Pretty but bland. Self-important verging on pompous. Humourless. I'm describing the brand new Tourism Australia ad campaign, but I'm also describing disturbing trends in Australian culture.
In case you missed it, Tourism Australia recently launched their latest video to support the "There's Nothing Like Australia" campaign that's droned along for a few years now – with limited success.
The three-minute online video features some beautiful "coastal and aquatic" imagery, along with some painful poetic language … "how can the colour blue be a feeling, sounds touch you?"…sort of stuff, and then an exquisitely overblown song with lyrics including multiple references to "love", "veins" and "soul.
The voice-over is performed by one of People Magazine's sexiest men alive – Australia's own Chris Hemsworth. Just his voice – his globally-beloved, movie star face is absent.
This video – in all it's cringeworthiness – is a failure. But it's a very revealing insight into how Australia's perception of itself has shifted since Paul Hogan offered to throw a shrimp on the barbie.
Over the last decade, international tourist numbers to Australia have risen steadily – there was a 6% increase in the year ending June 2015 according to Tourism Research Australia. Most of that increase came from China and India. I would argue that if we spent no money on marketing, we'd see that increase, thanks to China and India screaming toward a middle class economy, with many millions of residents now having travel money. Dig deeper, and the figures are less rosy for those touting our marketing triumphs.
In the last 10 years, according to the Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of younger people (under 50) visiting has dropped, while more older folks have made the trek. So, despite years of expensively glamorous ad campaigns, with beautiful young people draped on various landmarks – younger people haven't flocked.
Newsflash Tourism Australia: Most countries have natural landmarks. Grand Canyon anyone? Trying to corner the market on "unique natural beauty" is a fool's game, mostly because it misses the actual uniqueness of Australia.
Paul Hogan's ads – now 30 years old – are still referenced in US culture. They were spectacularly successful, and put Australia on the map. Back then, we were proud to show off Hoges' witty charm, his warmth, and his ability to make our country look like it was filled with friendly, welcoming people … even if they completely misrepresented the barbecue experience. Fast forward to this new video – there's not an ounce of warmth or charm anywhere. And heaven forbid we show any wit … or welcoming people.
Australia has changed in 30 years. Sure, you can say we've grown up a little, but the "cultural cringe" is worth noting. Comedy has died. Charm and warmth has been replaced by an attempt at pseudo-sophistication. If the world is a uni student party – we've gone from being the funny guy with the possibly off-colour but hilarious jokes, to the tall, awkward guy in the corner silently wearing a cravat.
This new ad campaign perfectly represents everything that's wrong with our view of ourselves. Is it a confidence thing? We need our oceanscapes to do our talking? What about the food, and our entertainment? We've moved from meat pies to smashed avocado on organically-grown, spiritually nurtured 17-grain bread drizzled with something that should never be drizzled. Our film funding body doesn't even have a category for "comedy" anymore. We are at risk of looking more like a mediocre Club Med than an actual nation … and that's sad.
Disagree? Then explain how the sexiest man alive is not visible on a gigantically expensive advertising campaign? Paul Hogan was bare-chested in his ads…Chris Hemsworth isn't even visible. Tourism Australia says they didn't want him distracting attention from the real star – Australia. Seriously. If Chris wasn't available for a shoot – then don't sign him up. There are plenty of Aussie voices who could talk about a colour being a feeling. If he was available – his physical absence is one of the greatest marketing missed opportunities in history. It's also a sign of our lack of confidence in our people skills.
Our uniqueness is not our landscapes. It's us. We're cool. The rest of the world likes hanging out with us as people, not our touchable air or our smashed vegetables.
I'm not advocating a return to the Paul Hogan ads. Although that wouldn't be bad. I am suggesting we use this new campaign as a wake up call, and take a good, hard look at ourselves and our culture. Talk to anyone who's ever visited Australia – I've talked to a lot – and they never mention the rocks, or the ocean. They talk about the people. Our uniqueness is not our landscapes. It's us. We're cool. The rest of the world likes hanging out with us as people, not our touchable air or our smashed vegetables. Plus, we have awesome animals.
It's time we shook off whatever identity crisis we've battled these last couple of decades, and embrace our slightly unsophisticated, but charming personality. Our country is pretty – sure. But so is Brazil. No more of these ridiculously overblown and expensive ads that clearly please Australian politicians and bureaucrats, but make us look truly dull, and don't work anyway.
And can someone stick Chris Hemsworth on a beach being witty, and utterly "Aussie" please?
We're so much more than a bunch of pretty ocean imagery and amateurish profundity. We're Australian – we laugh, we're irreverent, and it's time we owned it. Mate.
Tim Schildberger is a writer, TV producer and proud former Canberra resident who has lived in Los Angeles since 1997. Twitter @timschildberger