By Bill Baker and Peggy Bendel
If those words conjure up the smiling face of Paul Hogan, throwing “a shrimp on the barbie for ya,” you’re a veteran travel marketer!
That classic travel and tourism marketing campaign was launched 20 years ago, just five years after ATME’s own birth.
And although the last “Come and Say G’day (“Shrimp on the Barbie”) advertisement was aired fourteen years ago, it is still the most memorable campaign ever launched by a foreign country in the USA. For many Americans it is still “top of mind” when you mention Australia, and some can readily recall some of the key lines twenty years after the first ad.
The travel marketing profession was so different then — so relatively unsophisticated — that it was truly a different (marketing) world.
The Australian Tourist Commission marketing team didn’t realize that we were pioneers as we started into destination branding before there was even a term for it. At the time, the term “branding” was really limited to references to the products of major corporations such as Proctor & Gamble, GE, and other consumer product companies.
Even without a branding framework, we instinctively directed our research, analysis, communications, and product development toward what is today referred to as destination branding.
We had no playbook — this had not been done before on this scale by a long-haul destination — but we watched and admired what Alaska was doing through advertising and database marketing, and we were both targeting similar audiences.
Let’s take a quick look back to “those days of long ago:”
- Australia was regarded as a distant place with exotic wildlife — where “kangaroos deliver the mail.” Americans thought of a visit to Australia as “once in a lifetime:” a trip you took when you retired and usually in combination with a visit to New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti. The itineraries in Australia were mainly confined to Sydney, Melbourne and the national capital, Canberra.
- Other images of the country as a destination were very narrow — Sydney Opera House, The Outback, Great Barrier Reef.
- Timing was good, following the successes of Australian popular music (Men at Work, Olivia Newton-John, AC/DC, Air Supply, etc.), “The Thorn Birds” mini-series, and Australia’s winning the America’s Cup in September 1983. Australia was on a roll.
- The new Australian Federal Government saw the opportunity to convert this relatively sudden interest and higher profile of Australia into tourism, jobs and export earnings: a major breakthrough by the Tourism Minister, whose role had been very minor.
- The only TV advertising featuring Australia were by Qantas, featuring their beloved koala, Sydney. Paul Hogan soon proved he had more sizzle than our cuddly, furry friend.
- And the advertising budgets in those days only needed to stretch to three US networks and a few cable channels, making it easier to gain awareness without the amount of “noise” and complexity in the media today.
- To get onto the “shopping list” of American long haul travelers
- To present Australia as an attractive and compelling destination in its own right rather than part of a South Pacific itinerary
The ingredients of a powerful destination brand were all there:
Positioning — civilized adventures in the friendliest place in the world
Brand personality — friendly, fresh, different, fun-loving, adventurous
Brand language — not just the cleverly crafted key words such as the tagline (“Come and Say G’day”), but the distinctive Australian accent that cut through in broadcast media and instantly distinguished the message as Australian
Visual identity — vivid, natural colors; Americans “being” one of the locals; dramatic natural landscapes and fun-loving cities; exotic wildlife
Style — relaxed, inviting and familiar (but different)
The Advertising Campaign
The “Come and say G’day” campaign went beyond Australia’s tangible attributes of beaches, wildlife, outback and Great Barrier Reef to engage Americans on an emotional level, inviting them to immerse themselves in the relaxed Australian lifestyle. It used friendliness, the Australian accent, a cheeky sense of humor, and a sunny invitation at a time when Americans we concerned by terrorism abroad (sound familiar?) and the need to feel welcome when they traveled.
It was clear to us that the advertising had to move past the postcard or travelogue style of travel advertising of the past, and connect with Americans by inviting them to experience the country and immerse themselves in a different lifestyle. The campaign was led by television and radio advertising, and was supported by extensive tactical advertising in lifestyle and travel magazines to present specific Australian travel offers.
The first ad with the classic “shrimp on the barbie” line ran from 1984 to 1990, the total duration of the campaign. The advertising creatives were developed by the Australian agency MOJO in conjunction with American agency N.W. Ayer.
We gave the “shrimp” advertisement a rest from time to time, but the replacement ads could not match the stellar results of the original, which still generated the largest responses of any of our other ads six years after it was first launched. In fact, the ad was so successful that it was included in the Smithsonian Institute’s collection of major influences on American culture during the 1980s.
Why It Worked
We introduced Australia to Americans by using familiar images and then expanded awareness using enticing experiences and places that were intriguing and different.
Another critical element in the early days (1984–86) was that Paul Hogan was not a personality in the US market, and the ads therefore were not “celebrity ads”. When “Crocodile Dundee” became a hit motion picture, the ads then became celebrity endorsement ads and it could be argued that they lost some of their charm and “breakthrough” value. They now had a different impact on the audience — still a good one, just different.
The campaign was launched during the NFC Championship game in January 1984, in the Los Angeles Metro market only. It then expanded to major East Coast markets, San Francisco and Chicago. Some things DON’T change — those are still the most important origin markets for Australia today.
We knew that we had something special, but were totally surprised by the response when it was launched. We had not staffed the call center with sufficient staff because we had no idea we would get that many calls. The phone number was only shown once and only for a few seconds, yet we received over three hundred responses.
Before the campaign, Australia was approximately #78 on the “most desired” vacation destination list for Americans. Australia jumped to #7 just three months after the launch, and soon leapt to #1 or #2 on American’s “dream vacation” list, staying there for most of the next two decades.
Integrated Marketing Campaign
It was (and still is) the television advertising that attracted everyone’s attention.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg: this was a highly sophisticated integrated campaign that used just about every element of the marketing mix.
Throughout the campaign there were as many as twenty marketing services companies engaged in some aspect of the campaign: research, data management, publishing, public relations, direct mail and exhibition designers.
We managed to generate impact and exposure far in excess of our media buy. The media buy 1984-90 was less than $40 million. It was a campaign that moved off the magazine pages and television to connect the brand with target audiences not just visually, but with its own unique sounds, (from the Aussie accent, screeching cockatoos, to the unusual sounds of a kookaburra laughing), to the tastes of Australian food and wine shared with the industry and media, to the appearances by Paul Hogan for the media and travel trade.
These were in the days before the Internet, so all responses were directed to specific 800 numbers to receive the “Destination Australia” guide. This was not a puff piece of pretty pictures and clichés, but a large detailed info piece that encouraged real travelers to research their travel ideas. Advanced database marketing enabled us to conduct highly targeted direct mail campaigns with offers from Australian travel suppliers, complemented by trade marketing — seminars, trade shows, about 200 a year — times have changed.
Spreading the Word through Public Relations
When “you’re hot”…and Australia was hot! Initial public relations activities for the campaign were handled by Taylor Hammond, a predecessor to today’s Lou Hammond and Associates. The baton then was handed to Development Counsellors International at the beginning of 1985, when the campaign moved into its full-blown stage.
With visibility in top media, including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; CBS Evening News; 60 Minutes and more, Australia was on everyone’s mind. Topped off by a week-long visit by the Today Show and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition.
DCI Senior Vice President Peggy Bendel recalls a New York media luncheon in early 1985, hosted by the Tourism Minister: “It’s the only time in my career I invited only the top twelve media we wanted to attend…and they all did! No one would’ve missed that opportunity to hear the secrets of success!”
The third-party credibility of the media coverage boosted the campaign’s reach, and added to its impact, with the Today Show alone worth $10 million (in 1985 dollars).
The Spokesperson – Paul Hogan
Paul Hogan was the ideal spokesperson and at the time epitomized the Australian brand persona. Hogan said that he always played himself, the former lifeguard, union organizer and Sydney Harbour Bridge worker who stumbled onto the television in 1972 when his work mates dared him to enter a talent show.
In Australia, the campaign was controversial because Hogan was seen by many Australians to not represent the “average Australian” or the “cultural” side of Australia. Many saw him as somewhat of a redneck, relating him to the everyday working class characters he portrayed in his television programs, and not Paul Hogan, the skilled communicator and actor.
At the time, most Australians failed to see Australia through the eyes of their overseas customers. Significant debate took place on the term for “Shrimp” as many back in Australia wanted the “shrimp” to be called a “prawn,” the name Australians called that size crustacean. The USA-based team insisted on “shrimp:” and the results certainly justified that decision. Today when developing destination brands, we tend to be influenced by the opinions and values of local stakeholders. In this case, if it had been left to the stakeholders, one of the best-ever travel marketing campaigns would never have been launched.
“Crocodile Dundee” Boosts Visibility
In 1986 Paramount released “Crocodile Dundee” starring Paul Hogan, which became a worldwide hit grossing over $328 million in the first year, making it one of the most successful comedies of all time. This reinvigorated the campaign and took it to new heights by extending Australia’s “15 minutes of fame”.
“Come and Say G’day” Campaign Results
Australia firmly established itself as a destination in its own right. Arrivals doubled over the first three years and for four years the growth rate was still in excess of 25% annually.
The television advertising entered the American psyche and gained momentum far beyond any previous long-haul advertising campaign.
Success with the leisure marketing was a direct stimulus to the meetings, conventions and incentives markets which we had formerly found extreme difficulty in penetrating. Now, consumers regarded Australia as such a dream destination they were pressuring meeting and incentive planners to seriously consider it.
Back home in Australia, the campaign transformed the Australian tourism industry.
It clearly demonstrated the economic value and benefits of international tourism and the ROI of tourism marketing moved to the forefront of the federal government’s agenda.
Even today, surveys by the Tourism Australia show that 96% of Australians want to see more international tourists visit Australia and more than 8 in 10 Australians agree that the Government should spend more dollars on promoting Australia internationally.
It quickly impacted the funding of tourism at all levels in Australia as state and local authorities wanted to be sure that they captured a share for their constituents.
Across the country, education and training programs started in earnest, including degree courses in hospitality and tourism management to ensure that Australia had the management and service standards essential for international tourism. Major investments in tourism infrastructure were initiated, even in the most remote areas and small businesses and entrepreneurs were eager to learn more about this new source of business.
Inevitably, the campaign lost steam after 6 years and this coincided with Australia reducing its investment in the USA and moving resources to UK, Europe, Japan and SE Asia which promised more lucrative visitor numbers.
Our success emboldened our competitors, many of whom made strong approaches to their governments for more funds, using Australia as the example for the investment. For example, Montreal launched a campaign — “Come and Say Bon Jour”, but it just didn’t have the same ring.
The financial resources of the ATC (or Tourism Australia as it is now known) have not enabled it to launch another campaign on the scale of “Come & Say G’day”. Assessments are that if it was to be attempted today, it would require a budget of maybe $250 million over 5 years to come close to achieving the same impact.
Bill Baker is the President of Total Destination Marketing, based in Portland, OR. With 30 years of destination branding and marketing experience in more than 25 countries, he is recognized internationally as a pioneer in creating brand strategies for destinations and communities, including Australia’s highly acclaimed “Come and Say G’day” campaign which he directed for seven years. He can be reached at 503-692-4603 or firstname.lastname@example.org. www.DestinationBranding.com
Peggy Bendel is Senior Vice President/Travel Marketing of Development Counsellors International (DCI), the leader in marketing places. Since DCI’s founding in 1960, they have worked with more than 350 countries, states, regions, CVB’s and Chambers of Commerce, helping them attract both visitors and investors. Peggy can be reached at 212-725-0707 or email@example.com. www.aboutdci.com