Brand-mad politicians acting like a pack of bankers
I asked a bloke who has senior runs on the advertising board in “branding” of politicians to explain the election campaign.
He said the best analogy lies in bank ads. Writing campaigns for banks, he explained to me, is all about creating a distraction. “After financial deregulation, a gulf emerged between what retail customers wanted from banks and how bankers regarded their retail customers. The customers wanted a relationship with their bank. The bankers couldn’t care less.”
In the 90s, focus groups among average Australians who put their money with a given bank always ended in tears. “People would stand up and shout and cry. They felt incredibly let down”.
His meetings with executives in banks revealed the gulf between the punters who wanted to have a relationship with “their” bank and the bankers’ real agenda. Banking executives saw retail customers as naive and annoying. Their real game was shifting money around the globe.
A good bank ad, it followed, was one that made generalised and feel-good promises but never engaged with the issues that customers really cared about. As he put it: “There’s no point in addressing the real issues if you’ve got no intention of delivering on them”.
The unfolding federal election results will be read in myriad and self-serving ways by politicians (ex and current) and media commentators. Most will try to argue that their party, their campaign or their views are somehow vindicated by the result.
Kevin Rudd’s supporters will claim he could have won the election. Abbott’s boosters will hail him as a conservative Liberal hero who snatched victory from a first term government. The Labor party hacks who apparently stage-managed Julia Gillard’s natural charisma into a comatose performance will blame anyone they can - and no doubt put anyone who blames them on a list for future blood-letting.
One thing is clear at this stage. Australians are genuinely split about who they want to govern them and, at unprecedented level across diverse electorates, they’ve gone for politicians who aren’t aligned with either major party.
I’ve heard a lot of seasoned and reasoned commentators blame the unruliness of the result on the ignorance of ordinary Australians. They can’t distinguish between state and federal government is the major catch-cry. “They’ve been distracted by scare campaigns about boat people” is the mantra of people who, like me, live in upper middle class electorates.
On the contrary, I think we’re seeing an emergent form of politics in this country which will turn the dog-whistling on both sides and the “branding” bullshit on its head.
It’s called democracy.
Many Australians, I’m guessing, have had it up to the gills with people on either side of mainstream politics sticking to a narrow script aimed at marginal seats. Younger voters, in particular, are alienated by the small-minded cynicism.
Bob Brown and the Greens are in the box seat in this new era. They have policies they’re prepared to put out in plain English. They acknowledge that politics involves compromise. They’re not trying to sell anything beyond what they stand for. They’re transparent about the pragmatic deals they may have to do.
Like many voters, I had to think very hard about how I’d vote on Saturday. I’m in an electorate with a local member who stood up to the right wing of the Liberal party and stayed true to his principles. I am deeply pissed off with the dysfunctional factional system that runs the Labor party. But then again a vote for the Liberals is equally a vote for Tony Abbott.
As a left-leaning person, I’ve always voted Labor. This time I had to think very hard about how I cast my ballot. The thinking was prompted by answering questions from my ten year old who has watched this election campaign with deep interest.
A turning point for me was when we were watching Penny Wong answer a question about gay marriage. She endorsed the notion that marriage is between a man and a woman. My 10 year old looked at me and said: “But isn’t she a lesbian? Why would she say that? Did someone tell her to say that mum?”
The so-called Labor party strategists are deluded if they think a campaign targeted at marginal seats by ‘staying on message’ about ‘boat people’ will ever give them political legitimacy in the long term.
My mate in advertising says that Australians have now adjusted to the reality that all banks are the same. You can’t trust any of them to look after your interests. But you can’t keep your money under the mattress either. So you pick a bank by flipping a coin.
Here’s hoping that the current election is a sign that Australians are not resigned to a political choice between Banks A and B.
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