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SYDNEY -- The Australian Tourist Commission has shortlisted five advertising agencies for its lucrative and prestigious $40 million account. Incumbent Pure D'Arcy is pitching against DDB Worldwide, Whybin Lawrence TBWA and local shops Belgiovane Williams Mackay and Morris Johnston Walpole. A decision is expected mid-year. Once it is made, the direction of the commission's global marketing strategy will be set for the next three years.

However, in a break with tradition the account is not likely to go to a single agency. Instead it is expected a "lead" agency will be appointed in Sydney to handle the the commission's global strategy in conjunction with a series of local agencies to interpret the strategy for their respective markets.

"It's a similar strategy that most large companies competing internationally take," said Catriona Fraser, group director of consumer marketing.

"While there is a common theme behind the Australian brand internationally, each market is interested in different things about Australia," Ms. Fraser said.

The commission's research shows the U.S. market is particularly interested in holiday packages due to the favorable currency exchange rates, which makes the commission's marketing more tactically based rather than simply image building.

In the U.K., the commission has identified an emerging market of short-term visitors. Advertising in the U.K. positions Australia as an accessible destination that is affordable using the tagline "If you're taking two weeks off, take them as far as you can."

In Germany research shows the environment is a major attraction. Massive posters in Germany promote Australia's natural attractions such as the rainforest, coral reefs and the outback.

In Japan the the commission is attempting to target the increasing percentage of the population aged 50 and older.

During the past three years the the commission has spent $75 million on the Brand Australia Millennium campaign, which has included more than 40 TV and cinema commercials, plus newspaper and magazine ads.

Brand Australia, aided by major events such as the Sydney Olympics, appears to be working with 4.9 million tourists coming to Australia last year, up 10.9% from the year before.

However, the commission has been widely criticized at home for the way it promotes the country.

Last month the commission's managing director, John Morse, discussed the criticism in a speech in Melbourne.

"A common criticism is the use of Australian icons and that we do not show Australia to be a sophisticated country," Mr. Morse said.

"It is necessary to show icons -- the Harbour Bridge, Ayers Rock -- in our ads to achieve instant international recognition for Australia. Australia does not have the sophistication of France or Italy. However it has a style of its own. It is this Australian style which is fundamental to our brand." -- Andrew Hornery

Copyright April 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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