Who the bloody hell are we?

Tourism Australia has this week said its forthcoming global advertising campaign will run for the next 10 years. Well it better be one bloody ripper of an ad then.

Australia’s brand is in crisis. After spending three years at the top of Futurebrand’s Best Country Brand index, it has been beaten this year by the USA (1st) and Canada (2nd).

It’s no secret that tourism numbers to Australia have been negatively impacted by the rising Australian dollar and the global financial crisis. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that, this year, Japanese visitor numbers have fallen by 24 per cent and Korean visitors were down 15.9 per cent. Arrivals from the UK are also down, with forecasts predicting a 9.2 per cent drop over the next year.

Reports of attacks on Indian students and other immigrants also continue to deter visitors to Australia as the country contends with a racist image.

Against this background, DDB has been given the task of coming up with an international advertising campaign that will endure for the next 10 years. The brief is not only to market the land down under as a top holiday destination, but to change the perception that Australians are racist bogans. This will be no easy task, considering the past two campaigns seem to have got it spectacularly wrong.

Just over a year ago, the infamous "Where the Bloody Hell Are You" campaign for the tourism body was dropped, two years after its release. The $180 million campaign managed to get mass publicity around the world. But it was for all the wrong reasons and did not generate any major increase in visitor numbers.

It would seem the campaign didn’t work because it gave international consumers the perception that Australia was full of bogans. Bogans who use swear words like ‘bloody’.

Tourism Australia’s then agency, M&C Saatchi, was unceremoniously dumped along with the campaign. The UK, USA and Canada where most offended with the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority asking the agency and tourism body to "refrain from using profanity” in the future.

Baz Lurhman’s epic "Come Walkabout" campaign was also heavily criticised. It looked "depressing", according to Paul Hogan, star of the equally famous but more successful "Shrimp on the Barbie" campaign in the 1980s. The Walkabout campaign didn’t play long and basically disappeared at about the same time Lurhman's film, "Australia", left movie theatres. Many thought the tourism campaign was a plug for the film.

Hogan's ads ran for six years (from 1984-1990), but are still talked about today. According to the actor, the campaign worked because it focused on Australia’s ‘friendly residents’.

But it seems Australia has forgotten what makes it appealing to international visitors.

Tourism advertising aims to make extensive use of national identities in building brand images. However, that use, according to research from Informaworld, can result in "significant negative impacts on countries and their cultures". The research also points out that until recent times, the dominant themes for much of Australia's international tourism campaigns have been based upon male stereo-types, Indigenous culture and landscape.

So what can DDB possibly come up with that will resonate for the next 10 years? Whatever it is, it won't be BBQing, Stubbies-wearing, Foster’s-drinking laid-back folk going walkabout and asking where the bloody hell all the tourists are.

Tourism Australia has admitted that the constantly changing direction of its ad campaigns has hampered the country’s efforts to attract visitors. Its solution to create a campaign of "consistency and longevity" will be developed to sell the destination locally and internationally.

The new campaign is timed to break in the first half of 2010. Details have been kept under wraps, but much of Australia and the international market are expecting great things from DDB.

The idea behind the decade-long campaign is to develop the idea over time – much like the "100% Pure New Zealand" campaign – rather than keep coming up with completely new ideas, according to the Tourism body.

A consistent message that is integrated across multiple channels will be vital, but Australia is yet to figure out what exactly that message is.

Australia might not be the top country brand anymore – but then it isn’t just a place to catch bikini babes by white sandy beaches either.

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