NSW and Sydney tourism marketing: 1982 'Australia's leading lady' ad is a step back in time

"She's lazy, crazy, sometimes a little childish..."

It wasn't "Football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars," but it wasn't far off.

When a NSW tourism TV ad dropped in 1982, it featured hot sheilas in bikinis, cliched shots of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House and even a bloke in a cork hat. Too right, mate – it was as dinky-di as its late '70s jingoistic predecessor (that one advertising Holden).

Fast forward 39 years, and modern-day Destination New South Wales has just launched an ad of its own, the centrepiece of a campaign worth $10 million designed to generate post-lockdown visitations. And it, believe it or not, follows the same formula as the aforementioned twosome.

"One of the truisms of visual tourism communications is you have to see assets," says 3AW breakfast co-host, advertising guru and cultural commentator, Russel Howcroft. "And the way you do that is with a slideshow."

Line the tourism ads up next to each other – as popular Twitter account Australian Kitsch did in the wake of Destination NSW's campaign launch – and Howcroft's theory is verified. Each features slide after slide showing "assets". And then there's another must-have in a tourism ad, an evocative soundtrack. And of course, you need a slogan, though 1982's anthropomorphising of Sydney as "Australia's leading lady" has given way to a far more elegant "Feel new."

And fortunately for the incumbents of all things tourism in NSW, most of the similarities end there.

Featuring beaches, babes, beers, betting and a little bit of burlesque, the 1982, Wran government ad was decidedly white middle class, with "an unbelievably wealthy eastern suburb" focus, as Howcroft observes.


But as gauche and sexist as the "leading lady" advertisement appears today, Howcroft says it remains "powerful".

"It is kitsch but that doesn't make it any less powerful for the time," says Howcroft. "Today, it offers great insight into what our country was like."

The 60-second spot was devised by Australia's legendary advertising creatives, Alan Morris and Allan Johnston, AKA Mojo; Howcroft hosted a 2019 documentary on their work, hailing them as "two of the most important voices in Australian cultural history".

Mojo enshrined "Put another shrimp on the barbie" as a still go-to line for Americans of a certain age when they think of Australia thanks to a 1984 US ad for the Australian Tourism Commission featuring Paul Hogan. In Australia, it is the Mojo jingles that endure, particularly C'mon Aussie, C'mon, debuting in 1978 to promote World Series Cricket.

Says Macquarie University Associate Professor of Marketing, Jana Bowden, "A Mojo piece was about making sure every Aussie not only felt emotionally connected to the ad but that they could also see themselves reflected in it. There was a lot of good times imagery with a healthy dose of Aussie larrikinism thrown in. The tag lines were simple, literal and straight as a die. It worked."

But she adds, "Times have changed and tastes have shifted. Tourists are looking for a more sophisticated and cultured take."

To that end, the "feel new" ad is light on icons and laden with evocativeness – and its scope is not only geographically diverse but also racially and culturally. Bowden considers it a success.

"The ad taps into our core values, importantly our psychological and emotional needs for joy, freedom, happiness and enrichment and then amplifies them showing us what and who we can be by giving us a visual and narrative bridge to get there."

But as for jingles, you can replace Mojo's lyrics such as "A brassy town, sometimes classy town, She's a good time, She'll never let you down" with a contemporary take on Nina Simone's classic, Feeling Good as the new commercial has. But still, similarities remain.

"It tugs on the emotional heartstrings," Bowden says. "That's another point of commonality with past campaigns."

See also: NSW, the only state without a chip on its shoulder

See also: Great state: The ultimate guide to NSW