A fierce debate has been raging in Australia over a controversial decision to allow a $13 million horse race, the Everest, to be screened live on the sails of our beloved national treasure, The Sydney Opera House. It got heated...really heated. Racing NSW staff even received death threats from those that feel the Opera House is a sacred monument, not meant for advertisers.
Long story short, the NSW government (with support from some conservative media outlets and shock jocks) stepped in and ordered the Opera House to project the race live. Not even deterred by a crowd of protesters shining lights onto the sails, the race streamed live over the weekend, and to little surprise, everyone went on with their lives on Monday.
However, one final stab in the guts for those opposed to the decision came when Racing NSW got its advertising dollars back in spades after announcing an incredible 300,000 racegoers turned up at the track (in the rain!) to watch the race live, a jump from just 30,000 last year!
But whether it was right or not, the debate brought out an ugliness not too often seen in Aussies, and highlighted the lengths we'll go to to protect our cultural icons from the perceived 'greed' of the advertising industry. This sentiment is most poignantly summarised by a comment on a Guardian article claiming, "All is lost. Greed has taken our souls."
So, where is the line? Back in 2016, Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris of the Tottenham Spurs had their images plastered across the Sydney Harbour Bridge during its post-season tour of Australia, and images of the NRL Grand Final winning team is frequently washed across that same iconic bridge. Both of which have elements of gambling promotion behind them.
What this tells us is that the increasingly tricky question for marketers to navigate is, when does advertising turn from creating a sense of 'camaraderie' to 'taking our souls?' And given the heated debate that ravaged war on our headlines this month, I don't think Aussies themselves even know the answer to this question...
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was quick to attack the PM stating: "The Opera House is not a billboard, it's a thing of great beauty." "It's part of our national treasure and deserves the respect that comes with that," he said in Melbourne. Former venue chief executive Michael Lynch argues promoting a horse race is a "crass, inappropriate and offensive use of the Opera House sails". With the debate heating up, Racing NSW chief executive Peter V'landys on Monday revealed he and his staff had received death threats.