Does political advertising work? Governments and political parties spend millions of dollars on paid advertising, but the results are often of dubious effect. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between how much a political party spends on advertising and how many votes they obtain (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here). The 2008 mega-professional and expensive Green Party campaign was yet another example of this in action. The party’s taxpayer-funded Buy Kiwi Made advertising campaign has also been a significant failure. [Read more below]
For political advertising to work, there clearly has to be some resonance between the message of the advertising and the attractiveness of the product. That’s why the Act party has nearly always been a big advertising spender yet hasn’t been able to translate the big budgets into big votes. Many of the proponents of political finance reform take a condescending attitude to voters, believing that voters will ‘buy’ anything that they are told to on billboards and newspaper ads. But the Act party – and now the Greens – show us that you can throw as much money as you want to sell a shoddy product, but if only few voters want it, all the advertising in the world won’t change that.
This week, The Press published the advertising opinions of a marketing consultant, Owen Scott (of the Concentrate firm) – see: Recalling 2008's worst campaigns
Scott is critical of the idea that the public are easily manipulated by marketing campaigns. He says this about some government advertising: ‘they seem to be driven by the assumption that a few flash TV and newspaper adverts and a whizz-bang website can fundamentally change people's behaviour’. In particular, he looks at two recent advertising campaigns by the Government:
There’s a lesson in this: political marketing is a complex area and we can’t just assume that those with more money are more advantaged in politics. In fact sometimes the money spent is counterproductive. Leftwing political parties would be advised to take a leaf out of Rodney Hide’s book – not literary, of course - and look at what might make them stand out against today’s bland politics rather than just trying to join in.