Australia Day ad controversy – just a beef up?


Posted By on 28/01/16 at 1:02 PM

For over a decade, Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) has produced a satirical, tongue in cheek advertisement beseeching Australians to eat lamb on Australia Day. The ads tend to spark controversy (picking on vegetarians is a recurring theme), occasionally resulting in complaints to the Ad Standards Bureau (ASB). The 2016 ad proved to be no exception.

The ad – in a nutshell

Here’s a brief recap, just in case you’ve missed it (!!). Dubbed ‘Operation Boomerang’, the ad involves a military style campaign, where ex-pat Australians are ‘rescued’ and brought home in time to enjoy lamb on the BBQ for Australia Day. The ad features a smattering of celebrities, including a look-alike Princess Mary being whisked off the balcony of a Danish royal palace. One of the ‘rescues’ is aborted, when the subject declares himself to be a vegan – however, the rescue crew torch his table on their way out the door.

See it for yourself:

Controversies

Over 600 complaints were filed with the ASB, the most common being:

  • The vilification of vegans – again: the torching of the vegan’s home amounted to violence towards vegans generally. Some labelled vegans as a minority group, stating that if the ad had depicted another minority group, there would have been more general outrage.
  • Violence: a military operation, forced removal of ex-pat Australians, and torching a vegan’s home gave the overall impression that the ad was excessively violent and promoted violence. Some complainants stated that their children were frightened by it.
  • Cultural insensitivity: for many Australians (indigenous or otherwise), January 26th marks ‘invasion day’, and the use of the word boomerang in conjunction with a military theme is offensive.

ASB ruling

MLA said that its Australia Day ads are a ‘long standing campaign strategy of exaggerated and fanciful pleas for meat eaters to eat lamb on Australia Day’, and noted that the ASB had previously ‘taken a robust approach to the interpretation of the content’.

MLA clarified that the vegan’s bowl of kale and tofu is torched (and not his house), and argued that the ‘reasonable viewer’ would not perceive this to be an act of violence towards the vegan, particularly in the context of a satirical ad promoting the consumption of meat.

On balance, the ASB ruled the ad was ‘a continuation of the irreverent theme used in past versions of the advertiser’s promotion of lamb for Australia Day’. It went on to say that while some would find elements to be in poor taste, that was not a criteria upon which the ad could be removed.

The fallout

Many eagerly anticipate MLA’s Australia Day ads, and MLA appears happy to weather any controversy. The depiction of a military operation code named Boomerang certainly took it up a notch. Whether MLA and its agency had considered this is unknown. However, the campaign certainly has generated a lot of free press.

Naomi Stephens Paralegal

Naomi is a paralegal in the Competition Law & Regulatory Compliance team, focusing on marketing activations, advertising review and trade promotions compliance.  She joined KHQ after having spent... Read More