Incidental Urban Anthropology #004
what/ Suncorp “Invasion” Campaign
when/ 3 June 2019
When was the last time an Australian brush-turkey brutalised your flat-screen TV? Or a Goanna laid-waste to your upholstery? When was the last time any wild animal, native or otherwise, did anything to seriously warrant a claim with your insurance company?
In a recent project – Hoisted, Inkahoots explored how the relationship between humans and the natural world is affected by how we choose to represent it. We created a web-app that allowed people to design their own flag for a chosen native plant or animal and watched as people saw their design projected onto an over-sized flag in the city’s Botanical Gardens. It was a celebration of the weird and wonderful creatures with which we share this country, and a chance to reflect on how we want to relate to our natural environment.
And then I rode by this…
In a bizarre appeal to the experience of the ‘average Queenslander’, Suncorp Insurance’s new ad campaign seems to try and stoke an irrational fear of Australian native wildlife by framing them as a threat to peoples’ homes (and contents).
Sure, it’s a feeble attempt to jokingly position these species as a common enemy and unite Queenslanders in their loyalty for a good ol’ Queensland brand, after all, No one knows Queensland, like a Queenslander. But that’s a slogan that evidently assumes a highly unwarranted degree of self-awareness!
My real problem with this campaign isn’t the lame advertising concept inventing a dubious connection between contents insurance and native animals, but that (in spite of its attempted humour) it asserts a narrative of fearful intolerance for all things non-human. It validates the already too-common attitude that any animal that gets in my way or damages my property is an expendable nuisance, and in this way, helps undermine our ability to co-exist peacefully with the few native animals that have managed to adapt to human occupation. In Queensland, we see all too often how public opinion can quickly lead to bloody-minded calls for culls or dispersals. Examples aren’t hard to find…
In 2013, when residents began complaining about a population of native Agile Wallaby in south Mission Beach (QLD), the council authorised a cull of the protected species, raising legitimate concerns that this may eventually lead to their extinction.
In 2012, Campbell Newman (then QLD Premiere) responded to community concerns by reinstating permits for farmers to cull Flying Foxes and granted local councils power to mount Flying Fox dispersals without state approval. Still in effect today, these laws have since been exploited countless times by councils all over Queensland responding to negative public sentiment.
It’s worth noting how the rhetoric of the Suncorp campaign parallels that of local media in these native-species-'afflicted' towns. Consider this headline in the North Queensland Register:
vs the Suncorp billboard I found in my home suburb:
“Bush turkey invasion? We’ve got your contents covered, Jindalee.”
Just how a native animal can possibly be “invading” is beyond me, but the fact remains, public attitudes towards native animals are constantly being shaped by how they are depicted in the public realm.
I see Suncorp’s new campaign as a stark counterpoint to what we were attempting to do with Hoisted. On one hand we have a big corporation reinforcing harmful attitudes and cynically cashing in on negative public perception to garner brand loyalty (nothing new there). On the other, our intervention aimed to challenge people to think about the human/nature relationship and open a space to consider where exactly we should be placing that very loyalty. A loyalty which brands too often attempt to monopolise with campaigns like these.