an Australian, Grant, I’m delighted by your post!

    On the issue of the marketing of nations, I once led some focus groups in Australia on behalf of an agency of the New Zealand government. The client was interested in the attitudes of Australian consumers to products exported from NZ, prior to the signing of a free trade agreement between the two countries. One of the conclusions of our study was that Australian consumers typically considered NZ a producer of world-class agricultural and similar products (food, clothing, etc), but not of sophisticated manufactured goods. One focus group participant explained to me that NZ electronics manufacturers exporting to Australia needed to label their products with: “Made in Japan”.

    And your statement that Australia is to the US what the US was to Britain is well-observed. Interestingly, a key theme in white Australian culture from our earliest days has been the story of the naive Australian from the bush who finds him/herself in the big sophisticated city (e.g., Crocodile Dundee visiting New York). Henry James, of course, played this particular trope at length.

  2. Grant

    Peter, thanks for the ethnographic data, I always thought the NewZealanders were some of them more english than the english and not at all Australian. We had plenty of this to deal with in Canada, a nation that never made the break. One of the frustrating things about Canadians is that they are so emotionally repressed, they do not protest bad feeling at the hands of a company. They just move their business. If only we have been a little more Australian! Thanks, Grant

  3. Ed Batista

    Good stuff, Grant. On the subject of the (minimal, even tasteful) jiggle, I think it’s a integral part of the politically incorrect appeal of the tagline. More interesting to me is the “rehearsing for 40,000 years” line, a fairly deft way of handling Australia’s complicated relationship with its aboriginal peoples.

    The whole concept also makes me wonder what a “Come to America!” campaign would look like. Having never lived outside the States, I’ve never seen one–do they even exist? This is crying out for the “Lazy Sunday” treatment.

  4. Jack Yan

    I always thought New Zealanders were a bit more forthright in general—perhaps a bit higher up that bonhomie scale than the Australians. We might moan about them, but our politicians seem to get on with their work more—a good proxy for the entire scale, I would think.

  5. Peter

    NZ is more “english” than is Australia, due to (a) the greater proportion of Irish immigrants in Australia in the century after 1850 and (b) Australia’s post-WW II immigration program which accepted people from eastern and southern Europe.

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  7. Todd W.

    “The whole concept also makes me wonder what a “Come to America!” campaign would look like. Having never lived outside the States, I’ve never seen one–do they even exist?”

    There is a campaign running in the UK right now that does just that. Tag: “You’ve seen the movie, now see the set.” Images: scenes from major movies. Idea: America’s best export is movies and everyone is familiar with the big blockbusters. It should make you want to come to America.

    One draw back is that campaign uses a scene from the recent King Kong remake – which was shot in New Zealand and much the NYC scenes were computer generated. Oops.

  8. Grant

    Ed, yes, I thought that 40,000 years bit was an interesting way to address the issue…though of course I think most anthropologists would feel obliged to take umbridge. Thanks, Grant

    Jack, that’s interesting. I hadn’t heard that at all. I once had the misfortune to work in an institution that had a NewZealander as an administrator, and I have to tell you, he was a right wanker. In a very English way. I believe he would have been murdered in Australia, which is, I think, why he moved instead to Canada. Thanks, Grant

    Todd W, thank you, that’s wonderful, see the set, indeed. Someday I’m going to go into NYC city and see how much of the French Connection I can identify. Thanks, Grant

  9. Jack Yan

    Grant, it’s true we have our share of bastards as well. Sorry to hear that you managed to work under one of them. But I still have to say the New Zealand asshole-to-regular person ratio is still refreshingly low.

  10. Matt

    OK, it’s official. This is the first of your commentaries on a specific ad campaign in which I didn’t immediately get the impression that you were MASSIVELY overthinking the question.

    If Aussie bonhomie is a stereotype, then (unlike the others you cite) it’s a stereotype we actually _believe in_…even (perhaps _especially_) those of us with personal experience of Australia.

    I doubt seeing this will make me schedule my next trip down there any sooner than I otherwise would have…but then, I’ve long since been totally sold on the virtues of Australia, so I’m not really the target for their marketing campaign. 🙂

  11. Grant

    Matt, one man’s “over analyzing” is another man’s discipline (in this case anthropology). It’s what we do. This reminds me of that documentary in which someone (David Foster, I think) tells Neil Young that he’s a little flat. “A little flat? That’s my sound.” Thanks, Grant

  12. Peter

    Something about the sibling relationship between Australians and New Zealanders is revealed, I think, in an incident involving former NZ Prime Minister, David Lange, who participated in a pro-celebrity car race as part of the Formula One race in Adelaide, South Australia, a few years ago.

    While in Adelaide, some issue arose in NZ politics (not about the race), and an enterprising TV journalist approached Lange at the race-track about the issue. Apparently, Lange replied on camera to the journalist’s question with: “P*ss off, I’m on holidays.” I can’t imagine any other head of government visiting another country (on holidays or not) and responding like that to a TV camera.

  13. Jack Yan

    At least Lange was up front with his feelings! No false spin there with that man. And I don’t know Peter: I reckon there might have been one or two Aussie PMs who might have been as brusque. Remember Paul Keating feeling up the Queen?
    ¶ Anyway, back on topic. The campaign has broken here in New Zealand. And I love it. Pretty girls in every scene. The Aboriginal model is probably only part-Aboriginal to mainstream her for foreign (white) audiences; and Miss Jiggle TV is an enticing image to have at the end of the spot. Perhaps we are exposed to a few more of these Australian tourism campaigns than you, so I didn’t find this one quite as revolutionary, or value-based, but using the tried formula of seduction. Never mind that these Australian women are rather attractive when you do finally hit the shores of the land girt by sea. I can at least say they are honest about the presence of pretty girls in Oz.

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  15. Natalie

    Hi Everyone!

    I am currently studying the Tourism Australia ad for TAFE and I would like to know what everybody thinks of it.

    If you have a spare min please email me and I will forward you my survey, it should only take a few minutes for you to complete.

    My email address is

    Thank you!!!

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