Woolworths was quick to pull down its poorly thought out ‘Fresh in our Memories’ campaign, evoking Anzac images of a digger.
Perhaps it’s just the centenary year, but Anzac Day seems to have morphed into a post-Easter consumer binge.
Earlier this month Woolworths launched and, after a strong social media backlash, quickly withdrew the ‘Fresh in Our Memories’ campaign that invited users to upload a photo of someone affected by war. The photos were overlaid with the supermarket chain’s logo and their tagline ‘Fresh in our memories’. Objecting to the attempt to hijack Anzac Day, users uploaded pictures of, among others, Corey Worthington and King Joffrey of Game of Thrones.
But the Woolworths campaign is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cashing in on Anzac Day. If you listen to commercial radio, you’ll be bombarded with ads for Gallipoli camps being held around the country to mark the centenary that sound like they’re modelled after Big Day Out — complete with merchandise.
Some of Australia Post’s catalogue of Anzac Centenary souvenirs. Photo: Australia Post
If you can’t make it to the event, visit your local post office and pick up a Limited Edition Gallipoli Centenary Bear — a teddy named Private Ernest Harvey who comes complete with slouch hat, boots, water canteen, bayonet and digging equipment.
The teddy is just one in a set of five. There’s also a stretcher bearer bear, a trooper bear, a nurse bear, and a digger bear all packed in specially branded Centenary boxes. At $89.99, they’re a steal.
And, inevitably, you can also buy accessories for your teddy such as little rifles and medals — sold separately of course.
‘Limited Edition Gallipoli Centenary Bear’ on sale at Australia Post shops for $89.99. Photo: Australia Post
If fluffy toys dressed in army uniforms aren’t your thing, then there’s always the Sands of Gallipoli commemorative coffee mugs collection. Or, if you’re more of a traditionalist, you can always get you’re your hands on some fake — and unearned — medals, some of which are filled with little vials of sands claimed to be taken from the beaches at Gallipoli.
It might be argued that each generation finds its own way to commemorate Anzac Day, but all this merchandising seems less about commemoration, and more about commercialisation.
Even accepting that some of these events and items pass on a portion of the sale price to charities, there are still big bucks to be made in exploiting Anzac Day. For example, ten per cent of the $89.99 price tag of the teddy bears, is donated to Legacy and Soldier On, a returned soldiers organisation that supports wounded service men and women. But $8.99 is a relatively minuscule amount.
Of course, Anzac Day has been a rich source of mythmaking for decades. The mythmaking isn’t confined to the nationalistic variety either. Biscuit and chocolate manufacturers come to mind as particularly adept at cashing in on Anzac stories.
But there seemed to be some limits as to how far you could stretch the connection to a biscuit brand to a far off battle. When teddy bears and coffee mugs and mega-festival spectaculars can be sold as authentic reminders of the Great War, all bets are off.
There now seems to be no limits to the extent that Anzac Day can be used to flog overpriced kitsch to make a quick buck.
The effect is not just crass commercialism, but the hardships and complexities of actual servicemen and women’s lives get sanitised and forgotten. The horror of war and the life-long trauma that the survivors and their families endured gets repackaged as little more than a Go Wild camping trip.
My grandfather Alex Bannerman was not an Anzac soldier, but he did spend most of the Second World War as a prisoner forced to work on the Thai-Burma railway. If he were alive today I’m quite sure he wouldn’t be buying tacky and shameless souvenirs for Saturday.
While after the war he maintained the camaraderie with the men with whom he served, he was a pacifist and critical of anything that celebrated war. To my knowledge, he never took part in Anzac Day events.
My great uncle Syd Law was the same. He served in the Second World War in North Africa and New Guinea, but showed a distinct lack of interest in anything to do with the war afterwards. He just wanted to get on with the rest of his life.
Anzac teddy bears, mugs and spectacles like Camp Gallipoli do little to commemorate actual men and women who served, but rather erase them and their sacrifice. In their place we’re given something cute, palatable, and — above all else, saleable.
Let’s be clear, this isn’t about being anti-Anzac Day. What’s being objected to isn’t the commemoration of the war dead and the acknowledgement of those who served. Both are quite appropriate. The problem isn’t commemoration, but the transformation of Anzac Day into the next big day on the retail sales calendar.
Christopher Scanlon teaches journalism at La Trobe University.