OPINION, NZ Herald, 27 September 2023
The election is under way and we are starting to see the advertising approach of some parties.
This is important to communicate reasons to vote for a party as the average voter has a life – they don’t pay as much attention to the news or turn up to party events and rallies as the parties would probably like.
This election we should be expecting more science to be applied as marketing gets ever more sophisticated, whether it’s smart targeted digital ads laser-focused on key demographics with specific messaging or the use of behavioural science to “mess with our heads”.
Truth be told, so far it’s not a campaign featuring brave and bold advertising, and any psychological advertising seems to be buried by blandness. There’s seemingly nothing quirky or creative going on, nothing talkable, which as an ad guy I find a bit of a shame and a missed opportunity, but maybe that’s the nature of a campaign so clearly polarised around stick or twist.
The leaders don’t help this. Labour tried to give Chris Hipkins a personality by announcing a nickname for him, Chippy, and National seem to be confused about whether Christopher Luxon is better in a suit or sleeves rolled up (hint, it’s the latter). Advertising is the opportunity to spice things up.
How do we rate what we’re seeing?
First, they’ve all got a slogan, freshly minted for the election, a single sentence to help voters decide. Labour’s “In it for you” is starkly different from the sense of need for change that is being posited by the centre-right contenders – National with “Let’s get our country back on track”, “Act for real change” and Winston Peters’ “Let’s take back our country”.
The Greens’ slogan “The Time is Now” is also an effective piece of marketing in that it creates a sense of urgency, calling on voters to do something about it. This points to the possibility that with the right decisions, it’s possible to make progress.
Labour, meanwhile is doubling down on its record by saying “In it for you”. They are clearly not saying they are, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, “for turning”.
Fundamentally, all the parties have done a decent job in positioning their brands, with the exception of Labour. In my view, there’s just nothing inspiring about “In it for you”. I’m also unclear what they think they, or we, are “in”.
Then there are the TV ads. National is all about slick confidence, showing the dark present with the brighter future, and looking pretty smooth in their suits. This has also been paired with a separate ad, featuring Luxon talking direct to camera about what’s at stake and hyping up the risk of allowing Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori to form a government.
Act is all about David Seymour being, well, himself, and that’s not a bad thing – he’s done a remarkable job in growing his party.
New Zealand First
Then, Winston and co make a pretty good pitch in what looks like an old brick warehouse and manage to sound like they are pretty on to it, which is nifty for a party that hasn’t been in Parliament for three years.
The Greens are yet to front up on telly, but they have released a string of YouTube ads, focusing on their core ambitions for the party.
Oh, and then there’s Labour. While the others are relatively positive about the prospect of change, Labour has gone the attack route, targeting National and Act and placing doubt in voters’ minds about what that change might look like once in office. Attack ads do have their place in political marketing, but Labour has also tried to balance this with a second ad, launched around the same time, featuring Hipkins taking a more positive tone.
In the newspapers, it’s been relatively quiet apart from the CTU’s remarkable attack on Luxon depicting him like Mussolini on the front of the New Zealand Herald. I’m sure someone has framed that one for Luxon’s office wall, it was really rather funny and I’m sure cut both ways for support. It’s probably the bravest thing so far this campaign and not even from a campaigning party.
Finally, what about the dark arts of hyper-targeted digital advertising? It’s hard to track this. Certainly, Act has been very effective on its Facebook page, quoting the IMF saying New Zealand’s economic growth will be 158th out of 159 countries in 2024.
This whole space is one to watch, but bear in mind that for parties with limited budgets, the focus will be on swing voters and reaching those who are hard to engage with or difficult to reach through traditional media; if you are already deemed a demographic likely to have made your mind up, don’t expect to see a lot of paid-for digital advertising.
So, with not long to go, will the parties step it up and get a bit braver outside of their own Facebook pages? Feels unlikely, everything broadcast is so sanitised.
Perhaps the best thing so far has been Shane Jones singing on TikTok, which whilst short on data was big on the emotional aspects of advertising, and highly shareable. There’s someone who is prepared to put it on the line!
Ben Goodale is CEO of strategic advertising agency Quantum Jump, and a keen follower of election advertising.