The Politics    Wednesday, April 15, 2015

If there’s a buck to be made, somebody will make it

By Sean Kelly

Exploiting the Anzac legend for commercial gain isn’t new

Woolworths is experiencing a significant backlash today, after launching an Anzac commemoration website that invited people to share tributes to war heroes under the slogan “Fresh in our memories”.

Most of the controversy surrounds what appears to be the tacky exploitation of an important Australian ceremony. Labor’s Ed Husic said, “You shouldn’t be trying to score brand points off something that caused such a great loss to the country.” The Sydney Morning Herald reported criticisms of “the crassness of a marketing campaign that cashed in on the Anzac memory”. Social media went wild.

Woolworths’ campaign was poorly judged, but making money from Gallipoli is not new, and Woolworths isn’t the first big Australian company to try to do it.

In his book Anzac’s Long Shadow, former army officer James Brown discusses Carlton United Breweries’ 2009 Raise a Glass appeal, which calls on Australians to pay tribute to soldiers’ ultimate sacrifice by drinking beer. For every carton of VB sold, a dollar was donated to the appeal.

The $7 million CUB has so far raised from the campaign has no doubt done a great deal of good for the RSL. But as Brown points out, “There’s also no doubt that VB got an extraordinarily cheap deal. A single advertising campaign has cost VB $7.5 million in the past … For less than a million dollars a year, beer barons enlisted some of the greatest Australian military heroes of the past two decades, channelled the emotion of the death of soldiers in war, and co-opted Anzac Day to commercial ends.”

Many other companies – such as Target – have referred to Anzac Day either in their advertising or their products but, unlike Woolworths, were smart enough to ensure proceeds from sales went to the RSL (I am unsure whether this means all proceeds or, as with VB, just a portion).

In other words, compromising Anzac’s purity is all right, as long as it helps the RSL. (A company wishing to use the word “Anzac” has to apply to the Minister for Veterans Affairs for permission under perhaps the most niche piece of legislation in the country, the Protection of Word Anzac Act 1920.)

Now, that may be defensible. It is at least arguable. The RSL does a lot of good, and needs to make money from somewhere. But let’s be honest about that compromise.

None of this gets at the greater problem: with all of this fuss about Anzac Day and whether we’re doing enough to protect its sanctity, we run the real risk of overlooking our much more recently returned soldiers – from Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam. James Brown makes this comparison: “We're spending three times as much money on Anzac Day ceremonies over the next four years as we are on the problem of mental health for those soldiers coming back with post-traumatic stress disorder. And for me, I can't understand it. If we really believe what we say about Anzac, then why aren't we spending that money looking after the soldiers right here and now?”

I’ll leave you with this observation from former Head of Army Peter Leahy: “To my mind, the legacy of Anzac, the spirit of Anzac should be to be able to say to the guys whose names are on that wall in there, ‘Hey, we’re looking after this lot better than we did you.’”

Here’s David Wroe with a well-reasoned piece on why Defence Minister Kevin Andrews ought to know who the leader of Islamic State is, after he ducked questions from Leigh Sales during last night’s 7.30 program. The SMH also has this quiz so you can test your own defence knowledge.

If you want to read more about gaffes – and who doesn’t? – start with understanding the difference between a regular sort and a Kinsley gaffe. Andrews’ dodge last night isn’t a great example, but I reserve the right to return to this at a later date. 

Eight guards from Nauru detention centre have been suspended while their employer investigates their social media use. Some appear to have promoted the Reclaim Australia movement, while others have posed with Pauline Hanson.

A new High Court judge has been appointed. Michelle Gordon will take the spot coincidentally vacated by her husband, Justice Kenneth Hayne, who is soon to hit the statutory retirement age. In other High Court news, it has determined that the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption has no power to investigate crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen for alleged corrupt conduct. The case may have implications for some cases that have previously been decided. 

Dr Karl has taken aim at the Intergenerational Report, which he was helping to promote just a few weeks ago.

An event that could have as big an impact on the Australian economy as many federal government decisions: China’s GDP grew at only 7%, the weakest rate since 2009.

Big news in Victoria: Daniel Andrews’ Labor government will pay the consortium contracted to build the East–West Link more than $300 million – to walk away. And a Roy Morgan poll shows newly elected state leaders in Victoria, Queensland and NSW continue to hold large leads

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.


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