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“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”: Advertising Australia’s national food in the United States, 1968-1988

Emily J.H. Contois (Department of American Studies, Brown University, Providence, Rhodes Island, USA)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 15 August 2016

561

Abstract

Purpose

Through a case study of J. Walter Thompson and Kraft’s efforts to market Vegemite in the USA in the late 1960s, this paper aims to explore transnational systems of cultural production and consumption, the US’s changing perception of Australia and the influence of culture on whether advertising fails or succeeds.

Design/methodology/approach

This paper draws from archival primary sources, including advertisements and newspapers, as well as secondary literatures from the fields of advertising history, food studies and transnational studies of popular culture.

Findings

Although J. Walter Thompson’s advertising contributed to Vegemite’s icon status in Australia, it failed to capture the American market in the late 1960s. In the 1980s, however, Vegemite did capture American interest when it was central to a wave of Australian popular culture that included films, sport and music, particularly Men at Work’s hit song, “Down Under”, whose lyrics mentioned Vegemite. As such, Vegemite’s moment of success stateside occurred without a national advertising campaign. Even when popular, however, Americans failed to like Vegemite’s taste, confirming it as a uniquely culturally specific product.

Originality/value

This paper analyzes a little-studied advertising campaign. The case study’s interdisciplinary findings will be of interest to scholars of advertising history, twentieth century USA and Australian history and food studies.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Heartfelt thanks go to Susan Smulyan, Robert Crawford and Jackie Dickenson for their kind and helpful feedback on this project from the start and for the opportunity to be involved with Globalizing the Magic System: A History of Advertising Industry Practices in Australia 1959-1989; to John Eng-Wong for inviting the author to present these findings at the Food Heritage, Hybridity and Locality Conference, held at Brown University in October 2014; and to Roger Hawkins for suggesting that the author consider researching Vegemite.

Citation

Contois, E.J.H. (2016), "“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich”: Advertising Australia’s national food in the United States, 1968-1988", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 8 No. 3, pp. 343-357. https://doi.org/10.1108/JHRM-06-2015-0019

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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