When we decided to run an ad to promote our meaningful partnership with Indigital, our team made a commitment to make it a respectful process, creating work both Indigital and Telstra could be proud of. What they learned is that making an Indigenous ad ethically presented more challenges than you’d expect – and while understanding them could be uncomfortable, it could also be deeply rewarding.

Augmented reality Indigenous education with Indigital

Telstra Purple and Microsoft partnered in 2019 to support Indigital in spreading awareness of Australia’s Indigenous culture through the Indigital Mixed Reality platform.

Indigital is a start-up founded by Cabrogal Woman, Mikaela Jade from the Dharug-speaking Nations of Sydney in 2014. The Indigital app we partnered with Mikaela Jade on is dedicated to conserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture by creating culturally-led digital skills and language learning programs for students.

With many aspects of Indigenous culture and history including language at risk of loss, there is a responsibility to protect this heritage for future generations.

Telstra Purple and Microsoft worked with Indigital to re-platform the Indigital Mixed Reality application to make it more broadly applicable for Indigenous students (K-12) across Australia.

Together, we worked with Indigital to re-platform the Indigital App to modern augmented reality (AR) infrastructure technology, being cross-platform (Windows, iOS/Android), using Azure-based content workflow process along with AI services for data identification (image classification and identification) and in the AR detection to recognise the image of a student’s hand (so the animal or object can be rendered there).

Indigital is one plank of a wider platform of work we do to partner with and support Indigenous Australia. From our annual NATSIAA awards through to IDX and more, we’re long-time supporters of the Indigenous community.

Indigital is an important initiative, and one you can hear Mikaela Jade talk about in an interview with Adam Spencer for our Behind the Mic podcast series.

Advertising ethically

To get the message out about Indigital’s app, the team wanted to produce a print ad featuring Indigenous voices.

But producing a respectful piece of advertising for this initiative was immediately challenging due to underrepresentation and the industry’s misunderstanding of how to collaborate ethically with the Indigenous community.

We were challenged right out of the gate and immediately needed to think differently about how to produce the content.

When we looked to use stock imagery for the ad, we realised there were no guarantees that the work had been produced ethically. There was no guarantee that the talent in the photographs had been paid for their appearance, or that the images were captured by an Indigenous photographer.

Stock imagery also meant we couldn’t guarantee that the sites captured were done so with the permission of local Indigenous groups. And ultimately, much of the “Indigenous”-themed stock imagery available played on degrading stereotypes.

We needed to source other imagery, but this presented more challenges. Producing a tokenistic piece of iconography to promote the app – such as a “traditional” Indigenous dot painting, for example – would have been deeply offensive. These paintings go far beyond mere visual appeal, bearing deep meaning and often serving to convey stories and messages. Only certain artists are able to produce dot paintings, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Laws prevent others from doing so.

Instead, we sought to be as ethical as possible, and engage an Indigenous photographer to produce new imagery, while ensuring that the ad would be produced with respect to the requirements of Indigenous culture. Ultimately, we were unable to find an Indigenous photographer, as none are represented inside the existing advertising system.

Even seeking to pay Indigenous creators for their time and works presented cultural challenges, as many Aboriginal businesses are set up not purely for profit, but to benefit the community around them. We approached this project accordingly, looking to represent the Indigenous community responsibly and respectfully for the benefit of the community.

Indigital Ad

Download our ad.

Producing this content challenged us to think differently about how to engage ethically with Indigenous communities. By producing the ad in the same-old way would have disrespectfully run roughshod over tens of thousands of years of culture.

We urge all of our industry colleagues to join us in thinking differently about producing this sort of content in the future to ensure that Australia’s First Nations people are accorded the treatment and respect they deserve.

Working with Telstra on the advertising campaign was a fantastic experience for the Indigital team. We were able to learn about the process involved in national advertising campaigns, and felt very supported by the Telstra marketing team in providing advice and suggestions to provide authenticity to the campaign. It was a learning experience for both companies and a collegiate approach that I would encourage other organisations to achieve. 

– Mikaela Jade, Founder & CEO of Indigital