The Sunday Star-Times has asked me to reviews this year’s election ads. The short version of my first review is in this morning’s edition.
Here’s the long version…
First to leap into the ad-fray have been the Greens and National.
Now folks, don’t be fooled by the Nats’ effort.
Looking at the assembled montage, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Left’s got it right, and the Right’s left floundering in a sea of symbols and excess verbiage.
And you’d be right about the Left. But quite wrong about the Right.
Green and simple
I can argue that Green eco-hoax policies would bankrupt New Zealand (not to mention starve even more Africans, as American green policies turn all the Africans’ food into fuel).
But I can’t argue with the quality of their advertising.
With one image and half a dozen well-chosen words, each ad strikes an emotional chord. Then it just as boldly asks for the sale.
1 girl, 6 words.
This is a good ad. It’s just not original. Have a look at this one my partner and I did 20 years ago.
1 planet, 6 words.
2 kids, 6 words.
2 kids, 6 words.
Six words. Bang. That’s impact.
As I once told Dr Brian Edwards on radio in defence of the Iwi/Kiwi billboard, a billboard is not an essay.
Your market is hurtling towards your medium at 100k. (Or 180k in some cases, Brian.) You’ve got about three seconds to woo them and win them.
And the Greens do that. They stand for something. Loudly and proudly. Their ads are big and bold and brave.
If in doubt,
leave it out
To approve good ads, a client does have to be brave. That’s because great ads are more about what you leave out than what you leave in.
To get a thumbs-up from your audience, you have to leave in something interesting for them to do. Something that lets them join the dots and go “Aha!”
The best ads tend to be funny. And humour works like a spark plug. You’ve got to set just the right gap.
You can immediately see that the Greens have left out a lot of things that the Nats have left in.
Like irrelevant graphics. Like a boring slogan. Like the website address.
If voters can’t find a party’s website (clue: googling ‘National Party’ takes you straight to the home page), they’re not likely to be able to find a polling booth either, are they?
So why clutter up your billboard in the vain hope that drivers will memorise the address – or, even worse, whip out a pen and pad and jot it down?
41 planes, 16 words, 2 arrows, 1 website.
Why lead off your campaign with a billboard festooned with 41 planes, 16 words (13 of them in capitals), four colours (three of them blue), two arrows (or are they corporal stripes to remind us of their commitment to our defence), a small logo, an even smaller ‘party vote’ and tick, a dull old-fashioned slogan talking about a brighter future, and the afore-mentioned website address?
And then there’s the headline. Or rather, lines. In two different colours – over two other colours.
Everything but the kitchen sink. Oh, and any trace of John Key.
A Key omission?
Why would they leave their leader out when, as well as being prettier than Helen (I’m talking real Helen, not billboard Helen), according to a recent survey only 38 out of 60 young voters know who Key is?
And why run another billboard with 15 words and 36 computer mice that look disconcertingly like sperm?
36 sperm/mice, 15 words, 2 arrows, 1 website.
I’ll tell you why.
Because the Nats are not trying to win the ad battle. In fact, they’re actively trying not to win it.
Bland beats bold
The National Party of 2008 would rather be bland than bold. Bold is too close to Brash. And John Key is no Don Brash.
In his quest to become prime minister, John is not encumbered by a bold set of principles with which to take the country forward.
Instead he’s a master politician. He wants to win. He knows how to win. He is winning. And he will win.
And he could win over 50 percent of the vote.
But to do so, he needs to win over a broad range of people – by no means all of them sane.
Sleepwalking with loonies
He needs to woo women to the left of Jeanette Fitzsimons. Well-meaning loony lefties who wouldn’t know a GDP from an IUD – but who certainly know they’ve had enough of head girl Helen.
So the last thing he wants to be is another bossy boots who stands for something. Especially when that something is unlikely to be their cup of fair trade tea.
Far better instead to be inoffensive and keep all sensible policies invisible. It’s called sleepwalking to victory, and the Nats are rather good at it.
In that context, given that they’re trying not to get attention, these billboards are very successful.
But I do wonder about a couple. This health one in particular.
Now granted, the 79 plus-signs are a masterpiece of deliberately distracting design. Arguably the flagship of the whole sleepwalker campaign.
But I just have a wee bit of a problem with the choice of colour and arrangement of the pluses.
You see, I don’t know about you, but to me these signs, when arranged so neatly in rows, do not look like pluses.
They look like crosses.
A field of uniform white crosses arranged neatly in rows does not equal something positive in my experience. It equals only one thing.
Epidemic-type death. As found in hospitals.
The white cross is what you get when the Red Cross has failed, as it were.
If you must have pluses that look like crosses that suggest nurses, shouldn’t they be red ones?
Or is red on National billboards too much of a reminder of the Brash old days?
Don’t misunderstand me though, chaps. I’m all for cleaning out the bureaucrats.
In fact, this image reminds me that decades ago I suggested to a Ministry of Transport bureaucrat that they should place a white cross by the roadside everywhere someone was killed by a car.
He told me it would cause more accidents than it prevented. The public, of course, knew otherwise, and in due course did it anyway.
So let’s have fewer bureaucrats. But let’s not have ‘less’ of them. That’s bad grammar. (Don and Richard Long wouldn’t have let that one through.)
Which brings me neatly to the education billboard.
An ad for Labour
5 faces, 20 words, 2 arrows, 1 website.
To me, four smiley faces and one glum face says that education is 80% sorted.
Now when I was at school, 80% was an A.
Of course, under NCEA, E is A, and A is C, and NA is E, and M is B. But my point is this. With this message, National are saying that four out of five kids are leaving school as happy as Larry.
Which in my book makes this an ad for Labour.
However, the use of padlocks instead of the more obvious doors (open home and locked prison), together with the ten-word headline, does much to seize back obscurity from the jaws of clarity.
But that headline is a true community effort. Well done.
17 words, 2 arrows, 1 website.
Now this one is seriously out of step with the rest of the campaign. It borders dangerously on the bold – so much so that it’s at risk of being noticed and labelled clever.
Perhaps it should be quietly dropped.