by Colin Jowell

Just as the Super Bowl is to advertising, US elections can be regarded as a testing ground of leading edge marketing techniques. 2008 was often described as the “social election” and 2012 became the “data election”.

So it was with great anticipation that I watched to see how the Australian parties activated their campaigns, with all of those great learnings in tow. Rudd brought in some of Obama’s team - expectations were therefore high, but who could be anything but disappointed with the campaigns we saw? Putting aside the content of the message from any side, which let’s face it would be biased by my own political leanings, the marketing practice was lackluster and uninspiring. And, in fairness, while US campaign lasts months (or if the current Hillary drive is to be included, years!), a limited timeframe in which to execute here in Oz only goes so far to explain the under-performance.  

What happened to Social Media?

In terms of social reach, Kevin Rudd’s advantage in the space should have had sway: his followers outnumbered Abbott 5 to 1 on Twitter by the end of the race, though on Facebook they were neck and neck.

One of the most viewed videos wasn’t created by either party, but by activist group, GetUp: The “anti-murdoch” advert fuelled by the purported News Ltd anti-Rudd stance  (“Get this mob out” on the day of the election was pretty coloured journalism, I suppose) had just over half a million views.

The parties’ official YouTube channels just couldn’t deliver the same level of traction.  We found one video with just over 100,000 views, but most got no more than 20,000.  When you consider a vote is a product we are by law required to buy, this is hardly engagement.  It’s been argued the content was niche, but the real issue is that it looked like traditional advertising, barely repurposed to run online.  The biggest exception was Kevin Rudd’s defense of marriage equality on ABC’s Q&A. Online this excerpt clocked over 2 million views.  “Abbot’s Internet”, a labor stunt showing global disdain for the Abbot version of the NBN almost clocked a million views. The success stories, moderate and few and far between as they were, show that  content should be about the conversation you want to start between people, rather than a message one merely broadcasts.

Et tu, TV?

But let’s take one moment to judge the old-fashioned TV spots as, well, old-fashioned TV spots. This was decidedly channel-changing stuff: long checklists almost written by the focus groups that no doubt tested them, peppered with unflattering photographs of Kevin and Tony, sad old people, disgruntled housewives and angry workers scored with menacing soundtracks. So much for the early promises of a “positive campaign”!  And as for the so-called positive adverts that did run, they made the famous “It’s morning in America” campaign for Reagan look like high art, cheesy even by the standards set in the eighties and unlikely to be shared on modern channels more fond of pictures of cats…

There's an app for that?

One of the most successful bits of content didn’t carry a specific message. It carried an insight: the ABC’s Vote Compass tapped into the fact that many Australians were at sea in determining which way to vote and could do with a little help.  With over one million downloads, its success shines a light on the failings of the individual parties to get their messages across clearly. 

So it appears this was neither the social, nor the data election - unless by data you mean user generated content and apps! Intelligent usage of data, targeted advertising, or the development of a real social conversation were conspicuously absent.

Fixing relationships takes time

We had an inkling it would go this way all along. When we did our Relationship Map study earlier in the year, we tested political party brands and the result was interesting. We measured habit by the frequency of voting for a party in the past, and we measured attitude by the likelihood that the person recommend that others do the same. At the time, Julia was still in the chair, and the habit score pretty much mirrored the official polls at the time. But the attitude picture was very different - with a liberal voter almost twice as likely to recommend to others that they do the same.  At the time we said the relationship between the voting public and the Labor party was so broken that the spill was inevitable. But now with the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear that the broken relationship cut even deeper still.

Things to think about

  • Social Media executions are often regarded as quick wins. Without great content, a social media strategy will still battle to break through.
  • With all the risks associated with user generated content and encouraging sharing in social media, it’s still a valid strategy.
  • Even with a social audience built, time and tweaking are still required.
  • Think beyond advertising and social media: creating useful platforms based on real consumer insights is the way to truly cut through.
  • Customer relationships cannot be created or fixed over night. They need constant nurture and care.