In the interests of full disclosure, the first thing I’d like to say is that I probably fit the ‘inner-city wanker’ stereotype much disdained by those of Australia who live outside of the major cities. I drink skim lattes, I tut-tut angrily at people who don’t know how to use train tickets and hesitate awkwardly near the barriers, and I avoid Darling Harbour unless it’s to go to dinner at an overpriced restaurant and pay obscene amounts for a piece of steak. One thing I am not guilty of, however, is making the mistake of assuming that as a Sydneysider, I know what’s best when it comes to encouraging foreigners to come to this country. And that’s something a lot of people have been doing in the 24 hours or so since the ad came out. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here. Go nuts.
Predictably, people are already losing their shit over this ad. Everyone acknowledges that it’s a vast improvement from the ‘Where the Bloody Hell Are You?’ campaign in 2006, which combined bad language, poor taste, and one social-climbing wannabe in 61 seconds of cringe. Curiously though, people find much to object to in Tourism Australia’s latest venture, ‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’, a 90 second feature that depicts people enjoying themselves in various parts of Australia while singing along to the song (and these are no Idol contestants). It’s been criticised on the grounds that it’s bogan, it’s from the 1950s, it’s from the 1970s, it’s daggy, the singers are tone-deaf, and that it’s unrealistic.
I think that all of these criticisms are probably the dumbest kinds of comments to be issued from the mouths of my fellow citizens since a Punch survey found that most people thought we should dump new migrants in the middle of Australia. First of all, the argument that it is ‘bogan’ seems to stem from the dislike that urban-dwellers have of anyone who doesn’t sound or look like them, causing them to instantly label others as ‘bogans’ (and I’m guilty of doing this too). But bogan has a reasonably clear definition, and an even clearer cultural stereotype – in 2010, it usually refers to people who wear uggboots while they go to the local shopping centre, buy Pandora bracelets, and then drive their kids – Kaylee and Jazmynn – home in the Commodore. People who surf, play the piano, hold koalas, drink beer in pubs, or walk up the Opera House steps are not inherently bogan. People who speak with Australian accents not commonly heard east of Strathfield are not bogans. So before everyone starts throwing the term around like it’s going out of fashion, have a serious think about what that word actually means. See any bogans in that ad? REALLY? No, didn’t think so.
The 1950s / 1970s complaint about the ad also seems similarly flawed. Once again, I don’t see anything particularly 50s-ish about the Harbour Bridge, Aboriginal kids swimming, listening to an iPod (0.26), or climbing the bridge (was that even allowed back then?) In fact, I’m almost 100% sure that none of those activities or events came with a “Use By 31 December 1959” label stamped on the bottom. To be honest I’m not even entirely sure what to make of this complaint, unless critics are trying to say that we haven’t moved away from a 1950s image of what Australia is like. As I’ve already pointed out this isn’t even accurate, but I’m going to also state later on why there would necessarily be anything wrong with this even if it were the case.
On the argument that the ad is daggy and the singers are tone-deaf – yes. We do not see any cool, young, beautiful people in this ad, no expensive suit-wearing corporate types, no nightclubs. The singers are more often than not ordinary people warbling out a semblance of a tune. The unrealistic argument is also valid to an extent: I can’t remember the last time I stood on the edge of a cliff and looked at the trees, or found myself surrounded by rainbow lorikeets, or rode a camel in the sunset. But guess what? IT’S A FUCKING ADVERTISEMENT. The ENTIRE point of this ad is to convince people that Australia is a great place to come to and enjoy some beautiful and diverse natural scenery, meet some laidback and friendly locals, and appreciate the uniqueness of our animal life. The reason we don’t promote restaurants, bars, cafes, and the nightlife, is because we’re not New York or London. Sure, DFAT has acknowledged that not all tourists come for a beach holiday, with Australian food , wine and art highly regarded internationally. But the majority of tourists who come here are young families, not single travellers or couples in their 20s-30s. They don’t come to Australia for the cuisine and the art, and if anyone actually believes that they are having themselves on. Even those who are aged 18-35 tend to be travelling on a budget, seeking active adventures, two things that the current ad does appeal to. If the point of a tourism industry is to attract as many people as it possibly can, and appeal to the typical demographic that visits Australia, then it doesn’t make sense to promote things like restaurants and nightclubs, however much this might upset the local elite. Australia has a huge advantage over a lot of the world when it comes to natural wonders, so I’m curious to know what people have been smoking if they think it’s a good idea to try and play up the ’nightlife’ aspect of Australian culture.
As for the criticism that the ad is unrealistic… well, what do you expect? It’s a tourism ad! I’m well aware that camel-riding in the sunset is not a typical feature of everyday Australian life, but the same could be said of elephant-riding in Southeast Asia, and I can tell you that that’s going to be one of the FIRST things I do when I arrive in Thailand later this year. And I wouldn’t be horrified to find that the locals don’t do the same thing, because – now this may come as a real shock to everyone – what tourists and what locals like to do are two very different sets of activities. Shocking, I know. And “There’s Nothing Like Australia” wasn’t trying to impress us locals, it was trying to attract foreigners; and judging by the reactions of the 15 or so friends and relatives from San Francisco, Manila, Manchester and Ankara that I’ve shown this ad to so far, it’s doing a pretty good job. To everyone who has suddenly become an advertising expert and feels the need to voice their 2c on comment threads online, you’re welcome to fuck off to some trendy bar in Kings Cross while the rest of the world appreciates the wonders this country has to offer.