Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many places with heavy tourism have tried to figure out how to get people comfortable with traveling and spending money. Basically, every major destination save those that took the pandemic seriously (and Hawai’i) began rolling out major campaigns in 2020 and haven’t stopped. The most recent push from Tourism Australia has hit some bumps along the way. This government agency is involved in some controversy or unexpected outcome fairly regularly. However, the ads featuring the agency’s newest mascot, a stuffed souvenir named Ruby the Kangaroo, have attracted a surprising audience.
Come say g’day
The first time I was shown this video, I asked, “Why did you show me this?” After being told to look at the comments, I immediately knew why. The top comments at the time were “would” and “hear me out.” For the innocent internet trekkers, this response is a premature answer to the question, “Would you have sex with this person?” or something along those lines. As a big fan of the Twitter account @FuckedUpFood, I’m used to thinking about these reactions in a culinary context. Here, the passion is more of a challenge of bravery rather than a bashful (or boastful) expression of sexual desire.
It’s not for me, but I see the vision alongside the new wave of comments that just say “QUEEN.” With the familiar voice of Rose Byrne and the feminized features put on a kangaroo, it is no wonder people saw the animated figure in a different light. I don’t think it helps that she’s a stuffed animal or that she resembles Judy Hopps from Zootopia.
Ruby appears in YouTube and TikTok videos as well as TikTok ads. After perusing different locations, I noticed something interesting. It appears that she is taken very differently depending on what is going on in the video. When adventuring, especially with buddy-like toy unicorn Louie (voiced by Will Arnett), the responses are fairly run-of-the-mill. The most common of these express confusion over seeing an ad for a country. (Been there.) However, when Ruby is alone, or the humor is a little too Millennial or Gen Z, another crowd finds and engages with the page. This could be a joke that’s snowballing or that the ad is targeting the types of accounts saying “would” in the comments. Also, it could be a whole generation of kids having their first sexual awakening with a cartoon creature.
Ruby’s introduction draws controversy
The possible expansion of Ruby as a meme or sexual figure is not the first “issue” the Australian tourism agency may face, even if you limit it to the last few years. In 2020, the agency put out a massive campaign featuring landscapes while wildfires were destroying these locations in real life. Australians were understandably upset by this. The expensive commercial featuring Olympians and a song by Kylie Minogue ended up taking a pause.
Upon Ruby’s initial introduction, the agency received backlash over using a kangaroo as the mascot. Australia has a massive issue with the kangaroo market, murder, and habitat loss. The latter is due to commercial endeavors like farming and mining—and worsening wildfires linked to climate change. Animal rights advocates feel the tourism board’s use of a kangaroo is hypocritical when the government fails to protect these animals. Louise Bonomi, the Director of Development for Animals Australia, stated in 2022, “Tourism Australia using a kangaroo as its ‘face’ of tourism is the equivalent of Japan adopting a whale as its tourism icon or Canada marketing itself using harp seal images.”
These are all costly projects and could use some more forethought to promote tourism without angering the people that stand to benefit from it. This includes animal organizations because I can firmly say when many people (particularly Americans) think of Australia, they think about wildlife. Not many people seem upset about some liking Ruby a little too much—which just goes to show another disconnect between the audience and the advertising.
(featured image: Tourism Australia)
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