Why Labor’s negative messaging may have cost it the election

 

Well the figures are now in. Not there is any doubt at all to them. According to the latest figures from political advertising tracking website Ebiquity Labor spent nearly $4 to $1 on negative messaging compared to positive advertising this campaign.

The main reason for this strategy was to arouse interest and engagement with Labor’s messages, attack the credibility of the Coalition and turn Malcolm Turnbull into a big scary monster, and to provide information to the electorate on the ills of voting for Malcolm Turnbull.

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By the end of July 2 I am guessing that this may be said in quite a few campaign rooms but not that of the Coalition’s

The basis for using negative advertising in a campaign is that it is meant to do these things well. It helps accentuate the fear, triggering the so called fight or flight response we all have built into us, and thereby making us more engaged with the message.

Flight or fight then means we are meant to be more likely to change our behaviour to avoid that from happening. In other words we either want to take flight from Big Bad Malcolm or we will want to fight him. And we do that by voting for Labor and Bill who would stop all of those things.

Right?

The problem is in research that I conducted recently on televised political advertising using real time responses via psychophysiological measures, in as close to home environment as possible, none of those things were achieved.

Viewers were not aroused. They did not remember the information in the advertising. And as for dislike nearly all had it for all forms of political advertising, especially the negative, switching off the message itself and developing a stronger negative attitude towards all forms of political advertising the more they had exposure to it.

This means Labor’s attack ads, along with all those who use them, are nearly useless. And if the attitude towards the advertisement is anything to go by then what this means is that Labor was creating a negative attitude towards all of its advertising, not just the negative. The same with the Coalition.

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Oooopsy…according to this chart from Ebiquity on the advertising split in the 2013 election it seems Labor likes to lose elections by repeating the same strategy which didn’t work.

Labor was actually pushing some voters away from it and inadvertently pushing them towards the very parties that they needed to prevent from taking seats at this election so they could win Government: the Greens, Nick Xenophon and the independents.

For some this meant as they switched off from the negative ads, and as their negative attitudes towards the major parties and use of these tactics grew, if there was a viable alternative to the majors then hello change of vote.

That is especially the case where if your pre-existing brand attitude and experience to one of those alternatives was positive and familiar. Not necessarily trustworthy, but not likely to sell the house and everything in it for something small and insignificant on the political stage.

This is one of the reasons why Nick Xenophon has been polling so well. That and he is a mighty fine exponent of positive PR.

Where we don’t have that same brand familiarity or experience then that is a different story unless it is in the Senate, where we don’t mind having a few people in there to keep everyone honest.

Negative advertising makes alternatives such as Nick Xenophon seem positive by comparison, regardless of their policies. Combined with their tapping into more positive, populist policies (wait a minute….isn’t that the point of democracy, to be the most popular party at the election???) and campaign strategies using authentic and natural engagement.

And the use of social media or shoestring budgets help reinforce how they seem like a breath of fresh air to the major parties. These parties run mainly positive campaigns, reinforcing to the voter that they’ve done the right thing and helping solidify trial behaviour.

This was reinforced in my findings where I found that the most liked and recalled ad was made not by a political party but by an advertising agency making a positive Greens ad for the TV show Gruen Nation.

Although negative advertising has a strong negative response towards it, positive does not. Hence why the Coalition have been running a small noise, small negative advertising strategy thus far. Only on Friday when the blitz started did the ratio of positive versus negative spending drop slightly below $2:$1.

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Over here, hello, I’m over here…stop looking at Mediscare, look at me and leave Malcolm alone: worst ad of the campaign in terms of the theory, but in terms of the effectiveness absolutely the Coalition’s best. 

They wanted you to be bored, disengaged and eager for the end. This made it all the harder for Labor to get the emotional bounce they needed from their advertising as they were at times fighting nothing. No scary monster. No horrible policy of death. Not even a Tony Abbott like a Kevin Rudd during the 2010 campaign.

It wasn’t hard then to see why it was they have gone after a scare campaign on Medicare as health is a strong point for their brand, and health is also one policy area where people are worried about loss. But with so many switched off thanks to their negative advertising strategy, and with little source credibility because of the fact they are politicians and who trusts them, it was always going to be a difficult battle to get the response they were after.

For the Coalition all they had to do was keep it smooth and steady and be future focused in positive messaging. Hats off to the team from Crosby Textor, the Coalition’s campaign strategists, because they have nearly achieved their prize.

If Labor had gone positive all the way then this would have put the spotlight on the ability and credibility of Turnbull’s performance in government much more, and given far more incentive for those in the marginals to switch across to Labor. Instead of talking about 100 positive policies Labor needed to use 100 positive messages.

Why Nick Xenophon is the Richard Branson of Australian Politics

There are many, many stories about Richard Branson, the visionary owner of the Virgin Group, such as his guerilla marketing strategy against British Airways. But all of these stories relate to his ability to use media and PR as his master brand strategy.                            
And his vision appeals to the dreamers – space flights that are sort of affordable, a new supersonic plane to cross the Atlantic in a time the Concord could only dream of, and of course the PR stunts to launch one of his myriad of brands that are designed to capture the maximum of attention by their out of the box nature, such as the rebranding of Virgin Blue to Virgin Australia.                                                                                                                                            
With a small budget, and up against category killers that have huge budgets but that have become complacent and lazy, Richard Branson has managed to successfully carve out niches that to this day help his brand thrive and survive long after the froth and bubble of the launches have settled.                                                                                                                              
It’s a brand strategy that many have tried to follow, some successfully, some not so. In Australian politics this strategy has been nicely cut and paste by Nick Xenophon. He is the Richard Branson of Australian politics, building a positive image of his brand, the David, or in this case the Nick, against the Goliaths – the old, complacent category killers of the two major political parties, through some smart marketing and political strategies. 
He is a master of gaining publicity from some very nice guerrilla marketing methods, from submarine cakes to demonstrate his support for the building of submarines in South Australia, where he remains confident of getting 3 Senators up at the expense of mainly Labor and the Greens, to pyjamas for the marathon sittings for the Senate voting reforms, and of course not forgetting dominating the media coverage for a weekend when he announced his candidate against Tony Abbott in Warringah long before Labor or the Greens had even thought about theirs. If there is an issue getting airtime in the media, and his brand aligns with it, then you’ll see and hear Nick Xenophon.
This is about getting and keeping your brand presence high in the minds of the voter consumer, always positive as the natural, and independent, contrast to the attacking spin from the majors. It’s a refreshing change and a strong point of differentiation between his brand and the others.
Whilst these stunts may not get much political mileage, they do allow for the voter consumer to dig a little deeper and see that there is much more substance to his brand than many give credit for.
Which is precisely why he is seen as such a big threat at this year’s election to the majors. For example, he has been a vocal advocate against poker machines for years, and for those who listened to him in the Senate when the Australian Consumer Law was being debated he certainly put up many, many amendments that consumer advocacy groups have long called for, such as ending over the counter transaction fees for cash payments on credit cards.  
However what his Parliamentary performance demonstrates, like his stunts, is that he can’t set the political agenda but he can influence it, and sometimes the direction in which it heads. His perception of influence is therefore amplified which reinforces to those who voted for him why they did – he seems to be having an impact and getting outcomes. 
The relaunch of his brand, changing it to Team NXT and adding the use of colour, orange, to aid in recall and brand resonance, are all about using that amplification of his brand to jump into the bigger markets on the eastern seaboard where he may not win any seats, but he may very well have a significant influence on the outcomes in enough lower and upper house seats to again amplify his influence well beyond his base in South Australia. And it’s working. 
And don’t decry this, or him. The majors have been complacent for far too long, starting to become too focused on data driven politics, and forgetting what it means to be an authentic brand, even with the lessons of the past.
Ah yes, those lessons. Kevin from Queensland was authentic there for a while, as was John Howard, not to forget Bob Brown, leader of the Greens for so long and so admirably, and of course Pauline Hanson who spoke straight to the far right, now replaced by Jacquie Lambie who may yet prove some pundits wrong by going close to winning re-election on July 2. 
Nick Xenophon has seen opportunity and taken it. Team NXT may very well by the close of counting at the next election hold balance of power in the Senate and the House of Reps. They may not either. But what is certain is that Nick Xenophon and Team NXT will have done enough to emerge as the most positive brand in 2016, one that is gaining strong resonance between it and a market thirsty for real in politics. 
With an increase in staff, funding, members and votes by the end of 2016 Team NXT will have the influence that will see them shape the direction of politics well into the next Parliament. Team NXT is well and truly here to stay, and have a say.