It's simply not cricket.

Steve-Smith-in-deep-doo-doo

Have you noticed how mad the media has gone in Australia over the ball-tampering affair?

In case you don’t have access to the Internet, watch TV, listen to the radio, or don’t read newspapers, the Australian Cricket Captain just admitted to cheating. And the world’s media has gone nuts.

First things first, what Steve Smith and some of the team has done isn’t right. As an English-born Australian I am tempted to engage in a little schadenfreude, especially as my ‘state of origin’ team was recently smashed to pieces in the Ashes Series. However I’m much more interested in how the news has divided the country.

I’m not talking about whether he and the team were right or wrong to do what they did – I have yet to find anyone game enough to endorse their actions. I’m talking about how it has divided the country based on age.

The majority of Australians over the age of 50 seem to have taken this very badly indeed. Even the Prime Minister was moved to make a statement on the day the news broke. However those under 35 seem to be somewhat confused by all the fuss.  

Can you imagine the head of state of any of the other eleven G12 countries getting involved when one of their sports teams was involved in a scandal?

As a ‘blow-in’ and resident of this wonderful country for nearly 24 years, I have seen a seismic shift in the psyche of the country. Australia has moved from being the ‘Lucky Country at the bottom of the world,’ to a much more vocal and noticeable player on the world stage. There have been milestone moments such as the Port Arthur Massacre and the change in the gun laws, The Sydney Olympics, the Bali Bombings, the Rugby World Cup hosted in Australia, the Cronulla Riots, Australia’s involvement in East Timor, the apology for the stolen generations, the swearing in of Australia’s first female Governor-General and first female Prime Minister, and the legalising of same-sex marriage.

Of course I have been selective about which events to include, and some would no doubt be shocked by the omission of the passing of the cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman in 2001. And that’s because sport – and in particular cricket - has been engrained in Aussie culture since Australia beat England at Lords in 1882, which prompted the birth of The Ashes Series.

So what’s changed?

Why aren’t Millennials nearly as enthralled by the ball-tampering, as older Australians? And why is it important to discuss this in the context of business and branding?

The reason the younger generation isn’t so interested in this story can be neatly summed up by something I overheard on the radio station Triple J. A listener called in to say how surprised he was by his father’s reaction to the news. His Dad was so taken aback that he couldn’t sleep the night he heard the news, and was nearly moved to tears. His mother was also apparently in a bit of a pickle too.

“What’s all the fuss about?” Asked one of the hosts of the show, “It’s not as if there’s been some sort of a natural disaster that has carried off half the population of the country!”  He added.

And therein lies the rub: it’s a question of changing priorities.

The Australia I first encountered when I moved here in 1994 was a country that prided itself on its international sporting prowess, and wore it like a badge of honour. To pick up more medals than USA in the Olympic pool and to ‘smash the Poms’ in the cricket meant everything.

But this doesn’t seem to be the case today. Younger Australians seem more interested in bigger issues such as the environment, clean energy, indigenous affairs, social justice, animal welfare, and the curbing of corporate greed.

Why is this important to discuss in the context of business and branding?

Because to communicate effectively with these highly influential 18 to 35 year olds means not skewing absolutely everything towards sport. Just try counting the number of Australian sports brand ambassadors there are across the spectrum of consumer goods advertising. The assumption by advertisers seems to be that because an ex-Australian cricket captain recommends a particular brand of air conditioner, that Aussies will instantly trust his judgement and flock to fill their houses with that brand.

There are two problems with this assumption:

1. Millennials are not nearly as obsessed with sport as their parents were.

2. They know full well that the sports star in question is being paid a shed-load of cash to say that they use this brand, when in reality would have chosen a competitor in a heart beat for a larger shed-load.

Put simply, authenticity in branding is everything.

Why is it then that old-style advertising still dominates, with the emphasis on wowing the customer with mega claims and shiny (and highly inauthentic) promises?

Do they think Millennials (and for that matter, the rest of us) are that dumb?

On the contrary, Millennials and Generation Zs (those born after 2000) are far more marketing and advertising-savvy than older generations. After all, they’ve seen every trick in the book. Their desire and demand for greater authenticity is a backlash to the ‘Steak Knives’ advertising of old. They want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to the brands they buy.

And they don’t care nearly as much as their parents when cricketers are caught tampering with their balls.

Justin Cooper