There’s nothing like the launch of a new tourism advertising campaign to draw out the critics. They flock like seagulls to a discarded chip on Bondi beach, screeching, squawking and tearing the object of their attention to pieces.
And so it was last week when the TV campaign for Tourism Australia was unveiled.
But while local critics may cringe at an effort labelled “embarrassing” by some and which failed to rate in a popular vote with TV’s Hey Hey It’s Saturday audience, measurement of social networks suggests it is already gaining traction in the markets that matter most.
And overseas tourism operators say the simple jingle and flexible nature of the campaign will be more effective than any since Hoges.
Within minutes of its launch the critics were out, tearing strips off a tourism campaign two years in the making. The singers couldn’t sing, the song was a rip-off of The Mickey Mouse Club jingle or The Brady Bunch and the entire ad was a photocopy of a well-regarded Discovery Channel campaign.
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And then there were claims that the Australian vernacular was sacrificed for the sake of global comprehension.
A mob of kangaroos became a herd, a koala a semi-qualified bear and they dared to show someone at the wheel of a left-hand drive vehicle.
They are wafer-thin arguments, petty pot shots that fail to understand the challenge of selling a country where English is often not spoken — and where the Australian version of the language is easily misunderstood.
Ironically, three decades ago, Tourism Australia faced the same linguistic conundrum, pondering if Americans would have a clue what a prawn was. They settled for a shrimp on the barbie and the ad is now hailed as the holy grail of Australian tourism marketing.
TA must answer the needs of tens of thousands of industry stakeholders, each with their specific needs. It must translate those needs into 32 markets with a budget as thin as a smear of Vegemite on toast. It is a brief almost as impossible to answer as it is to define.
But research by Webtrends suggests that, even in its first week, social media in overseas markets was supportive, with 70 per cent of people conversing online saying they liked the campaign, compared with 30 per cent who used descriptions such as “horrendous” and “embarrassing”. Of those who liked the campaign, nearly 65 per cent came from the US.
Overseas tour operators have also given the campaign support, saying its simplicity would easily translate in Britain and across Europe.
Celia Pronto, marketing director of STA in Britain, said TA had come up with a simple and flexible message.
“I have to say I think it’s really strong and a lot of the strength pulls up on the simple elements of it,” Ms Pronto said.
“The tough thing is it has to work on an offline (level) and what I like is that it has engaged Australians and there are so many different elements; it’s not just about icons.”
Tim Riches, head of Futurebrand in Singapore, which publishes the Nation Brand Index, said he believed the Australian reaction was a simplistic one.
“I think it has a lot to do with the execution — it’s old-fashioned and a little crude in some respects,” he said. “But that is what will make it effective in international markets.”