This year’s election will be the first in Australia where the parties will be advertising more on social and digital platforms than traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers and magazines).
There are a few key reasons for this. First, cost-wise, social media is far cheaper, sometimes as low as a few cents per click. Unlike heritage media, digital and social is extremely targeted, and can be done in the “dark,” so your opponents may not even be aware of the message you are pushing out.
Digital and social advertising can also be shared or even created by users themselves, further increasing the reach of a party’s messaging. This gets around the Australian Electoral Commission rules on advertising – technically they are not ads since no party is paying for them to be shared on people’s feeds.
Throw into the mix laws on political advertising – which allow parties to advertise up to and on election day on social media, but not traditional media – and we are likely seeing the first largely digitally driven election campaign in Australian political history.
Here are a few ways the parties are using advertising in the campaign so far and what makes this election unique:
What you can do with A$30 million
Among all the candidates running this year, perhaps no one has used political advertising as prolifically as Clive Palmer. This shows what money can buy.
The most recent Nielsen figures put the cost of Palmer’s ads since September at around A$30 million, though Palmer says himself he’s spent at least A$50 million. This compares to just A$16 million spent in total advertising during the last federal election, with Labor and the Coalition accounting for more than 90% of that.
From a campaign perspective, Palmer is ticking many of the right boxes: a mix of different platforms on digital and social; heritage media ads for mass market awareness featuring candidates selected from the middle; the use of memes and user-generated content; and even text messaging.
Despite the ubiquity of his ads, though, Palmer is still struggling to connect with most voters. This demonstrates a very important aspect to any advertising campaign: the actual brand still needs to be seen as offering real value to voters.
The UAP has used text messaging like this one below, for example, to try to change its negative perception with voters by delivering positive campaign promises.ABC
The ‘Grim Reaper’ strategy and micro-targeting
One of the most effective ads ever done in Australia was the “Grim Reaper” AIDS awareness campaign in 1987, which showed how well “scare campaigns” and negative messaging can work, given the right context and framing. The ad’s micro-messaging was another aspect that worked so well: it personalised the issue and made it tangible to anyone sexually active.
Basically, negative messaging works on the theory that what you fear, you will avoid – or the “fight or flight response”. Negative political ads highlight the level of risk and consequence of a certain party’s policies – and then emphasise how to avoid this by not voting for them.
Trouble is, most ads on TV are losing their potency. As attitudes towards political messaging and brands become increasingly negative, voters are less likely to watch ads in their entirety. Many people also don’t see them as being personally relevant.
Social media, though, provides an excellent delivery mechanism for these types of messages. Digital ads can be personalised and focused on issues that voters have already expressed an interest in and therefore find relevant to their lives.Facebook Ad Library
Social media ads can also be altered to be even more targeted as the campaign goes on, based on voter responses. And their speed of production – only taking a matter of hours to produce and place online – allows digital advertising to do what heritage no longer can and provide a more fluid, grassroots dynamic to campaigning.
This ad by Labor featuring Prime Minister Scott Morrison in bed with Palmer, for example, was released on social media within 24 hours of the preference deal struck between the Coalition and Palmer’s UAP.Facebook/Click here to watch the video
That said, even on social media, negative advertising is not as effective if it just comes from the party itself. But when combined with information from third-party sources, such as from the media, this can increase the effectiveness. For example, the Liberal Party used the 10 Network image in this ad to support its claims on Labor’s tax policies.
Authors: Andrew Hughes, Lecturer, Research School of Management, Australian National University