October 17, 2007 | Graham

Predictable campaigns

The latest ALP attack ad is cute – it’s the “wounded innocence” approach. John Howard opened his campaign with some negative advertising hanging L plates around Kevin Rudd’s neck. Rudd responds with an ad which opens with Howard’s ad and then cuts out to show Rudd saying “Mr Howard always resorts to negative scare campaigns…it’s a sign of a government that’s just lost touch. Australia needs fresh ideas. I have a positive plan for our country’s future. An education revolution, for hospitals, for climate change, for water, and for a fair and balanced work place. Keeping our economy strong, or making sure it also delivers for Australian working families.”

Both the Howard ad and the Rudd ad are reasonably predictable (although the Rudd ad is clearly superior). In truth, they’re both negative ads, even though one’s brooding and dark and the other flooded with light. But the Rudd ad says that it is positive, and it looks positive, which makes the negatives even more effective. What this ad says is “Don’t vote for the government because they’re stale and don’t have any fresh ideas to counter climate change, fight the drought, fix our hospitals and educate our kids. Oh, and by the way, don’t forget Work Choices”.
The last phrase is ambiguous, almost as though Rudd is trying to have it both ways. Read one way it contrasts a “strong” economy (that’s what Howard is promising) with one that delivers “for Australian working families” (there’s the Fingerhut phrase again). You have to read it this way because of the preposition “or” stuck in the middle. But for this reading to make sense the sentence should have finished with a question mark, as in “What do you want, strong economy or one that delivers?”. Instead Rudd inflects his voice down – it’s a statement. And a statement that functions as the summary for his dot point fresh ideas. So Rudd’s plan gives us both a strong economy, and one that delivers, at the same time that it says you want an economy that delivers rather than one that is strong. Wouldn’t want to alienate anyone in a focus group.
The “positive policies for change” approach of Rudd first made its appearance to my knowledge in Wayne Goss’s 1989 Queensland state election campaign – one of the most relentlessly, but cheerfully, negative that I had seen at that stage. Like this ad the campaign featured meaningless slogans that more often than not were incapable of being realised as policy outcomes, but there were always five of them, and they slipped easily off the tongue.The Coalition never worked out how to deal with it, and they still haven’t, even though it’s been obvious for some time that this is how Rudd was going to run, given that he and most of his high level advisors cut their teeth in Queensland at this time.
In contrast, Rudd’s worked out how to deal with the Coalition campaigns. In fact, the predictable nature of the Coalition’s advertising underlines the fact that they are in fact stale and in need of “fresh ideas”. They’ve got 5 weeks to come up with some new ideas, or they’re history.

Posted by Graham at 6:45 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

1 Comment

  1. “In fact, the predictable nature of the Coalition’s advertising underlines the fact that they are in fact stale and in need of “fresh ideas”.”
    In 2004 it was the ALP that was fighting the last campaign – ‘we woz robbed with children overboard’. This time the Coalition are trying to do a repeat of the 2004 campaign.
    I find it bizarre that commentators are generally predicting that Howard will win the campaign period (if not the election) and thereby score a less dire TPP result. But this ignores the fact that the ALP have done better in their past three federal campaigns than the Liberals, save for the last three days of 2004.
    Stuff like this points to the ALP getting the campaign boost. And I can’t see the tax cuts being the miracle cure the broadsheets tell us it is, unless the ALP were to be dumb enough to me too it too.

    Comment by Benno — October 17, 2007 @ 2:18 pm

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