And Now, A Word From Our Federal Government


If I were a media buyer I’d be warning my clients to buy their airtime sooner rather than later by the look of the wall to wall spending by the Australian Federal Government.

Not only has that (quite good) advertisement about drugs with the kid in the body bag returned to our screens, but so has a deeply obnoxious version that begins, prophetically, with the words, ‘I hate that ad.’ (I couldn’t have put it better myself.)

Then there are the blunt but remarkably ineffective WorkChoices commercials the ones with the yellow post-it notes also thrusting themselves into our viewing time and onto our bus shelters. Apparently they’re paid for by some business consortium, but they still smack of Government advertising to me.

Speaking of smack, the ‘Talk to Your Kids about Drugs‘ booklet has turned up in my letterbox, also courtesy of our kindly and concerned Federal Government. Apparently I should be breathlessly awaiting another, which will tell me how to protect my beleaguered children from internet predators.

How helpful of our Government to feel a sudden pressing need to inform us about our rights at work whilst also warning us about the dangers of drugs and the internet. Always worrying about our welfare is our Federal Government particularly around election time. I daresay we can expect to be reminded to be alert but not alarmed any moment now.

Despite this blitz of concerned advertising, the ungrateful Little People according to all the reputable polls just aren’t responding the way Australia’s Greatest Living Prime Minister hoped they would. Indeed, all this expensive advertising seems to either be having no effect or worse, the opposite effect to the one intended.

Image thanks to Fiona Katauskas.

Take the yellow post-it note workplace ads, for example, which seem to be stirring up the very anxieties they are supposed to allay. Contrast this with the ACTU advertising campaign I have only seen the latest ad once, but it has stuck in my head while not (yet) driving me to screaming point.

Rather than using actors, the ad shows a real family where the father talks of the devastating consequences for the whole family of his experience under the new IR laws. Best of all, the ad unlike the post-it-notes blunderbuss neither patronises nor brow beats us, allowing us to make up our own minds on the strength of the real life story we are told. I’m not saying this isn’t manipulative, but at least it’s intelligent, well-crafted manipulation.

We can expect to see a whole lot more of all kinds of political advertising in the next few weeks, to the extent that we may end up begging for some good old fashioned commercials you know, the kind that merely ask us to part with our money, rather than our integrity.

The new wisdom in political advertising is that a weary electorate now perceives any mention of a candidate negatively; so most Parties do little positive TV advertising. Why would they, when they know it is almost always counterproductive?

(The ad that gave us Kevin Rudd’s life story ran, cleverly, outside an election period, and as such was much more likely to work the way it was meant to, piquing our curiosity. Rudd is much, much more media savvy than anyone in the Coalition, or, indeed, than any of his predecessors in the ALP.)

Once the election is called we can expect not just a continuing avalanche of taxpayer-funded Government information ads, but a tsunami of cheap and nasty and I mean really, really nasty ads aimed at knocking the opposing team. The only chance we have of seeing a softer approach to political advertising is if there is a perceived gap in the women’s vote, when the Parties respond by running ads about the caring, sharing, family man behind the politician.

Don’t laugh they work. Television is an emotional medium, which is why all the political advertising we can expect to see until the blessed blackout before Election Day will deal in the extremes: love and hate. The most worrying consequence of this is the rising cynicism and disengagement with the political process something I believe can be directly attributed to the cumulative effect of decades of political advertising.

My suggestion, therefore and the ad industry will hate me for this is that we extend the blessed blackout for the whole of the election period. Let’s ban all political television advertising once the election is called in fact, let’s ban all Government television advertising for the period too. We should cap the spending allowed, as well.

Party political broadcasts can remain, candidates can send out letters and brochures and even run ads in newspapers, but let’s take as much of the emotional manipulation out of our political information as we can. Being emotionally manipulated to buy a certain brand of toothpaste is one thing, but being emotionally manipulated particularly in a country with compulsory voting to choose your next Government is quite another.

We’ve banned ads for cigarettes because of their corrosive effect on our health, so let’s ban election ads for political parties because of their corrosive effect on the health of our democracy.

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