By Luke Henriques Gomes
It’s the battle for Australian hearts, minds and meats.
An advertising war has broken out in the lead-up to Australia Day amid growing controversy over the nation’s annual celebration.
The Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), no stranger to criticism, courted controversy of a different kind on Thursday with its 2017 lamb ad, ditching Sam Kekovich’s chest-beating patriotism for a diverse picture of Australia that avoids the words “Australia Day”.
Meanwhile, comedian Dave Hughes has launched an ad attack on those who say non-meat eaters are “un-Australian”, a reference to MLA’s previous ads fronted by Kekovich.
The MLA’s two-and-a-half-minute spot features a diverse cast, including European settlers, a wave of immigrants, vegans and LGBT Australians atop a Mardi Gras float who arrive in waves to join a beach barbecue started by three indigenous Australians.
When former Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman asks what the occasion is, the indigenous hosts respond: “Do we need one?”
Later, when someone raises concerns about asylum seekers spotted on the horizon, renowned Malaysian-Australian chef Poh Ling Yeow tells the group: “Hang on, aren’t we all boat people?”
A groundbreaking ad
Despite declarations of “political correctness gone mad”, experts say the ad could have a lasting impact on the Australia Day debate.
“It is probably the most culturally important ad of this decade,” Deakin University marketing lecturer Michael Callaghan said.
Placing it in the same vein as the “Happy Little Vegemites” ads of the 20th century, Callaghan said he believed the lamb industry wanted to move away from “negative connotations” attached to its past ads.
“The new ad has very cleverly picked up on what we call the zeitgeist,” he said.
Callaghan said it was remarkable MLA had chosen to promote a positive vision of multiculturalism and indigenous affairs at a time when both had become polarising issues.
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But he said he believed the lamb industry had “probably done focus groups” that showed the “old Australianisms” had negative connotations.
“The old campaign was about being uncouth and Australian. Like, ‘we’ll do what we bloody well like’,” he said.
“Those who have written this ad have picked up on the fact that there has been a shift and that sort of attitude is in the minority now.
“They’ve worked out there’s more money on the other side of the fence.”
— George Christensen (@GChristensenMP) January 12, 2017
baffling that the lamb ad, an established January 26 institution, can get this social currency off jokes about colonisation & refugees.
— alison whittaker (@AJ_Whittaker) January 12, 2017
Just watched the 2017 Meat & Livestock Australia Lamb Ad for Australia Day. So clever and wonderfully depicting Aussie humour. Great job.
— Close Consulting (@consultme520) January 12, 2017
The MLA’s new ad provides a stark contrast to its 2016 offering, which was among the most complained about commercials in Australian history.
Starring SBS TV’s Lee Lin Chin and Kekovich, it centred on an intelligence operation aimed at saving Australians from missing out on lamb on Australia Day.
On Thursday, Alternative Meat Co released a counter-ad, fronted by comedian Dave Hughes, which hit out at those who think “throwing a slab of meat on the barbie makes them more Australian” than non-meat eaters.
“It doesn’t need to moo, for you to be true blue,” Hughes says in the video for the Alternative Meat Co.
Both ads have been released amid debate around Australia Day, which many indigenous Australians call “Invasion Day”.
Late last year, the City of Fremantle’s decision to move its 2017 Australia Day celebrations to January 28 sparked a row with the federal government.
The ABC’s youth radio station Triple J has also considered changing the date of its annual music countdown, the Hottest 100.
La Trobe University indigenous academic Mark Rose, a former Australia Day committee member, welcomed the MLA ad as an “under the radar way” of sparking conversations about Australia Day.
“The whole gambit of opinion will be challenged by it,” Professor Rose said.
“Australia Day is still a work in progress. We are in search of a new date, we need one that celebrates all our stories.”
But Professor Rose said he understood some would be offended by the comedic interactions between the indigenous and British characters.
“It’s using comedy to provoke the tough conservations that this country needs to have,” he said.
Meat and Livestock Australia Group Marketing Manager Andrew Howie said the ad aimed to “prove we should be able to celebrate this great country every day of the year”.