The first campaign ads


In modern election campaigns, the parties focus on a political marketing battle, and the first shots have been fired in this campaign.

Three major tv ads are already screening: two from the Liberals and one from Labor. This means we can now see how the parties are going to promote themselves and denigrate their opponents during this campaign.

The first Liberal ad is called Economic Journey. It shows behind-the-scenes footage of John Howard and some of the senior Liberals in meetings, at a conference table, talking. It draws heavily on the power of incumbency and the status of the office. It lists economic benefits that it claims the Howard government has ‘delivered on’.

It’s a real incumbent ad, with a soothing tone (voiced by the Liberals’ ad agent Ted Horton) that is really saying ‘relax, look how well we’re doing, you should feel comfortable and secure’. The only threat in this ad is an implicit one: that the opposition won’t be able to keep inflation under control or keep interest rates low.

The second Liberal ad is promoting a booklet called The Howard Government’s Plan For A Stronger Australia. I have to give this one some credit because at least it encourages voters to find out more information: it provides the party’s website address, and invites voters to download the full booklet. Most political ads never do this.

The Labor Party’s first campaign ad is called Taking the Pressure Off Families. It’s more negative. It’s also a classic challenger ad, because the challenger always has to walk a fine line between criticising the status quo and holding out optimism for the future and promising that they can do things better.

The ad says: ‘Many hard working families are under pressure with record high taxes. Under John Howard, it’ll only get worse.’ Then Mark Latham comes on screen to promise that Labor will ‘take the financial pressure off families.’

At this stage, early on in the campaign, both parties will use this kind of ‘soft-sell’, fairly positive ad. The worst is yet to come – they tend to save up the really nasty ads for the last two weeks.

But the Liberals have put out a billboard poster showing the direction their campaign will head in. It says ‘Latham and the economy. Good luck!’ and it has an ‘L’ plate (for learner driver) as the ‘L’ on ‘Latham’.

Yawn. There is rarely anything truly original in political advertising. This one has been done before “ I think in both New Zealand and the UK.

Even the Greens have TV ads this year. But theirs have a bit of a twist “ they’re criticising the major parties for being too close to their corporate donors. An important topic, but it’s ironic that they’re using advertising to get this message out, because it’s advertising that drives the parties need for cash … which is why they seek out cosy relationships with donors, and keep raising tens of millions of dollars. To pay for the ads.

The Democrats are also doing something quite novel – letting visitors to their websites order a sticker which says ‘no political advertising’. This is designed to go on your letterbox if you are fed up with getting copious amounts of political junk mail during the campaign.

Their marketing gurus have also been hard at word on the parties’ slogans. I don’t mean the unofficial ones “ the phrases that the leaders keep repeating over and over (Latham: ‘ladder of opportunity’, ‘ease the squeeze’, ‘learning or earning’ and Howard: ‘cut and run (from Iraq)’, ‘interest rates’, ‘interest rates’, ‘interest rates’).

The official campaign slogans are:

Labor: Mark Latham and Labor: Opportunity for All.

Liberal: Protecting, Securing, Building Australia’s Future.

‘All’ is used quite regularly in Labor ads and slogans. Last election, held after the 11 September terrorist attacks and the Tampa, their slogan was: A secure future for all Australians.

The Liberals’ was: Keep Australia in safe hands. Safe, secure, protect, strong: they’re words meant to reassure anxious Australians.

These are just the opening salvos. There’s still a long way to go in this campaign, so brace yourself. You’re about to be bombarded with ads.

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