Vegemite marketer addresses Pauline Hanson controversy

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 6 August 2018
Pauline Hanson in a Vegemite ad by Thinkerbell

After a six-year advertising hiatus Vegemite has made a controversial return to TV screens with an ad featuring One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson and convicted criminal Chopper Read, among other iconic Australian faces.

The backlash kicked off across Twitter and Facebook with dozens of users questioning why the 95-year old brand would use Hanson and Read to promote its product.

One person commented: “So does anyone else think it was a terrible idea of Vegemite to put Pauline Hanson in their new Tastes like Australia ad or what?”

Another said that Read, who has been charged for murder, isn’t a good role model for children.

The campaign marks a few firsts for Vegemite; the first from its new agency, Thinkerbell, the first since it was bought back under Australian ownership and its first big ad push in recent years.

Speaking to AdNews, Vegemite marketing manager Matt Gray defended the inclusion of the divisive figures.

“Vegemite is about embracing all Aussies; the weird, the wonderful, the truly unique,” he says.

“We’ve purposely included a broad collection of our unique and diverse culture. Not just certain people. The ad isn’t about exclusion. It’s a mega mix of all iconic faces and moments that have all played a part in shaping in great nation.”

Like with any bold advertising, Gray says Vegemite expected some backlash to its new direction. And as any marketer knows, backlash garners significant PR for a brand with little media spend.

So far, the ad has appeared on Nine News and on Weekend Sunrise and has transcended the trade press into mainstream media.

The ad was created by Thinkerbell and is being amplified by a “strong” PR strategy as the brand looks to connect with migrants and the next generation of Australians, Gray explains.

“That latest census found 30% of Australians are now born overseas so a lot of Australians didn’t grow up with Vegemite so we realised we needed to make a connection with that audience,” he says.

Gray hopes the ad appeals to everyone from people who recently migrated to Australia to those who grew up with the Happy Little Vegemite tune from the 1950s.

Towards the end of the new ad, following scenes of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and comedian Rebel Wilson, the ad pays tribute to the 1950s tune ‘Happy Little Vegemite’.

“We have to balance the history of the brand but also make it modern and continue to refresh Vegemite in the memory of Australians and build new connections as the face of Australia continues to change,” Gray says.

To connect with the changing face of Australia, Gray says the ad aims to reflect the multicultural population. Almost half way through the 60-second spot, several diverse faces flick across the screen, including an aboriginal woman and a woman wearing a burka carrying a surfboard.

Gray says it’s a significant milestone for the brand and “significant above the line marketing push”.

“It’s one of the biggest brand campaigns I’ve seen in years,” he says.

“We need to look after the long term future of Vegemite. We’re 95-years young. We’re focusing 50% to 60% of our long-term brand building activity like this campaign and our sponsorship of the Australian Open. The other 40% we focus on short-term sales results to keep sales ticking over.”

One of the short-term activations Vegemite recently launched was its own e-commerce shop, selling various merchandise like T-shirts and mugs

Gray says the foray into merchandise has been a positive brand building venture for Vegemite.

The campaign comes as Vegemite celebrates its 95th birthday this year. Hinting at more to come, Gray says expect to see big things coming from the iconic brand in coming months.

See Thinkerbell founder Adam Ferrier and Walkley award winner Jane Caro discuss the new ad here:

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