Have Australian brands lost their edge?

Charlie Rose
By Charlie Rose | 13 December 2023
Charlie Rose.

Corporate Australia needs to (re)find the confidence for creative flair and not be afraid to be unexpected. Charlie Rose explains.

Australian brands used to have the confidence to be unexpected. Weird and wonderful ideas and executions stuck in your mind, like a stone in your shoe. Who can forget Louie the Fly or the Smith’s Chips Gobbledok?

But today, Aussie brands are better known for playing it safe. For being cautious and careful with their brand assets.

A recent survey conducted by quantitative research consultancy The Navigators found high-profile assets of Australian brands still trail behind the well-worn brand codes of yesterday in terms of memorability.

The survey quizzed Australian consumers about brand assets including logos, characters and even colour schemes.

The hard-won battle for brands to own colour

When consumers were asked to identify the brands associated with certain colours, the median scores for fame and uniqueness were in the low double digits making colour significantly harder to own than words, characters, logos or sonic assets.

In the case of Masterfoods, one of Australia’s biggest FMCG brands, the brand’s primary colour, maroon, scored 0 per cent fame and 0 per cent uniqueness meaning none of the survey respondents attributed the brand to one of its most important assets.

Similarly, the Masterfoods lozenge-shape symbol, on packaging throughout the nation, scored only 2 per cent fame and 8 per cent uniqueness. The results underscore how generic and ‘safe’ a brand it is.

Unique characters make brands memorable

Characters were the highest-performing brand codes tested, more than doubling the scores of colours.

The highset performer, the old classic, Louie the Fly, still reigns supreme scoring 59 per cent fame and 79 per cent uniqueness. Even the ubiquitous Compare the Market Meerkat comes in behind him generating 54 per cent fame and 61 per cent uniqueness.

In stark contrast, the supposedly loveable Quokka HBF has made central to its big-budget campaigns scored just 16 per cent fame and 25 per cent uniqueness. Interestingly, many survey participants misattributed the character to Disney and Pixar.

Not even the iiNet Irish spokes-lad can raise the needle with only 23 per cent fame and 42 per cent uniqueness. That’s even after being front and centre in campaign activity for years. While he’s a friendly face and upbeat presence he’s just not memorable enough to be central to iiNet’s media spend.

It’s clear that for brand characters to transcend your category, they need to be highly distinctive – in fact, let’s aim for unique.

Case in point, Budget Direct’s ‘Sarge’ who ticks all the right boxes and is a strong recent performer with scores hot on the heels of the Compare the Market Meerkat.

Funny voices, affectations, exaggerated colour schemes and unique wardrobe flair are critical to impact and memorability.

Exaggerate it

While the assets we remember have the advantage of longevity and consistency, they also have something else in common. They’re a bit quirky and daggy. Have you listened to the Bunnings jingle in isolation? That’s a lot of keyboard trombone and flute.

Characters like old mate Louie are undeniably daggy. But characters have a unique ability to embody the exaggerated expression of a brand’s personality without dragging the brand into a world of daggy design. These quirky characters protect the wider brand from damaging desirability and therefore value perceptions.

Playing it safe

The examples of Masterfoods, HBF and iiNet point to a broader trend in Australian branding. It’s easier to give the green light to something conventional and familiar.

Overall, the research suggests we’ve lost our touch when it comes to creating distinctive brand assets with the most memorable created decades ago such as the Bunnings jingle and colour scheme.

Once upon a time, we let our larrikin side shine when it came to creating brands. But in recent years, we’ve become too cautious leaning toward feel-good characters and friendly brand assets that sadly aren’t memorable.

Whether that’s a case of cultural cringe or something else is hard to say. Regardless, the results speak for themselves. Bland brand assets don’t deliver brand value.

I’m putting the call out to corporate Australia. Let’s recapture our confidence for creative flair and be courageous enough to be unexpectedly memorable.

Charlie Rose is a Strategy Director at Principals.


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