The National and Green parties won the battle of YouTube in the New Zealand general election of 2008 according to a chapter entitled ‘2008: The YouTube campaign’ by Rob Salmond in the new post-election book Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008 edited by Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts. The chapter looks ‘at the different ways in which political parties used YouTube to communicate with New Zealanders’, and argues that successful strategies involved putting positive-themed political advertisements on television and using YouTube for the negative, attack-advertising. Unsurprisingly, twice as many YouTube clips were negative, and on average these were watched by 2.5 times more than positive videos. [Read more below]
In terms of quantity, the National Party was the YouTube champion of the 2008 election. Apparently, on becoming leader ‘John Key used the medium as an important part of his brand-building strategy. He filmed more than 50 video chats, specifically for use on YouTube’ (pp.207-208). By the time that the election was announced, ‘National had amassed around 230 separate YouTube videos, which had been viewed approximately 150,000 times’ (p.208).
Labour, in contrast, was slow to make use of YouTube, and thus the party’s ‘overall reach… was relatively minor’ (p.209). Nonetheless, Labour ‘had the single most popular video in the campaign, namely its first ad (also shown on television) about John Key’s alleged flip-flops on issues such as KiwiSaver’ (p.211). And although during the campaign the National Party had twice as many videos available, ‘Labour and National were essentially tied in terms of the number of times their videos were viewed on YouTube’ (p.210).
Salmond analysed the videos that went up during the ‘campaign-period’ (by which I assume he means the period between writ-day and the election). The video count is below:
NZ First: 1
What worked on YouTube?
The various political parties will read Salmond’s chapter with great interest, as it provides them with an instructive analysis of what worked best in 2008, and they’ll, no doubt, adjust their strategy in 2011 on the basis of the information in this chapter. Salmond has not only analysed what videos were most popular, but he has also had all 105 YouTube videos from the campaign period coded to cover ‘the tone of the videos, the particular topics they were about, the emotional appeals they made, and aspects of the production values’ (p.213).
From this, he can show that ‘viewers seemed to disproportionately prefer videos of MPs debating in the House over videos of MPs talking to the camera from their offices or from around New Zealand’ (p.208). The YouTube-watching public also liked negative attack videos, and ‘four parties – Labour, ACT, New Zealand First and the Progressives – ran predominantly negative YouTube campaigns’ (p.214). Overall, ‘there were almost double the number of negative videos on YouTube as positive ones’ (p.219).
According to Salmond, ‘advertisements with a negative tone proved significantly more popular than positive ads’ online – ‘On average, a negatively themed ad attracted about 170 more daily views than a positively themed ad’ (p.218). Put another way, ‘On average, a negative video received 2.5 views for every view of a positive video’ (p.220).
Drawing on political science research, Salmond uses the argument that the best use of negative and positive videos is to put the positive political advertisements on television (for a general audience that can be alienated by negative advertising) and put the negative advertising online (where partisans are more responsive to the tone).
Only the Greens appear to have taken the most profitable road by putting their positive material where truly undecided voters were most likely to see it, and saving their attack material for YouTube, where it would probably only be seen by strong supporters, strong opponents, and journalists (p.217).
The chapter says that the Greens were the ‘only party that appears not to have committed significant strategic errors in its YouTube campaigns’ (p.220). What’s more, ‘the Greens attracted a viewership that rivaled the much larger parties’ (p.220). Salmond says that, along with National, ‘the Greens, had YouTube communications strategies well formed and in place before the campaign began’ (p.219).
Electoral Finance Act and YouTube
The Electoral Finance Act (EFA) became an albatross around Labour’s neck during the 2008 campaign even when it came to YouTube. For example, the Act Party’s YouTube messages included the obligatory EFA-required authorization, but included this ‘cunning’ addition at the end: ‘As dictated by the Electoral Finance Act. A Law Passed by Labour, United Future, NZ First, and the Greens to stop you hearing this message’ (p.210). Furthermore, the EFA also provided difficult for Labour to comply with online as well, and in early 2008 the party in government removed the almost 20 videos from the ‘government-themed YouTube channel’, ‘possibly due to concerns about their status under the Electoral Finance Act’ (p.209).
Another legal issue interfered in the 2008 YouTube battle – the ‘John Key flip-flop’ video ad ‘was pulled from YouTube after only seven days, due to a finding from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the phrase “cut KiwiSaver in half” in the video was misleading’ (p.211).
An interesting end to Salmond’s chapter is a reference by the author to the embarrassingly incorrect prediction he and co-writer Peter Fitzjohn made in his previous chapter about blogging in the 2005 election, when he said that ‘like most interesting and amusing diversions, blogs are likely to be substantially usurped by another, newer, interesting and amusing diversion by the time of the next election’. Obviously blogs didn’t fade into irrelevance in 2008, and Salmond attempts to wriggle out of owning up for this bad call by unconvincingly saying ‘We were right and we were wrong’ (p.221). Although YouTube became a significant new development in the modern, 2008 campaign, as Salmond himself says, ‘The 70,000 total views of party-political YouTube offerings is small by contemporary international standards, even taking New Zealand’s size into account’ (p.211). There's a lesson for us all here in making predictions, especially about the volatile and dynamic area of epolitics.
Table of contents
Preface - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
Overview of the Election
2008: Key to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The last baby-boomer election - Colin James
2008: Leadership during transition - Jon Johansson
Political Party Perspectives
National - Steven Joyce
Labour - Grant Robertson
The Greens - Catherine Delahunty
ACT - John Boscawen
The Maori Party - Rahui Katene
The Progressives - John Pagani
United Future - Rob Eaddy
New Zealand First - Damian Edwards
New Zealand’s party system: a multi-party mirage? - Jennifer Curtin and Raymond Miller
2008: Images of political leadership in the campaign - Claire Robinson
2008: Media coverage of the election - Babak Bahador
2008: The international media and the election - Aljoscha Kertesz
2008: The campaign in cyberspace - Nicola Kean
2008: The YouTube campaign - Rob Salmond
2008: Voting behaviour and the keys to victory - Stephen Levine and Nigel S. Roberts
2008: The impact of the Electoral Finance Act - Bryce Edwards
2008: Opinion polls and prediction markets in New Zealand - Shaun McGirr and Rob Salmond
2008: National’s winning strategy - Therese Arseneau
Key to Victory: The New Zealand General Election of 2008
Levine, Stephen (ed)
Roberts, Neil (ed)
Victory is the
story of the New Zealand general election of 2008, in which the experienced and
long-serving prime minister, Helen Clark, was ousted by a political newcomer –
National’s John Key.
Veteran academic commentators Colin James, Jon Johansson, and Therese Arseneau offer perspectives on what New Zealanders were voting for when endorsing John Key and National, and what they were voting against. Several MPs elected for the first time in 2008 provide first-hand accounts of their parties’ campaigns, including Labour’s Grant Robertson; the Greens’ Catherine Delahunty; the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene; ACT’s John Boscawen; and the director of National’s winning campaign, Steven Joyce, appointed to Cabinet following National’s victory. New Zealand First’s doomed campaign is described by its campaign director, Damian Edwards, while party strategists John Pagani and Rob Eaddy provide accounts of the Progressive and United Future campaigns.
Key to Victory also investigates the important issues of the 2008 election, such as the impact of the Electoral Finance Act, and the likely future of New Zealand’s remaining small parties.
During the 2008 campaign political parties started getting to grips with websites, blogs, Facebook and YouTube, and ‘prediction markets’ competed with traditional polls in forecasting the election results. The book describes these developments and provides insights into the use of the media by John Key and Helen Clark in their rival campaigns for leadership. International reaction to the New Zealand campaign and the country’s vote for change is also highlighted.
Key to Victory includes a special DVD with excerpts from key campaign events including the televised leaders’ debates, the leaders’ opening night campaign addresses, parties’ TV ads and campaign billboards.