Australians love a chat show. Actually, I should qualify that – Australians love an American chat show.
Believe it or not, Oz doesn’t really have its own nightly TV host to trade smiles with every Katherine Heigl rolling in to promote their latest rom-com. No, we leave that up to the experts. And nobody is presently more qualified than Ellen DeGeneres.
Ellen’s relaxed and self-deprecating style hits a note with the Australian everyman. Her show is broadcast daily on the Nine Network, the country's second-highest rating TV station. Imagine the excitement when last week the US’s queen of daytime was joined by Honolulu-born, Nashville-based, “Australian” movie star Nicole Kidman. After sharing some pleasantries about the vitamin company Nicole represents – Ellen delivers some news: the show is going down under to do a string of broadcasts in March. Before there is time to process anything a giant picture of the Sydney Opera House appears, Nicole Kidman is impersonating a kookaburra and an actor dressed as a pilot arrives on stage with a giant inflatable Qantas 747. I know, right! Exciting isn’t it.
Besides support from Qantas and the aforementioned vitamin company, the government of New South Wales will also help foot the bill for the visit. Acting Premier Andrew Stoner justified the investment by saying it would bring a big return in the form of tourism. I know Australia has an odd time zone but is New South Wales now operating on minus two years GMT? Ellen’s stunt is almost an exact repetition of a similar publicity trip from an even bigger star of mid-morning chatter - I’m talking the Big “O” - Oprah Winfrey. Her visit in 2011 cost the nation AU$5m dollars. The result: in the 12 months after Oprah touched down in Oz, the number of US tourists visiting Australia fell by 3.7 per cent. What did we do wrong? Was the Big “O” that we stuck on Sydney Harbour Bridge not big enough? Did we not whoop loud enough? Whatever it was, you’d think the experience would teach countries not to put too much faith in the pulling power of one-off talk-show extravaganzas.
But like an Oprah’s Book Club bestseller, there might be an uplifting end. Endorsement from stars such as Ellen and Oprah - however commercial it might come across – isn’t just about getting potential tourists to imagine themselves in a cork hat standing next to Uluru. Perhaps the real thrill is saved for locals. After all, despite being the world’s twelfth-largest economy, producing world-class entertainers, sports people and artists, and consistently topping quality-of-life surveys, sometimes all Australians want is to be acknowledged by the rest of the world. It taps into a very Antipodean mindset that success is only real if it’s confirmed by supposed cultural leaders like the US and the UK. As unnecessary and wistful as it might seem, if shelling out a few million for a celebrity to pay attention to us for a few weeks gives Australia a sense of being connected to the world, then go ahead.
As for how effective the publicity will be in turning the tides for the other key sponsor, Qantas, I’m less optimistic.
Adrian Craddock is associate business editor for Monocle.