Political Advertising

It’s politics season for Australia. I think. I’m not really what you’d call plugged into the Australian political scene — US politics sucks up so much air sometimes that it’s hard to remember that we actually live on the other side of the world. Australian politics has been trying its best to compete with the All-American show, though. You’ve got to give Parliament credit. Nevermind the weird dual citizenship stoush. John Fraser resigning? A known raw onion-eater deciding to seize the reins of power again? Random backstabbing? Rampant prioritising of profit and fossil fuel interests over the environment? Gang fearmongering along racial lines? We’ve even got a homegrown migrant-kids-in-cages situation, just that they’re being “processed” offshore.

Know what’s a notable difference between our politics and American politics? No, not the thing about who has or has not maybe declared war over Twitter. It’s the quality and saturation of our ads. Wait! Before you roll your eyes and click away from this article, we’re serious. It’s important. Not as important as whether or not someone should be able to decide global foreign trade policy via Twitter, but the fact remains that despite (or perhaps because of) the proliferation of social media and the digital age, political ads still matter.

We’ve mentioned this earlier in our blog — not so long ago, 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary for the 14th district in New York, unseating the 4th most powerful Democrat in the country. A year ago she was a waitress, and she’d never held political office before. She didn’t just win — she smoked her opponent in a landslide upset. And she did that through hard work, turning out voters who didn’t normally vote in a primary, and through a masterful ad that she wrote and which went viral:

She also had some great branding, which we note that a certain Canberra Australian Labor Party politician has copied:

political advertising

Hey, Aussie political parties! We know political branding tends to get short shrift in your budgeting when it really shouldn’t. Great branding matters. Especially personal branding. We’re happy to talk if you need some help. No need to rip off American brands. Unless you’re a certain raw onion-eater. Branding can’t help you there.

The Good

No discussion about political advertising in Australia is complete without a nod to the Labor Party’s 1972 ad, “It’s Time”:

Featuring Barry Crocker, Bert Newton, Graham Kennedy and many more well-known Australians, it set a standard for Aussie political advertising, starting a trend where everyone wanted a jingle. Labor went on to win the election.

Political advertising has, naturally, evolved since the ’70s. In 2009 the Obama for America campaign became the first political campaign to win a Grand Prix at Cannes. The campaign won two, in fact — an Integrated, and one Titanium for the Great Schlep (feat. Sarah Silverman, by Droga5):

“[The campaign’s leaders] were curators as much as creators,” Mr. Droga said. “They created the framework and allowed others to contribute.”

That framework included a digital focus on tools such as Twitter, Facebook and text-messaging. U.S. juror Rich Silverstein, of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, said, “There will never be a political campaign that doesn’t use what they started.” –Adage

Nowadays it’s not just about a beautiful, tightly-shot ad with a great narrative. Campaigns have to be fully integrated, covering multiple points including social media, online, offline, voter events, door-to-door and other aspects. Further, things that go viral, that convey a message, and (preferably) bring you some positive attention also help. This great Aussie Greens MP video, for example, went viral on Facebook and on YouTube, when he set fire to a river to protest fracking:

As at this point in time, it’s racked up over 10 million views on Facebook alone, and started a sadly brief conversation about fracking. Stunts like Jeremy Buckingham’s, the MP in question, cut through the noise because they’re heartfelt and shocking.

The Bad

Wow, there’s so much that’s bad. We don’t know where to start. Maybe with this most recent effect by Nick Xenophon:

Um. So bad that it’s good? Or just bad? Of his performance, Mr. Xenophon reportedly said: “That was a traumatic experience for me but I’m glad someone’s enjoyed it.” Yeah, it wasn’t just traumatic for him, we think. It’s possible to do a low-cost ad well. This… probably wasn’t it. Was it as unsettling as the sight of Clive Palmer twerking in the name of political stunts? Not sure.

The Weird

Content warning ahead: explicit language. The Juice Media is a satirical site that creates “Honest Government Ads”, such as the following Visit the Northern Territory:

How does this have any bearing on political advertising in general? Humour often cuts through the noise. Barack Obama demonstrated an understanding of this through his 8 years of office, not just within his White House Correspondent Dinner jokes (Anger Translator, anyone?)–

–but also to push signature programs like signing up for Obamacare, by appearing on Between Two Ferns:

Humour also has a tendency to reach traditionally less-interested younger voters, particularly if it’s humour of the no-BS sort. Gaining a reputation for straight-shooting can be a good thing to have in politics. However, it’s a tricky thing to incorporate into a strategy, as it can backfire *cough* twerking *cough*. As with all campaigns, political or not, the incorporation of any feature into your campaign requires a strategy.

Quick tips:

  • Keep things honest. In today’s world, it’s much, much easier to be caught out on BS, which can make your campaign backfire on you.
  • Stick to your core message and keep it simple. Descending into policy wonkiness might work for newspapers, but it won’t work well in an ad.
  • Keep things personal. The best modern political ads are deeply personal, introducing you for who you are and hopefully getting more people to know and support you.
  • Have a strategy and a goal.

Want to chat about any of these points? Get in touch.

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