Can Ruby the Roo drive big-spending travellers downunder? Tourism Australia thinks it can
In the post-Covid barrage of destination marketing, Tourism Australia is banking on a CGI kangaroo - and its unicorn sidekick - to help entice travellers to take a holiday down under.
Tourism Australia has pulled out all the stops for its new global advertising campaign. From a live-action film featuring voiceovers from Hollywood stars, a remake of the iconic Down Under song, and the return of the 'Come and Say G'Day' slogan, made famous by Paul Hogan in the 80s – the campaign is unmistakably Australian.
It's Tourism Australia's first global campaign since 2016, and chief marketing officer Susan Coghill hopes it delivers mass awareness to bolster the country's visitor arrivals to pre-pandemic levels.
Speaking to The Drum from New York City following the campaign launch, Coghill says the brief to its agency M&C Saatchi was to ensure the campaign would stand out in a "seas of sameness" and cut through the immense competition as the destinations fight for tourists.
"We wanted to remind the world of what a wonderful warm, welcoming place Australia is, and we wanted to do it in a light, joyful and charming way," says Coghill.
"The marketplace is more competitive than ever, there's a lot of destinations out there, and we're all fighting for the same slightly smaller pool of high-yielding travellers. So, we needed an idea that was uniquely, unmistakably, and distinctly Australian.
"The tourism category is a sea of sameness, fraught with cliches, and we know there's a lot of places in the world that have great beaches or great food, we think ours, of course, is the best, but we needed to tell that story in a way that is unmistakable."
Enter Ruby the Roo; a CGI Kangaroo voiced by Aussie actor Rose Byrne, who is languishing on a souvenir shop shelf, dreaming of travel until she finds herself on an adventure around Australia's most famous destinations, accompanied by her new sidekick Louie, a "magical" unicorn, voiced by Canadian actor Will Arnett.
The nine-minute film forms the centrepiece of the global campaign, running across key markets, including the USA, Canada, UK, Italy, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, France, Germany, Malaysia, China and Hong Kong. It is supported by TVCs, print, social, digital and local activity.
Tourism Australia is looking to lure visitors to Australia – but not just any visitors – TA wants to attract the big-spending travellers who stay longer, spend more money and value Australia's unique offering. And it wants lots of them.
Since reopening its international border in 2022, visitor arrivals have been growing, but they are still far off pre-Covid levels. In August this year, Australia welcomed 348,400 international visitor arrivals, which is 44% of the volumes for the same month in 2019.
Overall, Australia welcomed 9.5 million international visitors in 2019, who spent $45.4 billion. Those visitors placed Australia 41st globally for international visitor arrivals; however, it ranked seventh for visitor spending and was number one for spend per visitor.
The focus on big-spending tourists is not a new strategy for Tourism Australia. The immensely popular Dundee campaign, which launched at the 2018 Super Bowl, primarily targeted big-spending American travellers. It worked, and the US remains a key market; however, Tourism Australia is hoping to also attract more high-spending visitors from Europe and Asia.
"We are 100% continuing to focus on those high yielding travellers," says Coghill.
"By the nature of our geography, being a little further away from the rest of the world, we are a more premium destination. It does cost a little bit more and takes a little bit longer to come down. And therefore, we focus on travellers who are not daunted by a slightly longer journey.
"We may not have the mass numbers that France have, but we do tend to get these high yielding travellers who stay a little longer and spend a bit more."
The post-Covid Traveller
However, are travellers willing to invest the time and money to travel long-haul in the current climate? With the tourism industry still limping back into shape after Covid, the widespread staff shortages, lack of flights pushing up airfares, increased fuel costs raising car hire fees and the cost of living crisis impacting the price of food, drink, and well, everything, how appealing is long haul travel?
"The airline airfare issues, the talent shortage issues, they are all global problems. They aren't just impacting Australia; although they're certainly a challenge here. But it's getting better."
Coghill says international inbound seat capacity levels for Australia are currently at 59% and are scheduled to reach 69% by December and 76% by next March.
"Coming out of the pandemic, there's no doubt that people are travelling a little closer to home and taking slightly shorter breaks, which poses a challenge for us. However, countering that is the type of holiday that high-yielding travellers, in particular, want, and we have the open-air, outdoor nature of our cities and our unparalleled nature and wildlife.
"Also, Australia offers much more meaningful travel for people who want to get closer to genuine, authentic experiences and experience the things that matter in life. The opportunity to meet and engage with the oldest living culture in the world is pretty amazing," Coghill continues.
"Yes, there's no doubt that we are facing challenges. But we believe what we have to offer is so appealing.
"We also have to take the long view; we know that when you don't feed or water your brand tree, so to speak, it won't fruit over the years. So we're making sure that we are continuing to build our brand and ensure we've got awareness, consideration and relevance with our high-yielding travellers. And, as they start to think about their next long-haul holiday, be it three months, six months, 12 or 18 months - whatever it may be, we have put in the hard work, so they are considering and ultimately booking Australia.
"So, whilst some of the activity that we have now certainly is conversion work that we do with partners to capture immediate demand, we are certainly playing the long game. It's classic Bidet and Fields, the long and short of it. We're making sure that we've got that mental availability, as well as that physical availability in the short term, to help people know when and where to book," says Coghill.
Creating awareness, engagement & longevity
Against this backdrop, it's clear why Tourism Australia has leant heavily on brand cues to ensure it builds mental availability and creates strong consumer memory structures. The deliberate decision to use the country's most iconic and recognisable assets: kangaroos, Great Barrier Reef, Sydney Opera House and Uluru, is accompanied by emotive storytelling, engaging soundtracks and humour. Unsurprisingly there's been a tremendous amount of research, data and testing around the campaign, and early testing and feedback were overwhelmingly positive.
"There's an Ipsos study called 'The Power of You, that talks about the importance of distinctive brand assets. And it ranks the power of branded colours, logos, audio devices, etc. Branded characters are amongst the highest, if not the highest-rated, branding device. And if you think about things like the M&M's, the Compare the Market Meerkats, and Bundy the Bear, these are characters that have grown and developed over time and stood the test of time because they do work.
Coghill says TA also wanted to balance robust branding devices and characters with engaging storytelling and create a robust platform that could continue to be built on and repurposed over the years.
"We just wanted to lean into really great storytelling and do it in a way that was distinctly Australian. I think there's a universality to any great story, particularly a buddy story."
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Tourism Australia took inspiration from the popularity of CGI animation storytelling as well as Christmas advertising and the highly emotive brand-building storytelling that takes place during this period to create a platform they hope will have longevity.
"We want to be able to run this campaign for at least two years across our markets. We will do little extensions and freshen-ups as we go through that period. But we have invested in developing and producing the campaign and assets in the past year. We now want to put as much of our marketing budget as we can to be in the market, pushing it out to consumers through paid media, content, partnerships, PR, etc., and making sure that we get longevity out of it.
"I think we all know that marketers get tired of their advertising much more quickly than consumers do. And I want to reverse that trend. I want these characters to evolve and do new and different things and get better and better over time."
There's already a growing fan base for Ruby, Coghill says she's received a lot of requests from people wanting to buy a toy kangaroo.
"We haven't made them... yet. But I think we're gonna have to," says Coghill.