Whether reflecting the country or influencing it (probably both), Australian brands and their agencies are making marketing increasingly inclusive. Agency leaders share advice and cautions.
Australia has “progressed enormously in less than a couple of generations to become the ‘lucky country’ [in APAC] for egalitarianism”, according to Jake Hird, consulting lead at SapientNitro Australia.
Brands are increasingly getting into social, cultural or political issues, especially in public view, as they now “feel safer” to show support or engagement with minority groups, agreed Sharon Behen, strategy director at Isobar Australia.
Recent examples include Telstra's backflip on same-sex marriage support following a customer backlash, Optus’ multi-language ‘Yes’ campaign, and retailer David Jones’ decision to use Adam Goodes, an Australian-rules footballer of indigenous heritage, as one of its seven brand ambassadors.
It is “as if Australia has had a diversity awakening in 2016, and advertisers everywhere are looking for a diverse bunch of people to appear in their communications,” said Adam Ferrier, global chief strategy officer at Cummins&Partners.
Despite some backlash, David Jones’s act demonstrated a thorough understanding of its customer base, which is consistently more likely than the average Australian to believe that Aboriginal culture is important, according to Roy Morgan research. In fact, 2015 data from the research firm show that 73.1 percent of Australians above the age of 14 agree that ‘Aboriginal culture is an essential component of Australian society’.
From a marketing perspective, all of the above are encouraging evidence that Aussie consumers at large, and not only the so-called minorities, are now expecting brands to stand for a lot more than simple consumerism, said Remi Couzelas, planning director at 303MullenLowe Australia.
“All segments of Australian society are worthy of a marketer’s time, especially now there has been an opening up of, what were once, marginal issues,” added Isobar's Behen.
It is imperative that marketers consider the nuanced agenda of minority groups. “This is partly because it’s often more ‘mainstream’ to show support than not," she said. "Plus, we are a country made up of many persuasions, so to exclude these groups is to bury opportunity.”
A minority can influence a majority, given a combination of mutual understanding, the right timing and optimal platforms for amplification, said Hird. He pointed to the experience of Cadbury in the UK. When the brand discontinued the Whisper chocolate bar, a relatively small number of individuals managed to tap into the nostalgia of a much bigger audience, eventually leading Cadbury to reinstate the product.
“Above all, the minority has to act as the canary-in-the-coalmine for the wider values of a majority in order to see any effect take hold," Hird said.
ANZ’s ‘GAYTM’ work from 2014 was not an one-off publicity campaign to showcase its LGBT-friendly views. Rather it was evidence of a genuine stance by the bank to extend its internal inclusivity policies into the wider national psyche. The work launched at Mardi Gras in Sydney, which in itself is a global cornerstone of celebrating gay rights, originally born from protest against suppression and inequality.
Brands must be prepared to manage negative reactions, even if they only represent a loud minority, cautioned Kimberlee Wells, CEO of Whybin TBWA. Unlike other media, opinions on social media—both negative and positive—get equal weighting and therefore can “reach a scale they don’t always deserve”.
“When we launched the ANZ #equalfuture campaign [meant to support women to build their financial strength], the vitriol from men fiercely opposed to ANZ’s support for financial equality felt significant, but, in truth, was the opinion of a small few,” Wells said.
Brands need to be able to contextualise this and act accordingly, she advised.
In Optus’ case, the telco was trying to be inclusive and combat ill feelings toward minorities when it put posters in Arabic in stores in 2015. But the recoil on social media, where critics said “this is Australia not Syria” (see below), caused the brand to remove the posters.
The brand's community manager at the time replied to some of the less enlightened comments on the telco’s Facebook page with considered and well-argued points about Australia “being a melting pot of different cultures and religions”. That was in alignment with Wells' advice and also a great move for the brand, emphasised Isentia’s head of Australia/New Zealand marketing Claire Waddington.
Indeed, balance is key here as being swayed by consumers with narrower or extremist views and having them "controlling" brands is a "dangerous" possibility, warned Ben Lilley, chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup Australia.
The challenge for marketers, as well as their agencies, is to have strategic and creative talent who are culturally sensitive enough to understand not just clients' brands and customers, but also the society they operate in—including minority cultures.
“It takes a truly integrated approach to marketing communications to successfully execute this," said Lilley. "It’s up to all businesses and marketers to ensure they’re just as inclusive as the consumers they serve.”