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Jan 10, 2013

Is "Stevo" not Aussie enough for the new Macca's ad?

The tennis and Australia Day both have the capacity to drive people nuts every January. McDonald's new ad campaign, with its plethora of ockerisms is doing just that, writes Greg Dickson. But spare a thought for "Stevo" who seems to have been written out of the ad to make way for a couple of white guys.

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Two icons of January in Australia are the tennis season and Australia Day. Both are bittersweet.

Tennis is enjoyed by many and equally loathed by many. Even those who love it and spend hours watching it (like me) become embittered not because of the sport but because of the uninspired ads that broadcast sponsors force-feed to viewers to a nauseating degree.

Similarly Australia Day brings positives and negatives. Positives: a day off. Negatives: cringeworthy patriotism, a window in which cultural assimiliationist attitudes become socially acceptable, plus it’s really hard to see the day as nothing but a huge slap in the face to Indigenous Australians.

With their new ad campaign, McDonald’s has managed to combine tennis-facilitated media saturation with Australia Day cringeworthiness, resulting in fits of habitual eye-rolling I don’t recall doing so severely since I was a teenager. Now, I don’t dislike the McDonald’s ads just because they’re McDonald’s ads. I’m not averse to the occasional regular trip through the drive-thru. The ads annoy me because of their heavy use of cliched colloquial Australian English. It leads to the ads pandering irritatingly to an unrealistic, stereotyped Aussie identity. Watch for yourself (transcript provided below):

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nILh3lFJiWU[/youtube]

Here’s Gazza the ambo who’s pulled an all-nighter.
Nan and mum with the ankle biter.

Stevo from Paddo on a break from a reno,
havin’ a chinwag with the visiting relos.

Back from the Murray are Hoddy ‘n’ Binny,
with pav McFlurries ‘n’ towin’ a tinnie.

Porko ‘n’ Simmo in a ute that’s chockers.
Best behaviour fellas: these two are coppers.

Yep, there’s Jimbos ‘n’ Bennos ‘n’ Rachs ‘n’ Ackers.
But there’s only one place on earth where you can get Macca’s.

My objection to the ad isn’t because I’m embarrassed by the Australian dialect of English. I’m a proud native speaker of it and enjoy many of its features, including our habit of abbreviating words (known as hypocoristics) that other English dialects wouldn’t touch. The reason the ad irks me is because I have enough awareness of Australian culture to know that not all Aussies speak like that. And certainly many, many McDonald’s customers and staff don’t speak like that. Those who frequent McDonald’s know that staff and customers are distinctly culturally and linguistically diverse. It bothers me that McDonald’s is saturating my tennis viewing with an ocker ad that doesn’t reflect their clientele, staff or the nation.

In my research, I looked up the ad on YouTube. You’ll see on the video embedded above that among the various references to Gazza, Simmo, utes and tinnies, there’s Stevo from Paddo – an Asian Australian enjoying some McDonald’s with his “relos”. Stevo and his relos stand out as the only sprinkling of non-Caucasian-ness in the whole ad apart from the token black kid on the soccer team. Such tokenism is kind of cringeworthy but it’s pretty standard fare for such ads.

Stevo from Paddo features in the YouTube version of the new Macca's ad. But will we see him on telly?

But then came the clincher. After watching the YouTube clip, I looked back to the TV and saw the ad come on again. But Stevo from Paddo wasn’t there! Instead of showing us Stevo and what appears to be his parents, the ad that was shown last night and today (January 9-10, Canberra, Channel 7) featured two white guys named “Gordo ‘n’ Sonny”. The line about “Stevo” had also been replaced, with the blokey voiceover now bleating “Gordo n Sonny working off-site, making plans for Saturday night” as images of the two Caucasian looking guys were shown. God only knows what happened to Stevo from Paddo. I can’t help but think that he wasn’t deemed “Aussie” enough for the current campaign.

The whole “Macca’s Australia Day Brand” campaign pretty much grosses me out and it has nothing to do with the food. Not only do the images presented not reflect the reality of what people who visit and work at Australian McDonald’s stores look and sound like, and if the unsophisticated noisy use of cliched ockerisms isn’t enough, it now just seems…  well… racist that they’ve apparently edited out the only non-Caucasian looking characters. I’m happy for “Gordo ‘n’ Sonny” that they are planning a big Saturday night and all, but one has to wonder if they would include poor ol Stevo in their plans. Gordo ‘n’ Sonny might choose to just white him out, as McDonald’s appears to have done.

It’s just not cricket.

[Author’s note (14/1): Since publishing this post, a version of the Australia’s Day Macca’s ad featuring Stevo from Paddo has indeed been broadcast, although the sans-Stevo version continues to be shown as well.

Although Stevo has made it on to TV, my main arguments hold: the language used in the ad still irritatingly attempts to appeal to a stereotypical notion of Australian culture; the ad does not reflect the reality of McDonald’s Australia’s customers and staff, nor our national demography; and that McDonald’s went to the trouble to develop and broadcast a version of the ad without Stevo still poses valid questions about what motivations lie behind such a decision.]

Munanga —

Munanga

AKA: Greg Dickson. Postdoc guy at University of Queensland with Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. Somewhere there, also a community linguist (Katherine region, NT) specialising in Aboriginal languages.

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22 comments

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22 thoughts on “Is “Stevo” not Aussie enough for the new Macca’s ad?

  1. chas

    I think for sure theyve got the ads on rotation – doubteless Stevo gets a similar amount of airplay to ‘Gordo and Sonny’ I’ve seen both executions- although not in equal proportions.

    if they’re spending that much on an ad campaign they want to appeal to the broadest possible audience and ‘Gordo and Sonny’ audiences probably aren’t that fired up by seeing asians on maccas ads in exactly same way that ‘stevo’ type audiences would be offended by not seeing a multicultural representation. Advertising reflects society and is led by it rather than the other way round. Otherwise it wouldn’t work and advertisers would be wasting their millions. It’s probably just some basic demographic math that drives the proportions of each spot being shown.

    For this reason I think your rant is a litle bit misplaced here;they’re not trying to appeal to inner city latte sipping phd students. They’re trying to appeal to middle and lower socio groups (ie the ones that don’t boycott maccas for health and/or good taste reasons) and I reckon they’re hitting it pretty much spot on. if they’re pissing you ( ie inner city, educated elites) off this probably means it’s working even better than they could have hoped. That is as bill bernbach said something like ‘if you stand for anything someone will always stand against you, but if you stand for nothing, no one will stand with you’.

    This isn’t the first campaign in this vein that they’ve executed over the past couple of years since they Aussie-fied their name and this must mean that they have evidence of it’s resonance – you don’t spend multi-millions without some research evidence.

    So I think what’s really pissing you off about the campaign is the fact that probably the majority of Aussies actually quite like it. That is, as evidenced by the continued existence of the campaign, that the majority of Australia pro ably don’t share your opinions about Maccas use of language, or about their use of imagery.

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