Vegemite turns 100 – A heritage advertising subject

By Ruby Derrick | 1 May 2023

Vegemite, the iconic Australian pantry staple, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. 

The savoury spread made from yeast extract is a heritage advertising subject, with consumers connected to the brand as part of Australia's national identity.

Vegemite the brand is a cultural construction.

"When we get past the people we personally know, there often isn’t a lot that binds us to the strangers who live in parallel around us," says independent creative Adrian Elton.

"While there are the unique landmarks, landscapes, flora and fauna that often differentiate one country from another; beyond that it’s often the more transient cultural markers that generate a sense of belonging. And this includes the brands and products that we use on a daily basis which are an important part of that tapestry.

"In this context some brands become indelibly associated with the places they come from. Vegemite is one of those brands, that despite tasting like gargling a mouth full of metallic soy sauce, feels as Australian as a koala tucking into a eucalypt degustation."

Amanda Spry, lecturer of marketing at RMIT, says many can recall eating Vegemite sandwiches as a child, packed in lunchboxes to take to school, and as young-adult travellers with squeezy-tubes hidden in luggage.

Vegemite’s advertising over the years represents both the brand’s history and also Australia’s history," she says.

"When the brand has relaunched the ‘Happy Little Vegemite's’ jingle over the years (1950s, 1980s and 2010s), it contemporarily reflects and leverages the brand’s heritage."

Georgia Phillips, COO at brand and communications agency Luma Research, says Vegemite is part of the fabric of the country; one known and loved by Australians.

"It's part of the Australian psyche. We’re not really a patriotic bunch, but we are proud to say that we eat Vegemite and we love it!" says Phillips.

Approaching World War II, Vegemite's commercials focused on the domestic rationing of the spread for distribution to troops on the field. A reflection of the country's nationalism and health, one WWII advertisment illustrated a child "doing his bit for his dad" and those on the frontline. 


Michael Klaehn, educator at QUT College and senior marketer, says the renowned status of Vegemite as a product and its commericals comes back to the emotional attachment.

"The Vegemite water in a bottle, the Vegemite on toast. It isn’t just a 'liked' product, it is part of our lives - like a childhood pet that lives forever," said Klaehn.

The Happy Little Vegemite song, written by advertising executive Alan Weekes in 1954, is part of Australian television history 

Sally Joubert, CEO of Luma Research, notes that the song is what stands out for the brand and has worked in many ways.  

The jingle has been engaging and telling the Vegemite story with three generations of Vegemite fans,” says Joubert. 

The 1956 original television commercial, to the recording of the Happy Little Vegemite’s anthem, set the tone for the spread to become a distinctively Australian pantry staple.  

It worked in the '50s and again more recently to leave us feeling good about the brand. The happy and uplifting feelings you have about the jingle get transferred to the brand by association,” says Joubert.  

This 1980s Vegemite commercial featured children cheerfully running and jumping before enjoying a classic Vegemite sandwich together.

“Bringing back the jingle in the late '80s set the tone and transported a whole new generation of Vegemite fans to the fun and upbeat emotional territory while triggering nostalgia for older viewers,” says Joubert. 

For Joubert, the Aussie spread remains a heritage advertising subject because it’s been with Australians through everything – from world wars to school lunches.  

“How many other Australian iconic brands have medical endorsement, been with us through everything (wars, economic ups and downs, our lunchboxes in primary school) and have been consistently branded and advertised for 100 years?” she says.  

Vegemite has stood the test of time in advertising, updating its commericals to reflect the current period and emerging trends. 

More recently, Vegemite’s 2020 commercial asked: "How do you make anything taste like Australia?"

The advertisement prompts the country to add the salty condiment to practically all foods in order to make it "Australian".  

This commerical has evolved alongside Australia's multi-culturalism, advances in technology and food innovation. It does, however, remain consistent as a national symbol with its Australian roots.

Spry at RMIT notes the spread's effective advertising ability to document the major events and people of Australia’s history 

Consider the Bartymite rebrand, which of course celebrates our Aussie tennis legend, Ash Barty. It is an artefact of Australian culture,” says Spry.  

Despite the brand's unmistakable presence in the advertising sector, Phillips at Luma notes that sales have been slowly declining for the past 15 years.

"This seems to be partly due to the changing tastes, preferences for alternative spreads or breakfast options and shifts in the make-up of the Australian population (according to the ABS, now around a third of Australians were born overseas)," says Phillips.

Happy little vegemite

"Certainly, if you challenge the average Australian to recall five Vegemite ads, most will struggle to name more than one. And they will likely all name the same ad - one that was developed in 1956. Have we done nothing to cut-through and drive memorability since then?

"Or is it that the original ‘Happy Little Vegemites’ ad developed by J. Walter Thompson (JWT) was just so iconic that nothing could surpass it? Possibly."

Phillips notes the simple jingle, the power of nostalgia and the brand's consistency are what ultimately have kept the original Vegemite commericals in the minds of so many Australians. 

"The use of the jingle was catchy and one that every Australian over 45 can sing. It is an ear worm that gets stuck inside our heads. It helps to get the ad noticed and conveys a message about the brand," says Phillips.

"One of the elements of the original campaign is that it takes people back to happy, simpler and relatable times and leaves people feeling good. Many brands seem to shy away from leaning into their ‘heritage’ because it is perceived as old fashioned and uncool. But old fashioned does not have to be a negative association – it can provide a sense of trust and stability.

"The ad was originally on air for eight years, so there was consistency and repetition in the media play – everyone knew the ad and heard it regularly. But this is what we need to develop memory structures. And this is also what we need to create iconic campaigns. Do we give our ads enough time to run before we get bored of them these days?"

Elton believes that through the eye catching livery and typography, to its chart topping place in popular culture, Vegemite has reinforced itself generation after generation as an iconic brand that Australians feel the deepest affinity with.

"Whether it’s a tiny little traveller’s jar in a backpack, or an elephant foot sized urn in the pantry, Vegemite equals the taste of Australia and it’s hard to imagine a time before it existed," says Elton.

Vegemite's media and creative accounts were won by creative agency Thinkerbell in 2018. This came after Vegemite parted ways with JWT, its ad agency of 74 years.

The brand worked with JWT since 1944, making it one of the longest standing creative agency partnerships in the world of FMCG marketing. 

Adam Ferrier, founder and consumer pyshcologist at Thinkerbell, says the food people eat is a reflection on who they are as a country. Vegemite 2020 croc

"National dishes take on huge significance as in some way they reflect what we are all about. There’s something about Vegemite that makes it universally understood," says Ferrier.

"With such a clear proposition it makes it easy to activate and amplify, and stories about Vegemite are guaranteed eyeballs."

At the helm of Vegemite's creative direction, Ferrier and the team at Thinkerbell have made an effort to take advantage of the iconic status the spread holds.
"The work we do with Vegemite takes advantage of all of those tailwinds. If I’m honest it’s one of the few brands I’ve worked with that just about markets itself - if given the chance," says Ferrier.
"And that’s exactly what Matt, the Bega team, and Thinkerbell have done. They’ve unleashed the brand."
Advertising has been paramount in constructing and reinforcing Vegemite over the past century. Elton reflects on the various commercials and how they have ultimately kept the spread alive. 
"From the grainiest, flickering, sepia TVCs that put a rose in every cheek, right through to the more recent whip smart ads careening around Oxford Circus on London’s double decker buses," says Elton. 
"And despite the occasional misstep - like the godforsaken crime of Cadbury x Vegemite chocolate - we forgive these dalliances, because our love for the stuff is effectively the size of the continent.
Collectively, it’s a story Australian's happily tell themselves alongside all of the other cultural constructs that help them define what it means to be Australian, says Elton.

"After all, Vegemite is so much more than the schmeer of the blackest black at the end of a silvery butter knife," he says.
"At a time when the world is lurching and threatening to fly off the rails, it’s all the more comfort we can collectively take in the only thing blacker than a pint of Guinness.”

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