ANZAC Day and its meaning is looking as if it is simply a brand opportunity for commercial businesses.
Although it may look that way, I would argue that ANZAC is probably no different from many other “days” in Australia that have been traditionally deemed worthy of reverence, such as Easter and Christmas.
The fact that a plastic surgeon in Melbourne offered an ANZAC Mateship Experience (a chance for two girls to rate their breasts, win a trip to Melbourne's ANZAC Day AFL match and then have a free appointment with the owner of the “surgery”) doesn’t surprise me. The response from the RSL, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others also doesn’t surprise me.
What is of concern is that the same level of anger is not directed at companies such as the Foster’s Group (owners of Victoria Bitter), who have worked hard over the past couple of years to create an association that, in the main, benefits one particular alcoholic drink brand, to the exclusion of others through its “Raise A Glass” campaign. Yes, the company donates money to veterans, but if their intentions were pure, they wouldn’t see the need to promote their brand in the campaign.
So is the Raise A Glass campaign ethical? What about the Mateship Experience?
For the most part, ethics is not an absolute concept. It exists within and is moderated by the time and place in which it’s being observed. That said, it could be argued that it is necessary to constantly examine one's standards to ensure that they are reasonable and well-founded.
We enter a murky area once we get to expectations such as those above. If marketing is part of the “cultural wallpaper” that simply exists without question. When ANZAC Day has become part of any marketing exercise, we move away from absolute definitions of what should and shouldn’t be associated with it, into an altogether more flexible and subjective terrain.
Brands and marketing are simply part of the broader commercial milieu in which we exist. Consumption is part of our culture. Products such as beer are not just commercial entities, many argue that they are also integral to our identity and history. A spokesperson for VB has articulated that “"Victoria Bitter has had a long association with Australian servicemen and women and we are proud to be involved in a campaign which reminds people to think what our servicemen and women have done for our country.”
The concern that many have, however, is that these commercial associations are often made without actually questioning their consequences. It is a simple notion, but commercial businesses are not community services. They link with causes because there is a useful commercial benefit for them.
From a business perspective, an association with ANZAC Day offers an excellent marketing opportunity.
Because advertising works in the world of stereotypes and archetypes, the ANZAC “idea” combines some key archetypes because it contains the hero, the caregiver, the Explorer, and the rebel.
But its association with VB, has the potential to exclude many people. At a direct level, it excludes many women and men who don’t identify with the masculine culture presented in the brand identity. It excludes servicemen and women, and others who don't drink beer. It excludes those who drink other brands of beer (my father, who was in the Army during WW2 drank KB), and it definitely excludes those people who think that VB tastes like death.
Even the idea of ANZAC (and VB) is overly focused on men, and to some degree with what might be coined as a clichéd view of manhood. Very few of the events associated with ANZAC Day, such as “two-up” and even the AFL Essendon v Collingwood game, have the potential to exclude women (who are unquestionably just as entitled to be recognised for their contribution to the armed services).
That said it also includes many people. It includes people who see that stereotype, and for many people the idea of VB is quintessentially the Aussie bloke. And as others have said, it may well raise awareness of the ANZAC legend through the different associations with events and brands.
But, the fact that we sometime even talk about ANZAC as a brand, means that we've moved into the marketing field.
So, there is little doubt that the ANZAC name has ben culturally and commercially appropriated.
But that’s what marketing does. It takes a cultural norm, and accentuates it. It talks back to the target market, in the language that the target market wants to hear.
To think that ANZAC hasn’t been commercialised would be naïve. The moment that ANZAC was attached to any kind of commercial (or even political) enterprise it was commoditised and could no longer be considered “pure”.
Of course, I am not saying it should be a “free for all”, nor to I doubt the sincerity of many of these associations, but perhaps those who criticise some associations, without questioning others, need to have a more sophisticated view of the consequences of these connections.