How not to do political advertising

I’ve seen two TV ads for the Carpenter Labor Government in Western Australia, both with low production values and I think strategically ineffective. The hero is the Premier, dressed in a smart suit and tie. In the first ad, he never looks at the camera. By now this guy is a practised media performer and in natural mode, he comes across as a genuine, intelligent person. But some bone-head has conceived this ad where the Premier is looking away from the camera for the whole time. The effect is to make him look wooden and shifty.

Two common mistakes in contemporary advertising are to underestimate the intelligence of the audience and overstate your own worth. Both are at work here. The ad starts with the assertion that the state government inherited a weak economy and has turned it into a powerhouse.

Taking credit for this undermines credibility. Far better to have said, ‘as you know WA is currently the fastest growing economy; we’re actually not taking credit for that but we believe we’ve done a good job of managing state finances and investing in sensible projects…’ Political advertising should aim to cement credibility and make you look reasonable, not show how partisan you are.

The more recent ad contrasts said schmick Premier with an unflattering photo of the Opposition Leader. It’s black and white, out of focus and his eyes are closed. The audio describes Colin Barnett as a ‘flip-flop’ man (new heights in sophisticated invective) and it verges on insulting. The Labor Government is in a position of strength but using negative advertising packed with pejoratives makes them look petty and insecure. It’s just shabby.

It looks like strategy is being dictated by party leaders who have little understanding of advertising and insufficient contact with mainstream society.



  1. I would go further. Not only strategically ineffective, but actually damaging. It makes it seem as if Labor are running scared, and a resorting to desperate measures. Colin Barnett has gone from looking like a last gasp drop in leader to a real threat, and he hasn’t had to do anything.

    And where do they go to now, if (perhaps now even when) the polls start showing a swing towards the Opposition?

  2. In further developments, ALP State Secretary Bill Johnston, (I think I’m right in saying he was behind the TV ad) was implicated today as the architect of an anti-Troy Buswell web site. As if they needed to remind the public about that sorry episode. More negative advertising. More predictable moral high-grounding. Disappointing.

  3. Well I’ve just seen the Liberal Party’s response. It is a fine piece of 1970s political advertising; completely banal. Promising ‘better education’, ‘better health’ but specifying nothing. The cliché of the bookcase in the background. Unsophisticated. Old fashioned. I want to live in America.

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