How does marketing and communications in Australia differ from the UK?

how does Australia differ from the UK

My good friend Andrew Thomas, publishing manager at Communicate (the magazine), asked me recently if I’d be interested in writing a piece for the iPad version of Communicate (which is excellent by the way).

We went back and forth a bit and we agreed it would be interesting to take a look at marketing and communications landscape in Australia, and how it differs from the UK.

So, here is an adapted version of the piece I wrote, but if you’d like to enjoy it as part of the iPad version of the mag, download the app here.

How does the marketing and communications landscape in Australia differ from the UK?

After spending more than seven years in London, coming back home to Australia has been a real eye-opener.

On one hand, this very young country continues to change at an incredible rate, becoming more diverse and interesting by the day. On the other, marketing and communications practices probably haven’t evolved at the same speeds as other parts of the world.

Why? There are a number of factors involved and I think the following will give you the best picture of what is happening across this great southern land.

Geographical  Issues

Australia is the 6th largest country in the world in regards to land mass but 53rd overall when it comes to population which creates a series of interesting challenges and opportunities for the businesses operating here.

In the United Kingdom, you have 10 national newspapers, in Australia there is one. Television news is also heavily tailored for local markets. The physical distance between the major cities in Australia, coupled with the relatively small population makes it difficult to run national campaigns even though digital has become more of a force in recent years. This impacts on the marketing budgets and often forces dulled down regional campaigns to be run at the expense of groundbreaking national activity.

Market Size

A by-product of the big land mass, small population situation, is that there are often only two or three brands operating in each sector.

For example, Australia is dominated by two supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths, who have about 80% of market share. The same is true in many other sectors including banking and finance, and consumer verticals.

There are two main issues that result from this (un)competitive landscape:

  1. Marketing and communications innovation struggles – this is not due to the agencies who put sometimes very creative ideas forward, but rather the decision makers at the bigger organisations who have more to lose than gain from truly innovative campaigns. If you only have one or two genuine competitors in your sector, why would you risk losing market share if you might only gain a little bit on the back of something that pushes the boundaries.
  2. The big guys buy the challenger brands as soon as they start gaining traction – when challenger brands do start to chip away at the market share of the big brands, often on the back of different marketing and communications activity, they get snapped up by the very brands having a run at them.

This is a very different situation to other places around the world, especially the UK which has several brands vying for consumer attention and resulting marketing and communications campaigns need to reflect this.


Average Australian broadband speeds are ranked 39th in the world which has a significant impact of the ways brands and business behave.

Slower broadband speeds mean campaigns with an online or mobile component can struggle to achieve cut through if the target audience can’t access content in a timely and solid fashion.

Copycat Mentality

Closely linked to the market size and geographical isolation Australia has in comparison to the rest of the world is that we tend to wait for other people to adopt things before we do.

Ironically, once something is adopted, it is embraced with widely open arms. Australia is second behind the USA for percentage of Facebook penetration versus overall population.

This tends to lead to a copycat mentality which sees brands and business virtually rip off campaigns that take place in other parts of the world because there is no overflow effect like there can be in Europe.

A good example at the moment is the meerkat campaign from which is just an adapted version of the highly successful original version from the UK. Perhaps it d0esn’t have the same cut-through for me because I experienced it a few years ago, or it just doesn’t feel as culturally appropriate for a country outside of Europe. It certainly hasn’t created the buzz of the original version.

Digital Obsession

The ‘digital obsession’ is not confined to just the northern hemisphere as brands and businesses and been blinded by the shiny lights of digital communications out here too.

But, what you tend to see, and this is probably true of most parts of the world, brands (and their agencies) want ‘digital ideas’ as opposed to ideas that can work across digital platforms (and other traditional mediums).

This is something that will settle down in time but it is an issue that is holding back the genuine creativity that resides on these shores.

Digital Talent (or lack thereof)

There is a HUGE shortage of digital talent in Australia, especially in Melbourne where I’m located.

Even when digital talent is identified and brought into the big integrated agencies, it is hard to hold on to the talent because the opportunity is often oversold and doesn’t live up to the expectations set.


I hope this isn’t perceived as a negative overview of the marketing and communications landscape in this country. It simply highlights the many challenges the marketing and communications community faces in a market of this size, population and location. Like all things, the cream will eventually rise to the top.

Don’t forget to check out Communicate (the magazine) on iPad for some great content from Andrew, his team and talented stable of contributors.


  • Reply October 24, 2013

    Mark Lowe

    Hi Adam

    I found this piece really interesting.

    As an outsider working in the London agency-world, but someone who has spent some time in Australia and worked with Aussies, I wanted to make a few observations. These are meant to be constructive and come from someone with a huge admiration for the country.

    It seems to me that there are two key challenges facing the marketing industry over there – a lack of innovation and a shortage of talent.

    The innovation problem, as you rightly say, is in part a ‘lag effect’ due to the country’s size and location. Your description of marketing’s approach to digital sounds like most London agencies 3-4 years ago. I’m not an uncritical observer of the scene here, but the scale of our market and the heat of competition drives innovation because our jobs depend on it. It’s natural that a relatively smaller market with less intense competition might fight to keep up.

    On the talent front the problems you face are also in part an accident of geography. Many Australian-born marketers gain their experience overseas and because digital skills have only hit the mainstream in the last 3-4 years, a lot of that knowledge hasn’t come home yet. This is changing, as you’ve shown yourself by heading back to set up an agency.

    So there are issues, but none of them insurmountable. The country has everything it needs to give itself an edge in our industry. But a bigger question is, does it want to?

    There is a lot of talk in Australia of creating a world-beating, knowledge-based economy and this should be led, presumably, by marketing services. But are you creating the conditions for it?

    You could start by bringing in more talent that isn’t home-grown to fill the knowledge gaps at junior and mid-levels in your workforce. Of course, this would require a sensible conversation about immigration, which seems even less likely in Australia than it is in the UK.

    Australia also needs to ask (as many are starting to) whether the commodities boom is really helping the broader economy. Many of the talented younger people that do opt to stay at home are being sucked into the mining boom. It’s no surprise that you can’t find young talent in Melbourne when most of it is down a mine in Western Australia. This stores up other problems, because will be even less home-grown marketing talent in future and because the spiraling currency and costs of living deter skilled immigration.

    Finally (and this seems to me to be the easiest problem of all to fix) your broadband infrastructure is nothing short of a national disgrace. You can’t have a knowledge driven economy at dial-up speed. Surely it’s not beyond the wit of state and national government to sort this out?

    Australia has it all – an educated workforce, a skilled diaspora, incredible natural resources and cultural capital in abundance. You could also have a knowledge economy to rival California, but if there’s one thing the country seem to lack it’s politicians with the vision to see this through.

  • Reply October 24, 2013


    Very interesting perspective Adam, thanks for sharing your insights. The only thing I’d really disagree with is that Australia has a copycat mentality. Not sure that this assertion holds up across the board. We are well known as early adopters of technology, and we also “break” a lot of US bands – often their first big success is in Australia. I’m sure that in the advertising and comms space the copycatting is more obvious, but I think it’s budgetary rather than attitudinal.

    • Reply October 24, 2013

      Adam Vincenzini

      Hi Alison, thanks for commenting on the post.
      The copycat thing is very general and as you say, not true across the board. It may have been better to say that we look at what is happening globally and adapt it for local markets (which could be true of any country). And yep, budgets and the other factors mentioned all contribute. A

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