Branding

It’s the branding move small businesses “tend to really screw up”: Should you ever reference Anzac Day in advertising?

Emma Koehn /

Anzac Day war memorial

Australian national war memorial in Canberra.

Australian brands are more keen than ever to engage with current events through their branding, but experts say there’s one day of the year SMEs should keep their mouths shut: Anzac Day.

“I just don’t think many [advertising] agencies are sitting around anymore waiting for that Anzac Day brief, it’s just not going to happen,” says consumer psychologist and founder of Thinkerbell, Adam Ferrier.

There are no shortage of controversial Anzac Day themed branding case studies to draw on, the most famous of which is perhaps Woolworths’ “Fresh in Our Memories” campaign from three years ago.

The supermarket was heavily criticised — and even threatened with a $50,000 fine for using the Anzac name without permission from Veteran’s Affairs — after asking Facebook followers to share a memory of someone affected by war and tie this to Woolworths branding.

Social media outrage is frequent when brands try to reference the public holiday: last year, fashion company Industrie copped heat for offering vouchers as part of a promotion commemorating the Anzac centenary.

And small businesses have been caught out by the sensitivity of the Anzac name at other times of the year, too. In October last year, Sydney business Ella’s Wisdom told SmartCompany about how it accidentally gained unwanted attention for calling one of its vegan products an “Anzac cookie” in violation of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs guidelines for using the term.

Ferrier tells SmartCompany that even though brands continue to link themselves to the Anzacs, the day is “laden with emotion” and this “makes it a minefield — pardon the pun”.

“Anzac is an incredibly strong brand in and of itself,” he says.

“It’s a very difficult thing to get right.”

The bad news for SMEs is “it’s the small businesses that tend to really screw it up”, because they can be more likely to put well-intentioned messages out on social media and then feel the backlash, Ferrier says.

Over the past few years, the issue of respect for veterans has meant many companies are now shying away from linking promotions to the Anzacs; Ferrier believes if the Australian Football League tried to launch its Anzac Day game and celebrations today, the idea would struggle to get up amid controversy.

I think it’s interesting for the AFL because I think they became involved with it before it all got so sensitive. At this stage, now they have a history [of running the celebrations],” he says. 

With the risk that a business could be accused of insensitivity, is there ever any reason to give a nod to the Anzacs through your company?

While the day can cause divisive opinions, companies are still able to reference it, says Ferrier. But play it straight down the line and with respect.

“If you feel passionately about it and you want to support it, then yes. But just don’t be too tricksy about it.”

“Just don’t do it”

However, social media expert at CP Communications Catriona Pollard believes even if your business feels passionately about the day, you should keep it too yourself.

I think there are certain issues and days of the year that brands need to be really aware of how sensitive the day is to many people, and Anzac Day is one of them,” she says. 

If it seems like your business is being insensitive or leveraging the day for gain, the social media backlash will be significant and that is just not worth it as a strategy, Pollard believes.

“While they [companies] might think it’s a great way of getting eyeballs, I just don’t think they should do it,” she says.

Some companies may want to reference the Anzac spirit to pay tribute, but Pollard suspects the real risk is when brands set out to be controversial to get viral content.

On this front, she believes the Anzacs should simply be a no-go zone for all brands.

I’m all for brands using this approach to a certain extent, but I just don’t think Anzac Day is one of those times.”

NOW READ: Woolies could face $50,000 fine over Anzac Day campaign cash in attempt

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior journalist at SmartCompany.

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