Backlash against AussieBum’s Australia Day undies shows why brands need to be aware of cultural sensitivities, expert says

Backlash against AussieBum’s Australia Day undies shows why brands need to be aware of cultural sensitivities, expert says

Brands need to be aware of cultural sensitivities with their products and advertising after an Australian underwear company has been accused of being insensitive to Indigenous people, according to one marketing expert.

Men’s underwear and swimwear company AussieBum’s Australia Day underwear campaign has drawn flak on social media.

One ad shows a model wearing men’s underwear with pictures of a boomerang, an Aboriginal man standing on one leg holding a spear and what appears to be Uluru in the background.

READ MORE: Subaru pulls TV ad deemed “highly offensive” to Indigenous Australians

Consumers have since taken to social media to slam the design, describing the underwear as “ignorant” and “insensitive”.

AussieBum chief executive Sean Ashby (above) told The Guardian he never intended to offend people.

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Ashby said.

“You know what’s actually ironic is that it’s just a mountain, we didn’t actually see it as Uluru. However, in reflection… the moment that was recognised it was addressed immediately.”

Ashby also confirmed there was no consultation between his business and Indigenous Australians regarding the underwear.

“I simply didn’t see it as a matter of that level,” he said.

However, the business owner has promised to consult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities if he releases products with Indigenous themes and imagery in the future.

Michelle Gamble, founder of Marketing Angels, told SmartCompany businesses must be aware of cultural sensitivities when marketing their products, particularly around events such as Australia Day.

“You have to be careful,” Gamble says.

“Australia’s relationship with the Indigenous population and our history is not great and people have become more culturally sensitive over the years.

“There’s a whole bunch of iconography they [AussieBum] could have used without having to use something that is part of our Indigenous heritage and culturally insensitive to people.”

Gamble says younger generations of Australians are increasingly aware that Australia Day is not something that is necessarily to be celebrated from Indigenous perspective and brands should take note of this perspective and how it may become more common in the next 20 years.

“Embrace other cultures; we’re a diverse nation and celebrate that,” Gamble says.

“If you’re a brand looking to use Australia Day as a way to market your products, you need to be aware of that.”

In March last year, Subaru Australia pulled a television advertisement after the advertising watchdog ruled it would likely offend Indigenous people.

The ad included a voiceover that said, “to pay any more for a car this good would just be highway corroboree”.

The Advertising Standards Board said a corroboree is a “central part of Aboriginal culture” and linking it to the word “robbery” would likely offend people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

SmartCompany contacted Ashby but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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