Australia Day: To celebrate or to condemn?

For Australian retailers, brand messaging becomes tricky around January 26th, with multiple campaigns disagreeing vehemently around what the date represents.

To some, it signifies the day the First Fleet landed on the shores of what would go on to be called Australia, while to others, it represents the day the country was invaded by an occupying force that went on to kill the rightful Aboriginal land owners.

Whether the day is positioned as Invasion Day, Australia Day, Survival Day, or Foundation Day, it is a polarising date on any retailer’s calendar. With more consumers expecting business to represent their personal views, how does a retailer enter this discussion?

“As Australia Day approaches, retailers will need to balance sensitivity towards the topic with solemnity in acknowledging the recent devastation in our country,” marketing expert Emma Sharley told Inside Retail Weekly.

“Brands that have social purpose at the core of their philosophy will be expected to step up and respond in a way that aligns with their business strategy – just like Lush has.”

In an effort to bridge the gap between consumers and its business, ethical retailer Lush is this year calling on Australians to “listen, learn and then show up” to show solidarity to the Indigenous community.

“Rather than holding a stance ourselves, as a non-indigenous business, we instead lend our platform to those with lived experience, and encourage the public to listen to the communities most impacted by this day,” Peta Granger, director of Lush Australia and New Zealand, told IRW.

“For many years now, we have been led by a number of indigenous activist groups to help guide our messaging at this time of year. This is in the aim of opening up dialogue towards a more inclusive rhetoric that fosters connection.”

The beauty retailer has partnered with the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy, and will showcase the work of Charlotte Allingham, a Wiradjuri illustrator from Naarm, or Melbourne.

According to Granger, the business typically sees a range of sentiment in response to its messaging: from thoughtful discussion and gratitude to complete disagreement.

“We’re not just interested in easy conversations, we want to raise topics with people who ought to be thinking about them, which, on this topic, is all Australians,” she said.

ARNA Online co-founder Natasha Ritz told IRW the accessories brand would continue trading as usual on the date, although it would also publish a statement about why it won’t celebrate the event.

“We believe that celebrating Australia is really important, but not on a day where colonisation is the reason for the celebration, and certainly not on a day where hundreds and thousands of Aboriginal people were slaughtered,” Ritz said.

Social responsibility sees sentiment shifting

Beyond the social side of the conversation, the date also represents a sales holiday to certain industries and verticals in the retail industry, such as liquor, grocery and party organisers.

According to The Party People chief executive Dean Salakas, Australia Day is the business’ third biggest sales day after Halloween and Christmas, and is unlikely to disappear.

“We’re pro-Australia Day, we love it. People should have a date to celebrate Australia, but at the same time, for some people, it feels like we’re rubbing it in their faces,” Salakas told IRW.  “[Moving the date] would change their world forever, so from that perspective, I can see the other side.”

While The Party People usually sees an uptick in Australia-based merchandise in the lead up to the event – with products such as flags, hand wavers, boxing kangaroos, beach balls, thongs, and rub-on tattoos being big sellers – it has also seen sentiment shifting in the same way as the Melbourne Cup.

More consumers are beginning to stand against what can be seen as a legacy, social issue. And in a changing retail landscape, where people are looking to businesses to represent their beliefs, this can cause issues – even within leadership, Salakas admitted.

“I’m conflicted over the whole thing. As a business we want to be responsible, and I’m interested in the debate over whether it is right or not on the 26th, or if it should be moved,” he said.  

“I’d like to hear other people’s opinions to help me form my view on what we should do as a company and what we should stand for as far as Australia Day goes.”

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