Colonialism Is a Massive Beach Party in Australia’s Latest Epic, Provocative Ad for Lamb

Anybody bring ice?

In its ongoing quest to remind us that nothing says Australia Day more than lamb barbecue, Meat & Livestock Australia gives us "Celebrate Australia with a Lamb BBQ." 

That title is probably the least interesting thing about this ad, which doesn't even warm up the grill before accosting us with talking points: It opens on a beach, where two indigenous dudes "fire up the barbie" in preparation for the festivities to come. 

And who shows up? Colonialism!

Literally. One after the other, ships dock bearing Dutchmen, Englishmen, Germans, the French, the Chinese (carting fireworks) and Serbians. 

"How long have you guys been here?" the first Dutch colonialist asks.

"Since … forever, mate," one of the Original Aussies replies. 

There are myriad cameos, including Sam Kekovich (from MLA's original Australia Day ads), Olympian Cathy Freeman, rugby player Wendell Sailor, MasterChef's Poh Ling Yeow, cricketer Adam Gilchrist and comedian Rhys Nicholson. 

At the end, when the beach is nice and crowded, somebody draws attention to yet another wave of incoming "boat people." 

"Aren't we all boat people?" Yeow asks provocatively. 

Sure. Yes. But these aren't just any boat people—they're float people! As in Gay Pride floats! 

Wow. There's a lot to unpack in this bad boy. 

Created by ad agency The Monkeys, the ad follows in the footsteps of past MLA spots for Australia Day—though it doesn't actually mention the holiday by name, since it basically celebrates the arrival of colonialists and their violent overtaking of native peoples. (How many more ways can you make this party awkward?) 

"The thought behind the ad this year, and following the evolution of lamb over the past 12 months, was to celebrate all the people who have contributed to making this country great, uniting the way we know best at this time of year, over a lamb barbecue," explains Monkeys executive creative director Scott Nowell. 

A 30-second TV version of the ad will air through Jan. 26 (Australia Day!)—so even if Australia Day isn't mentioned, it's obviously still an Australia Day ad.

For the last few years, Meat & Livestock Australia has painstakingly constructed a certain message—that being Australian, and having strong emotional ties to lamb, is more important than any other granularity you may subscribe to, or that others may ascribe to you. 

"As a brand, lamb stands for unity," says MLA group marketing manager Andrew Howie. "Australia is the greatest country on earth, and lamb is the nation's favorite meat. Hence, we have brought those two things together to prove we should be able to celebrate this great country every day of the year." 

One nice thing about this message is that you can do a lot with it.

In "Operation Boomerang," Australian citizens abroad were "rescued" so they could celebrate Australia Day with lamb. The MLA has also associated vegetarianism with a lack of patriotism—a weirdly common thread in ads that are otherwise about the awesomeness of diversity—and, most recently, positioned lamb as "the meat that doesn't discriminate," which even got its own hashtag, #unitedwelamb. 

But while this vastness gives MLA room to be flexible and fun, that same quality also raises the stakes for its message. Diversity, belonging and patriotic allegiance aren't just talking points; they're sore spots. Their roots in our psyches extend to the bloody origins of our countries, and values our predecessors were often willing to die for. All of that resonates today in protectionist politics (and fights on Facebook). 

We'd be hard pressed to call the MLA lazy in its approach. This 2:36 ad is a feat of production, carefully crafted stereotyping and a weird colonial fantasy, all of which culminates in some sort of killer beach party that somehow still has room for a "vegan" jab and—cherry on the cake!—a message about sexual identity acceptance. 

But what's it all for? Is it to get us to think really hard about whether "boat people" is a term that deserves to exist? Is it to get us to hug?

Maybe. But only incidentally. The real message is, of course, that true Australians eat lamb.

I discussed the ad at length with Blinkist's Caitlin Schiller, and felt struck by a phrase she used to describe this sense of a payoff that's hardly equal to the material it's working with. 

"All they did," she said, "was fill the minimum viable ad requirement." 

CREDITS

MLA – Group Marketing Manager – Andrew Howie