The popular narrative of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ has influenced our economic behavior and keeps our economy afloat. The way the narrative has spread here is a testament to the “narrative economic theory” of economics Nobel laureate Robert J. Shiller. Aside from the fact that we have managed to avoid a global economic downturn, we see strength in the corporate sector from the rise in new business and business confidence in Australia. As a B2B marketer, we are committed to supporting that narrative so we can continue to support our customers and our bottom line.
The Lucky Country: an evolved narrative
The “Happiness Country” narrative exists and keeps our economy running. Not the feeling Donald Horne portrayed in his 1964 book The Lucky Country, when he wrote: “Australia is a lucky country, run mostly by second-rate people who share its fortunes.” That was perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of Australia Australia ever written.
Today, the “Lucky Country” has evolved to reflect our undoubtedly prosperous economic landscape that fosters a desirable way of life. I have vivid memories of Bill Bailey on his 2018 stand-up show, joking about dolphins handing us packed lunches as we SUPed to work while Kookaburras laughed leisurely at our 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth. Young, naive and before witnessing Australia’s economic resilience during the coronavirus pandemic, the penny was yet to drop in terms of the overall weight of the broader narrative Bailey was spreading.
narratives and economics
Donald Horne, Bill Bailey, and the “Lucky Country” narrative are important pieces of evidence to consider when proving narrative economic theory. As Robert J. Shiller describes, narrative economics examines the “viral spread of popular narratives that influence economic behavior”.
Narrative epidemics can be fast or slow, big or small. The higher the contagion rate (the number of people in a nation who have heard the narration) and the slower the recovery rate (the faster people forget the narration), the longer-term the narration. These tend to affect one’s worldview and subsequent actions. Let’s take the “Lucky Country” for example. Analysis of the term as a “topic” in Google Trends over the past five years shows a consistent but incremental recurrence of the topic. Type the exact phrase into the 1960 Google Ngram Viewer and you’ll see an even clearer, gradual increase, suggesting that the spread of the “Lucky Country” is yet to fall into a recovery rate.
The “Lucky Country” has been constellated over decades and built up its strength. Australia managed to avoid the last two global recessions (the tech wreck and the global financial crisis) and somewhat avoided the full brunt of the pandemic with our less severe economic contractions. According to Bloomberg, there is only a 25% chance of an economic recession in Australia, compared to 50% and 60% in the US and UK, respectively, to avoid the next global recession.
The “Lucky Country” drives SMEs
The ‘Lucky Country’ narrative thrives in the SME sector that underpins our economy and supports the ‘Have it’ sub-narratives that drive our nation’s innovation, love of indigenous ideas and products built on Australian soil . ABS, NAB and OECD data confirm this.
The number of companies operating in Australia has grown by almost 10% since June 2020, with more than a million companies set up since the peak of the pandemic. Of these companies, over 800,000 were individuals who “had a crack” as they initially employed no other employees. Nearly 50,000 of these have grown and transformed into staffed businesses during the pandemic.
The “lucky country” is doing differently in business than the volatility of consumer confidence. Between January 2015 and June 2022, business confidence among SMEs, as measured by the NAB, was above the indexed 100 average about 86% of the time, while consumer confidence was above 100 only about 53% over the same period. According to the OECD Business Confidence Index (BCI), Australia’s BCI is the highest since 2008. Comparing this to the gradual decline in BCI in the US since November 2021 and the UK since December 2021, we can see the impact of BCI narratives from the “ lucky country”.
To the extent that people and businesses believe forecasts of booms or recessions, these accurate forecasts may contain an element of self-fulfilling prophecy or, similarly, the popular belief of Australia as the ‘lucky country’.
Support the narrative, support your bottom line
As marketers, we can either support or hinder that narrative, depending on the message we’re delivering and the public discourse we’re driving. The lack of positive brand messages in the marketplace that reflect SME optimism can destabilize the narrative that drives our growth and cause companies to delay activities that would boost the economy. As advertisers, we cannot afford to supplement the narrative of collapsing economic conditions and retreat from “lucky land” by promoting price sensitivity, conveying rational messages, or retreating altogether.
Byron Sharp’s recent bravery at the LinkedIn B2B Marketing Summit wasn’t wrong — having the loudest voice (to reach the most) that can go the distance (to spread the budget the widest) is painfully obvious. It’s also about how we use that voice, the mental availability that we build and the category entry points that we associate with that matter. There is a fine line between “surviving” and “thriving” narratives; This awareness needs to go beyond how we craft our brand and product messages. For example, the strengths of a product that enable a company to thrive in the future versus the capabilities of a product that help companies achieve immediate efficiencies for the impending “doom”.
As President Franklin Roosevelt said in 1933: “Let me express my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasonable, unwarranted terror, crippling the effort needed to retreat into an advance The Lucky Country narrative was robust and deployed well enough to avoid the full brunt of recessions. It remains in our collective consciousness and will assert itself again in different narrative constellations under changed conditions. When it’s not about the health of our bottom lines, but about the performance of our SME-driven economy, B2B advertisers need to support the modern “Lucky Country” narrative by keeping ad spend steady and turning on the brand lights.
Nicola Watkins, Strategy Director of Alchemy One