Firstly, a solution in search of a non-existent problem; not surprisingly a brain fart of that most immaterial of prime ministerships, Malcolm Turnbull’s:
The Brand Advisory Council, set up two years ago by the then-Turnbull government to help develop “a stronger nation brand to better position Australia and enhance our global competitiveness comprises some of Australia’s most successful business brains.
It is chaired by mining magnate Twiggy Forrest and includes Qantas boss Alan Joyce, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes and Coopers Brewery chairman Glenn Cooper among others and is supported by an expert working group of marketing professionals.
Clemenger BBDO has also been helping out creatively by way of a reported $3 million contract.
Now, the solution itself, so clever, it could have only been dreamed up by our best and brightest:
The brains trust in charge of coming up with a new official brand for Australia has convinced the Federal Government we need to shoot the kangaroo.
Why? It was just too internationally well-known.
And what do we replace it with?
“We love our kangaroo – it is currently the most internationally recognised shortcut to Australia,” the council says in its recommendations for the new national brand presented to Trade Minister Simon Birmingham…
“We considered whether it would shift perceptions of our nation, or simply reinforce what people already knew about us,” says the council’s report, which can be found in a quiet corner of Austrade’s website…
“To adopt a kangaroo as our national symbol would require agreement on a new single ‘roo’ (by all agencies currently using kangaroos) as dual-branding situations of multiple kangaroos sitting side by side will not work.
“Therefore, with consideration for the mark to co-exist with existing national symbols, this led to a recommendation against the kangaroo.”
But why the wattle? Well, it is our national flower as the council points out, before adding, perhaps optimistically, that “while not immediately recognisable internationally, it will become so over time.”
“Our proposed nation brand mark balances a literal and abstract interpretation of a wattle flower. It’s an optimistic burst of gold positivity,” the council’s report to Minister Birmingham says.
“Co-created with our Indigenous design partners Balarinji, the mark is embedded with a cultural richness and graphic voice that speaks distinctively of Australia.
“The hearty resilience of the wattle has come to represent the enduring spirit of the Australian people. This small, beautiful flower is an organic burst of positivity – in bright joyous gold.
“It speaks of warmth, expanding ideas and horizons, with the pollen-laden stamens radiating a sense of energy and dynamism. It is an authentic national symbol that is elegantly and undoubtedly Australian.”
While I would wager that most of the world population (certainly those who know that Australia exists) would instantly recognise and appreciate a kangaroo – and much more so than, say, a koala bear or an emu – a wattle will in 999 out of a 1000 instances draw a blank. As for Australians, even those who recognise it in real life will struggle with the version imagined by the Council and their Indigenous design partners. I would wage further that most of us would associate it more with Anzac Day specifically rather than with the nation in general. It does not strike me as effective branding and marketing where you have to first educate your target audience about 1) what it is, 2) what it’s meant to represent, and 3) why is it relevant to your product, in this case, Australia. But hey, what would I know about branding and marketing. These people are experts after all.
I mean it’s pretty cute and all. But. As Robert MacDonald, ex-Austrade, points out in the article, what even is AU? Granted, some people know it’s a chemical symbol for gold (and those who do might indeed think it’s some sort of a new symbol for the metal, with the background being perhaps some sort a representation of a gold atom), but not too many more will click that it’s an abbreviation for Australia either. “Aust” would arguably be better for that purpose. Then again, the best logos and symbols don’t need explanatory writing.
Unlike the Canadian maple leaf or the New Zealand fern, no one will ever look at the wattle logo and think of a plant – it simply does not look like any recognisable part of one; not a stem, not a leaf, not a flower, not a seed, not a fruit. It might be “an optimistic burst of gold positivity” but in abstract only. As for “the hearty resilience”, no one will have the faintest clue. It might indeed speak “of warmth, expanding ideas and horizons… radiating a sense of energy and dynamism” but so do, even more so, fireworks that more people would interpret “the burst” as rather than anything organic. They might even think it’s a new mutation of coronavirus.
The quest to find a new national brand seems like another pointless and unnecessary symbolic exercise by and for the people who think they’re just all that much smarter and more sophisticated than the 20-odd million of us, average bogans, with our cheap and outdated ideas and ideals. Kangaroo? Puh-lease, so tacky and so common. People who like kangaroos probably also like our current flag, with its Union Jack and all. We need to well and truly transcend all that tired post-imperial, White Australia iconography of exclusion. Here, the golden pollen can represent all the genders, sexual orientations and languages spoken in our country today. We are one but we are many “pollen-laden stamens”.
In any case, a kangaroo would “simply reinforce what people already knew about us”; it wouldn’t “shift perceptions of our nation”. To shift these perceptions – to what? It’s a furphy that people overseas somehow only think of Australia as a beautiful but weird zoo, and not as a peaceful, prosperous, successful democracy that hundreds of millions would want to live in – we need to come up with a new symbol that is so sophisticated that no one knows what the hell it means. But that’s a sure sign we’ve done our work right.
To paraphrase the advertising slogan for a well-known brand of house paint, wattle they think of next? Personally, I would rather not find out.
Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where a version of this piece also appears.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.