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Kiely: Government advertising


Kiely: Government advertising


The success of the ACTU’s television campaign is not due to the amount of money it has spent, despite the complaints of the hysterical Joe Hockey. If the success of advertising is determined by media weight, why is the Federal Government scrambling to be re-elected after it has spent $2 billion on advertising in the time it has been in power?

The success of an advertising campaign is not even dependent on how noticeable the campaign is, despite the agency line that parrots ‘stand out or die’. David Ogilvy told one advertiser he could make his ad stand out by having an Indian hitting a tom-tom and repeating the brand name for 30 seconds. They’ll know your name, he said, but they’ll hate you.

The only reason an advertising campaign is successful is because it resonates with people. It connects with something inside them – links to information they already know. Like when I heard that conversation between the corporate fat cats: “Is that legal?” “It’s the law now and we must look after our shareholders’ interests. Now that’s settled. Next item, executive bonuses.” (My recollection, not a direct quote.)

That reference to executive bonuses spins off the annual ritual of decrying Macquarie Bank’s CEO’s bonus. (He earns it, believe me.) It smacks of reality. It is reality. The other stuff must be happening to people who know people who know people. Because word of mouth is the engine room for marketing communications.

The killer punch was the way Workplace Agreements were depicted on McLeod’s Daughters, where the young hunk who was working as a mechanic for that bastard was told “sign it or you lose your job”. The Government went catatonic.

It fought back with an ‘information’ campaign that didn’t try to emotionalise the issue, but didn’t make a dent either. A dead cat stinks no matter how you frame it. The entry so late in the game of Big Capital – the Business Council and the employers – to spend their hard earned trying to convince the working poor that they live in a working person’s paradise, is further evidence that the Government’s polling is telling it the suckers aren’t buying.

People haven’t had it so good for so long that they’ve forgotten how bad it can be. The Government is the victim of its own success. The punters are toying with the idea of a change of government. Why? Isn’t there a chicken in every pot? Everyone’s got a job, and investment account, surely? But babies are being abandoned on church doorsteps. Farmers are suiciding at a rate of one every four days. Even those who are part of the PM’s dream – big mortgage, two incomes, kids in day care – are not happy. There’s an important element missing: happiness. We have epidemics of depression, loneliness and youth suicide. Oh Lucky Country.

The eight-hour day is an anachronism, but what an anachronism. It was achieved mid 19th century in Australia, using the slogan “Eight Hours’ Labour, Eight Hours’ Recreation, Eight Hours’ Rest”. Those were barbarous times. Still, there are echoes of the eight-hour day in the modern mantra ‘work/life balance’. (Or is it only for those who don’t have to work unpaid overtime?)

There can be no turning back. Which brings us back to government advertising. Can you remember any? Anyone who has done any government work will know how the brief changes 100 times before and after the creative has been produced. The minister has a lot at stake personally, so you have a nervous posse of public servants trying to second guess the minister. Then there’s a ministerial council to pass. This is a bunch of ministers and/or advisers looking for reasons why the creative has to be changed. Imagine the worst client you could possibly have and you haven’t imagined enough. The team becomes demoralised, except the boss who stands to pay for his wife’s latest renovated dream with the proceeds (that is, unless the client’s procurement department hasn’t nickelled and dimed the account into charity status).

It is a miracle that any gets out at all. It is a miracle that some of it stands out. Siimon Reynold’s AIDS campaign. Grey Melbourne’s first VicRoads shock campaign.

Given that ‘It’s Time’ was said to have delivered power to Gough and his Keystone Cops, the lyrics are a bit lame. It must have been the ‘It’s Time’ factor. Not the song. Which proves my point. Ads can be any old bollocks, as long as they resonate.

It’s Time:
It’s time for freedom, it’s time for moving, it’s time to begin
Yes it’s time, it’s time Australia, it’s time for moving, it’s time for proving
Yes it’s time
It’s time for all folk, it’s time for moving, it’s time to give
Yes it’s time
It’s time for children, it’s time to show them, time to look ahead
Yes it’s time…


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