I’m pleased to see that later this month Australia will honor Paul Hogan for his role as a spokesperson for the Australian Tourist Commission (now Tourism Australia), and specifically, the iconic “Come and Say G’Day” campaign. Yes, that’s right. The term, “"I'll slip an extra shrimp on the barbie for you” was simply the final line of the first television commercial created by Australian ad agency, MOJO. It wasn’t a tagline and wasn’t even the theme of the campaign. Yet it is now a term known to generations around the world because it is a catchphrase that has been used in many movies, comedy routines and parodies. Simply Googling the term generates about 180,000 results.
While based in New York I was fortunate to be one of the executive team overseeing this campaign that catapulted Australia to “most desired nation” status. In fact, I was the only person to have been involved throughout the full seven years of the campaign – except, of course for Hogan. This provides me with a unique perspective of what is regarded as one of the most successful and memorable campaigns ever launched in the USA by a foreign country. For many Americans it is still "top of mind" when you mention Australia, and some can readily recall some of the key lines almost thirty years after the first ad ran.
We knew that we had something special even before the first ad appeared, but were totally surprised by its immediate impact, the cult following that it generated, and its longevity. Yet to this day, the campaign remains very misunderstood and sometimes disparaged in Australia.
We all saw Hogan as the ideal spokesperson because at the time ‘Hoges’ epitomized the Australian brand persona in presenting friendliness, the Australian accent, a cheeky sense of humor, and a sunny invitation at a time when Americans were concerned by terrorism abroad (sound familiar?) and the need to feel welcome when they traveled. Hogan said that he always played himself - the former lifeguard, union organizer and Sydney Harbour Bridge worker - who stumbled onto television when his work mates dared him to enter a talent show (today’s version of “Australia’s Got Talent’).
In Australia, the campaign was controversial because many felt that Hogan did not represent the "average Australian" or the "cultural" side of the country. 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 highly skilled communicator and actor. Two years after the launch of these ads, Crocodile Dundee was released and it is still the highest grossing Australian movie of all time.
At the time (and even today), most Australians failed to see Australia (and Hogan) through the eyes of their overseas customers. Significant debate took place regarding the term "shrimp" as many in Australia wanted it 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 –an approach that we strongly advocate. However, in this case, if it had been left to the stakeholders, one of the best-ever travel marketing campaigns would never have been launched.
There were great ad creatives and many unheralded individuals and organizations who contributed to the ultimate success of the campaign. But in those early days it was Hogan’s ability to break through the media clutter and connect with Americans on an emotional level that made the difference. In Australia, the campaign transformed the Australian tourism industry. It clearly demonstrated the economic value and benefits of international tourism and the ROI to be gained when tourism marketing moved to the forefront of the federal government's agenda.
Well done, mate!