Off-message: Australia’s woeful political advertising
Advertising gets a bum rap. There are plenty of ads that are annoying, a few that are offensive – longer lasting sex, anyone? – but there are many that make you laugh and often eclipse the shows that carry them for creativity.
A shortlist from the past couple of years would include the terrific Toyota border security ad (“Yep, we’ve got tofu”), the Four and Twenty Pie campaign for fake salad for men (“Hey those blokes are eating salad – let’s give them our phone numbers!), and the current Perfect Italiano campaign (“Sometimes when I cook, I weep”) which is happily is on high rotation during Masterchef.
At the other end of the spectrum of genius are the government and political advertisements. We should brace ourselves for the bombardment over the coming months. The cost of political advertising is one thing, but it would so much easier to cop the amount of money blown on these ads if they were actually informative, or possibly even entertaining.
You can imagine the squeals of laughter coming from the offices of the nation’s advertising agencies when they land one of these plumb contracts, secure in the knowledge that there will be absolutely no creative pressure placed upon them to deliver something innovative, ground-breaking or eye-catching, and a bottomless pit of money courtesy of the taxpayers to pay for all the blandness.
The feds have just fleeced us for almost $30 million to pay for their overtly political advertisements about the health takeover. The advertisements do precisely nothing to explain how the takeover will work, save for reciting the lines used by Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon ahead of the COG meeting where the deal was done.
And then there’s those NSW Government ads which set a record for shamelessness by blowing $2.3 million from state taxpayers to promote the federal stimulus spending. The ads are disguised as Workcover safety warnings, telling parents and kiddies to make sure they’re not crushed by an excellent new tuck shop or a wonderful new COLA (covered outdoor learning area) under the Rudd Government’s absolutely sensational Building the Education Revolution program.
Unlike these bogus infomercials, at least no taxpayers are harmed in the making of party-political campaign propaganda. In a democracy, the political parties are entitled to spend their own money on whatever advertisements they like.
But while you can’t rail about the cost, you can certainly groan about the quality. Both sides of politics appear to be stuck in the 1970s in Australia. Nothing has really changed since the days of Singo. If you look at the United States, there have been some terrific negative advertisements which have been executed with a light touch. The best of these was the devastating attack on failed Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry. The Republicans went after the two weaknesses at the centre of his candidacy – the fact that he was inconsistent on public policy, and as a private citizen, so obscenely rich as to be out of touch – using spliced footage of Kerry riding a windsurfer back and forth in both directions, to paint him not just as a flip-flop guy but a member of the idle rich.
In Australia right now, the Libs have got out of the blocks early with a desperately uninspired Tony Abbott piece to camera where he talks plaintively about Rudd being all talk and no action, promising by default that he’ll talk less but give us more action. For Tony’s sake it is hoped that it’s not the kind of action we saw on the 7.30 Report the other night.
But it was Abbott’s poor showing with Kerry O’Brien which gave Labor a chance to turn around a very quick attack advertisements on Tuesday, using grabs from The 7.30 Report interview to show that Abbott could not be trusted on his word.
The advertisement follows the now-hackneyed editing format where a black and white photo of a goofy-looking Abbott slowly grows in size on the screen and moves scarily towards the viewer. The voiceover is done by an agitated sounding bloke who begins…”Tony Abbott says he’s a straight shooter – but now we know, that’s just not true.” As Abbott’s face comes closer, and you start to worry you’ll be trapped under his ears, the grab from the 7.30 Report flashes up, giving Labor a chance to throw in everything from new taxes and Workchoices as it frightens voters with Abbott’s own silly quote.
The format of these ads is now so tired. It was used to ludicrous effect by the SA Labor Party at this year’s poll, with ads saying that Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond’s support for an independent parole board meant she wanted three notorious rapists and serial killers to be set free. It was straight out of the Willie Horton playbook, the infamous advertisement the Republicans used to in the US to destroy Michael Dukakis’ presidential candidacy after he freed a Massachusetts murderer of the same name.
Conviction politics appears to be dead in Australia. We’ve got a Prime Minister who is on the run from his former self, backflipping on everything from asylum seekers and insulation to school buildings and climate change, versus an Opposition Leader who by his own admission often makes promises in the heat of the moment which he does not intend to keep.
He’s not running as a candidate here, sadly, but I’d be tempted to lodge a protest vote for Dale Peterson. He’s running for the position of Agriculture Commissioner in the United States and he’s designed one of the more remarkable campaign advertisements I’ve ever seen. Sure, he might be a gun-toting hillbilly, but unlike our current crop of political leaders, he does come across as a man of his word.
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