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Branding an Australian company or product seems, in theory, difficult to screw up. The country is well known and generally well liked. Its peculiar native fauna in particular is a menagerie of potentially distinctive logos. But how difficult is it to sell Australia, at home or abroad, without lapsing into cliché?

“It’s easy to cite the obvious and overused tropes,” says Nick Sammut, managing director at Sydney branding agency Toast Creative. “The green-gold palette; kangaroos and koalas. As a nation we continue to mature culturally and intellectually, and with that comes a particular style of brand communication, a particular tone of voice. Designers have a responsibility to draw upon the international language of design and apply it to their projects, wherever they are.”

Sometimes, though, the obvious is the obvious because it works, as Sammut agrees when asked to name an enduringly resonant Australian image. “It’s got to be the kangaroo,” he says. “And I’m going to hold Qantas up as one of our all-time successful and still current brands that uses it. It’s true what they say: you land at Sydney Airport after time away and it’s hard not to feel that pull on the heartstrings when you lay your eyes on that kanga.”

Kangaroos, koalas and other native fauna

Australia’s wildlife provides irresistible but complex temptation for Australian brands. While the peculiar creatures that populate the country are indeed distinctively Australian, a disconcerting quotient of them possess qualities that one might hesitate to associate with one’s merchandise, among them venomousness (snakes, spiders), doziness (koalas, wombats), weirdness (echidnas, platypuses) and the likelihood that they’ll claw your face off if you’re foolish enough to pat them (possums, kangaroos).

Companies using this trope:
Kookaburra cricket balls, Goanna ointments, Emu shoes, Worldpoly heavy machinery.

Famous example:
Qantas, Australia’s flag-carrier, first painted a kangaroo on one of its aircraft in 1944. In 1947, wings were added to the marsupial by designer Gert Sellheim. These were (rather sadly) clipped from the logo in 1984 but company nickname “The Flying Kangaroo” endures to this day.

What companies hope this says about them:
That they’re Australian – a quality that plays well with a largely proud and patriotic country.

What it actually says about them:
That they’re hoping to tap into a preference for produce that is locally made or gives the appearance of it. The Australian Made campaign claims that its logo – a kangaroo, inevitably – influences more than 90 per cent of Australian consumers.

Cricket, Aussie rules and other popular sporting pursuits

Former prime minister John Howard once said that his job was the second most important in Australia, behind that of captain of the national cricket team. It’s quite possible that he wasn’t joking. With the country’s footballing loyalties split between Australian rules and rugby league, cricketers emerge as the most bankable endorsees. As such, you will not be able to consume much Australian media without someone who wears – or once wore – the national team’s baggy green cap trying to sell you something. That said, you will not see the baggy green cap itself used as a commercial entreaty: in accordance with its mythic stature, it is copyrighted.

Companies using this trope:
Weet-Bix cereal, Milo hot chocolate, Jacob’s Creek wine, Woolworths supermarkets.

Famous example:
The Australian arm of Ford, whose relationship with Australian rules club Geelong, dating back to 1925, is believed to be the longest continuous partnership between a sponsor and a sports team anywhere in the world.

What companies hope this says about them: That they are vigorous, healthy and proper Australians (because proper Australians like sport).

What it actually says about them:
That they understand that few consumers are as sentimental and suggestible as the sports fan (especially the Australian sports fan).

Boomerangs, dot paintings and other indigenous iconography

A tricky area: folks can bristle when you steal their ancestors’ land at gunpoint, condemn them to a marginal life summarised in some of the worst statistical indices for any people anywhere, then use what survives of their culture to sell stuff. Though most usage of Aboriginal art in particular is now honest homage – see Qantas’s occasional deployment of it on liveries – bizarre insensitivities do still occur. Subaru had to pull a TV advert for one of its models after uproar at the voiceover’s cloth-eared pun on “corroboree”, which many saw as a disrespectful application of a word that refers to a sacred Aboriginal meeting.

Companies using this trope:
Tourism Australia, Manikay wines, Australia Future Unlimited (a government education programme), Didgeridoonas travel accessories.

Famous example:
The Australian Football League and the National Rugby League both hold an annual Indigenous Round honouring the contribution of Aboriginals to both codes; teams wear jumpers featuring club colours reimagined as Aboriginal artworks.

What companies hope this says about them:
That they are authentic, sensitive and – even if they’re too savvy to spell this out explicitly – somehow earthy and spiritual.

What it actually says about them:
If handled appropriately, that they properly value an idiom of Australian expression that has been too long undervalued. If not handled appropriately, that you should probably take your custom elsewhere.

The outback, the bush and other rural mythology

For all that Australia is overwhelmingly a society of coastal urban-dwellers, the idea that its vast, empty outback somehow represents the “real” Australia is bizarrely persistent. Advertisements for four-wheel-drive vehicles tend to prioritise shots of them raising clouds of ochre dust rather than picking up groceries. The media image of the Australian pub remains a tin-roofed bush hotel with wide verandas, rather than – as is far more common in reality these days – an artisanal micro-brewery in a renovated tram shed serving quinoa burgers on bathroom tiles.

Companies using this trope:
Toyota, Castlemaine lager, Berri juices, Billabong, Walkabout pubs.

Famous example:
RM Williams, which has astutely parlayed the back-story of its eponymous saddle-maker founder into a resonant brand as Australia’s “bush outfitter”, despite now being 49.9 per cent owned by French luxury consortium LVMH and selling boots far too smart to wear in the vicinity of dirt.

What companies hope this says about them:
That they are rugged, “rootsy” and stalwart.

What it actually says about them:
That they’re well aware that there is little your middle-class urban chardonnay-sipping milquetoast craves more than being perceived as hardy and intrepid.

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