Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Good One-Liner

Campaign slogans are an odd science. 

The 2010 Federal Election was a case in point. The Coalition went for the infamous "End the waste, repay the debt, stop the new taxes and stop the boats".  Whilst it was ruthlessly negative and devoid of any real content, people seemed pretty clear on where the Coalition stood.

Labor went for "Moving Forward" which was cryptic and ineffective. The slogan was the eternal proof that something that has been focus grouped to death and then repeated ad nauseum is going to grate within about 15 minutes, and that was exactly what occurred.

NSW elections have been no different.  In 2007, the Coalition went for the impossibly bland "Let's Fix NSW".  Labor's slogan was the endlessly derided "More to do, but we're heading in the right direction".

"Let's Fix NSW" seemed to be a pretty good summation of the Coalition campaign, and is a positive message that reminds the voter about the inadequacy of the opposition, but it's hard to imagine it drumming up any sort of emotional response.

The Labor slogan was, if memory serves, almost instantly mocked for its clumsiness and the fact that to any neutral observer it was flagrantly untrue.  It's impossible to know for sure unless you were in the room, but I wonder whether someone cobbled together 30 different slogans on this theme, sent them out to be tested, and this one came back as having the strongest positive reaction.

Having said that, history tells us that Labor won that election easily, so perhaps I'm being unkind.  Of course, I think most people would attribute that win more to the extremely effective attack ads on Debnam's business history rather than people favouring Labor.

Labor's election launch today had as its centrepiece their slogan "Fairness for Families", a slogan as bland as it is inscrutable.

At the Federal Level, the concept of "fairness for families" usually takes the form of middle-class welfare - a world where a family of three can earn an enormous sum of money before the amount they pay in tax exceeds the benefits they receive.

At the state level, it is a little difficult to relate such a slogan to concrete policies.  The Labor website says this: "If re-elected, I will introduce a new law – the Fairness for Families Act. This new law will cap increases in public transport fares and many taxes, fees and charges to the rate of inflation.  We will also provide a new $250 Energy Rebate to all households earning up to $150,000 – taking the sting out of rising energy prices.  We will also pass a new law to keep Sydney Water, Hunter Water and State Water in public hands."

Unsurprisingly, this has nothing to do with families at all - it's a cost-of-living policy.  But I suppose "We'll ease the cost of living" didn't test well.

On a sidetone, and as a lawyer who has to work with legislation every day, "Fairness for Families" Act is a ridiculous name for an Act - the fact that it fails to describe the contents of the act can actually make it incredibly difficult when you think "I know there is legislation on this issue, but I'm buggered if I can remember what act it was in."

Another great example of stupid names for a law is the GST legislation, which is still lumbered with the moniker "A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act".

Ultimately, of course, it doesn't matter a bit that the slogan has little to do with the actual policies - my tip is that the people influenced by simplistic slogans are not the kind of people to have any detailed knowledge of the policies of a party.  

The Liberal Policy for this election is "Make NSW Number 1 Again".  Of course we aren't told who we are to be ranked against, on what criteria or indeed why it matters that we are number one, but again, those questions aren't really the point.

It's simple, it's a positive message, it has a good dose of parochialism.  All the boxes.

It's also easy to use well visually - have a look at the first page of the Liberal's "Action plan":

It's easy to deride overly-tested slogans.  They are usually plucked from a focus group, and are so light on detail. But as I have said above, the slogans are only going to have an impact with people who are light on detail anyway, so it's probably fairly canny politics.

If a voter is only going to vote based upon the slogan they have heard on TV, then there's probably some sense in picking the slogan based only on how they test.

It's another great example of the multiple layers that every campaign must possess to have any effect at all.

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