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Lest We Regret: Corporate Australia's Awkward Relationship with ANZAC Day

The commercialisation of ANZAC is so widespread, it's almost impossible to get outraged about it.

by Lee Zachariah
15 April 2015, 7:00am

Inset: an image promoting Woolworths' "Fresh in Our Memories" profile picture generator. The generator was pulled after outrage on social media.

It must have seemed innocuous when they came up with it.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC Gallipoli landing, supermarket chain Woolworths created a website called Fresh In Our Memories (now taken down), which was accompanied by an image. A soldier gazes at us below the words: "LEST WE FORGET. ANZAC 1915 – 2015".

At the bottom of the image, the words "FRESH IN OUR MEMORIES" and the Woolworths logo.

The process of authorisation in a company as monolithic as Woolworths is immense. Any piece of marketing or publicity must go through numerous checks before it's released to the public, and those checks aren't always in everyone's best interest. What might have started out as a tasteful tribute — and I'm giving them a massive benefit of the doubt here — ended up as a tacky, tasteless re-appropriation of something sacred.

Social media did the only thing it knows how to do (outside the shitty live-tweeting of TV shows) and exploded in outrage. And it was correct to do so. It's not just that the sentiment was linked to Woolworths: it's the prominence of the logo, with the company name spelled out next to it, and the crass "Fresh In Our Memories" tag that's designed to riff on Woolworth's "The Fresh Food People" slogan.

From the company's point of view, they probably thought they were appropriating their own tagline in honour of the ANZACs. That's the problem with always being on the inside looking out. Everybody else saw it as appropriating the ANZACs in honour of their fresh, fresh prices, or whatever the hell they it is they think distinguishes them from Coles.

NewsCorp papers reported the story, but appeared to stop short of vilifying the company completely. You can form your own theory as to why, but it may be because of their own efforts to leverage the ANZACs: a series of "mateship coins".

The coins cost $3 each, but the accompanying website fails to mention which charity the proceeds will be going to. Legacy? DefenceCare? The Australian Defence Force Assistance Trust?

In a statement made to VICE, a NewsCorp Australia spokesperson said, "The aim of the coin collection is not to make a profit, but rather to pass on the heroic stories of our Diggers to the next generation and create a platform to raise money for Legacy."

The spokesperson also told us that the campaign dedicated "significant resources to our numerous editorial initiatives" and made "major donations to the NSW State Library War Diaries Project and to the War Memorial in Canberra."

Is all of this clear to the oldies buying the Mateship Coins for their grandkids? Do they know their $3 isn't going directly to Legacy (whose logo appears on accompanying material) and that they'll have to donate again if they want to make an actual donation to the charity? When you're leveraging ANZAC, it bodes well to be delicate.

The commercialisation of ANZAC is so widespread, it's almost impossible to get upset about it. Maybe that's why everyone focused on Woolworths: they got the ratio of sincerity to exploitation off by a thin margin.

Australia is so careful about who gets to exploit the word, we even have a law to enforce it: the Protection of Word Anzac Act 1920. If you want to use the word, you need permission from the Australian government. Veterans' Affairs Minister Michael Ronaldson pointed out yesterday that the government had not granted permission to Woolworths to use the word, which is fine until you realise just how many places they did grant it to.

Target sells ANZAC hoodies, but its application to use the word was approved because proceeds from the sale goes to the RSL and Legacy, and the company is involved in Camp Gallipoli, a non-profit organisation. Does that make it less crass?

Yes, if you happen to know the background. But it still adds to a cumulative effect of overwhelming branding. The more the word flashes at you without context, the more desensitising it becomes. Perhaps a commercialised image that takes the time to remind you of the centenary and features the face of a real veteran is less harmful than a jumper whose proceeds actually do some good.

"The Australian community quite rightly expects that the word ANZAC is not trivialised or used inappropriately," said Ronaldson, "and as Minister For Veterans' Affairs, I am responsible for ensuring that any use of the word ANZAC does not provide commercial benefit to an organisation."

We cannot report at this time whether the Minister was wearing a $159 Raiders ANZAC Jersey when he said that.

Follow Lee on Twitter: @LeeZachariah

Tagged:
war
Australia
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Australia/NZ
remembrance
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Woolworths
ANZAC
corporate appropriation