On face value, as a marketer, I would have favoured running the Liberal/National Party (LNP) campaign. They had plenty going for them despite early setbacks during their reign such as an appealing, likeable leader (who was well ahead in the polls as preferred Premier), the previous government’s legacy of waste (desalination plant, north-south pipeline, MYKI, gaming contract losses), the close ties of leader Daniel Andrews to the CFMEU and the strongest (on paper) economic performance of any state. Add to that, 60% of Victorians were in favour of the East-West Link (EWL) which was to be their platform and both the major newspapers (Fairfax and News Ltd) endorsed them. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s look at the scorecards:
One can only describe their performance as a spectacular success but it has been a long term plan and this is where the Greens outperform the two major parties, particularly in Victoria where their proportional vote is far and away the highest in the country.
The Greens have been slowly but steadily infiltrating local councils for many years now and, in this election, it paid big dividends in certain seats (and overall in toppling the LNP). The Greens defined their target market better than anyone and honed in on them in brilliant fashion. Despite the overall popularity of EWL, the inner Melbourne suburbs affected were none too keen on it so the Greens put most or much of their marketing dollars into these areas. This worked for them federally with Adam Bandt and they managed to pull it off again with even more success at state level.
If you look at the surveys, the issues Victorians were most concerned about were cost of living, education, economy and health but the Greens have never in their wildest dreams thought they could govern anywhere in their own right (they are after the balance of power) so they drill further into areas that contain larger populations of their target audience which they have well defined. In those inner city areas, the main gripes were public housing, public transport and education, with a very low support ratio for EWL. They designed their strategy around these issues and we can see that most, if not all of their actions and campaigning was successful;
- Enjoyed major support from inner city councils, including ratepayer funded banners espousing their “hearts and minds” messages. Also escaped any fines or sanctions for any misdemeanors during EWL protests.
- Organised or sanctioned constant and consistent EWL protests and ensured that locals were indoctrinated.
- Devised a successful message that Melbourne parklands would be badly affected.
- Assisted Labor to create the “chaos” theory in Parliament.
- Spent their advertising dollars wisely only in key electorates to get maximum “bang-for-buck”.
- Ran candidates in every electorate. This was specifically designed to pick up as many “disgruntled” voters but also to ensure that Labor would benefit in the overall scheme of things (in terms of preferences).
- Organised their “on-the-ground” volunteers well and had a presence at local markets and events (where their targetted demographics are).
- Organised their upper house preference deals to perfection, as usual.
- Made it clear that they were “anti LNP” to cash in on any animus towards the Federal LNP and made the unpopular Tony Abbott a centerpiece in their messages.
- Highlighted the local issues and managed to escape any scrutiny of their highly dubious costings.
- Were very active on social media with well targeted messages to their audience.
- Aimed their youth message at “societal value” issues such as asylum seekers and climate change rather than try to devise employment and jobs plans.
Overall, the Greens mastered the five P’s of marketing – they were thorough in their research and knew their target market, they knew exactly where to aim, positioned themselves perfectly in the market, they fitted their product to that audience and promoted it flawlessly.
Given where they were coming from after the last election, the performance of the Labor Party to repair their product and get back into the race has been remarkable also. Despite a substantial amount of assistance from the LNP shooting themselves in the foot, Labor also designed a campaign to give themselves the best possible shot.
Unlike the Greens, Labor is a “contender” and must adopt a wider message to appeal to a greater number and variation of voters. With the amount of negative baggage they were carrying, their spin doctors some key messages to be repeated ad infinitum (no matter what the topic or question) such as “positive”, “all Victorians”, “war on paramedics”, “restore TAFE’s” and “education state”. Labor took note of the surveys about the concerns of Victorians and designed their program around it (cost of living, education, health and public transport principally). They also ensured that the unpopular Tony Abbott was made out to be the pseudo leader of the state and that he did not publicly denigrate the Greens in order to get their preferences and not offend their die-hard supporters. They left the environmental issues to the Greens and kept it simple. In fact, so simple that they steadfastly refused to divert from their program at all, simply repeating their designed mantra as an answer to any question (much like the Federal LNP with the “stop the boats”, “get rid of the carbon tax” etc.)
The really clever things that Labor did were their long and steadfast “hearts and minds” campaigns, assisted by several of the unions, specifically the Health Services Union (paramedics and nurses) and the United Firefighters Union. These occupations are regarded as noble unilaterally so when they run long orchestrated campaigns against the incumbent government, it is going to cause damage. It did.
Labor also cashed in heavily on the Geoff Shaw saga and manufactured a “chaotic” parliament scenario, something that generally puts negativity (towards politics and politicians) in people’s minds. And when there is negativity about politicians, those who are in power bear the brunt of it (refer Rudd, Gillard and now Abbott). They had no interest on solving the Shaw “crisis” because it was one of their best assets. Other highlights of the Labor campaign included:
- Creating the impression that TAFE had been “slashed” rather than restructured
- Ensuring Greens (and minor parties) support in Key Marginal Electorates that would decide the overall result. To emphasise this, Labor received roughly the same primary vote as in the last election but will win about 10 seats that they were not the first choice of the electorate. It pays to get your mathematics right.
- “Reinventing” Daniel or “Dan” Andrews steadily over the past 12 months and giving him a script designed to appeal to a wide audience. To Andrews credit he did not waver from the party line at any point which made him seem consistent.
- Interestingly, they did not appear to be major players in the social media wars, choosing instead to just repeat their well-designed messages in mainstream media.
- Like the Greens, ensured that there were community groups (disability workers and others) at local markets and events sporting anti-LNP messages, all the time playing on the “hearts and minds” theme of cruelty and cutting.
- Choosing not to attack or demonise Denis Napthine (which would have been a hard-sell and likely to backfire) but rather aligning him to Abbott. The face blending commercial was executed with devastating purposeful effect.
- Doggedly refusing to engage any conversation about their past errors or mismanagement. This has 2 purposes – to look positive and only interested in the future whilst making the government appear desperate, devoid of successes to promote and negative). It worked well.
Labor was well assisted by both the Greens and LNP in the short and long term campaigns leading up to the election but, since in opposition, they devised a plan aimed at destabilizing the LNP whilst appearing consistent themselves and must be credited with sticking to their strategy no matter what.
It is difficult to find too many areas where the LNP marketing machine actually succeeded. In fact, if there were mistakes to be made, they generally found and executed them perfectly. They totally failed to define their product, conducted poor public relations strategies, failed to distance themselves from the unpopular Tony Abbott and Federal LNP and their advertising was negative and unappealing. They missed the mark in key (deciding) electorates, failed dismally in their preference negotiations (particularly in the key electorates) and were completely outmaneuvered in Parliament by the Greens/Labor strategy. Like their counterparts in Federal Parliament, the state LNP appeared to have no clue how to sell themselves or their policies and showed a total inability to counteract the opposition spin.
With so few (or none at all) wins in their marketing approach, it is relevant to highlight their biggest errors:
- Had the preferred leader but failed to distance him from the Federal LNP leader. Abbott had effectively hung the state LNP out to dry so they should have instructed Napthine to go on the front foot and make Abbott the enemy too. That would have highlighted that Victoria stands alone, Napthine was a strong leader and, more importantly, it would have removed the usage of it from the Labor and Greens arsenal. Fatal error.
- Went ahead with the EWL contracts confident that surveys had shown approval for the project yet failed to realize that it appeared irresponsible to start when Labor had said they would tear up the contract. Had they sent a strong message that they would wait and let the state decide, it would have been interpreted as trust in the voters to make the decision and may well have made a difference in those key marginal electorates. Their safe seats in the south east would not have been affected so there was no upside to this tactic.
- Failed to either shore up preferences or run “dummy candidates” in some of the key electorates where they had the primary vote.
- Failed to have a significant presence in local councils to counteract Greens influence.
- Took too much notice of surveys describing major public concerns with drink/drug driving, child abuse and sexual assault and even then failed to sell the message well. These are always top of people’s concerns (when they are included on surveys) but the fact is that the great majority of respondents are never directly affected and the LNP failed to read this correctly.
- Poor response (PR wise) to the orchestrated campaigns by the health and firefighters unions. A better response would be to highlight that they had been offered what they initially asked for.
- Media advertising was poorly designed and thought out. A negative campaign only works for an opposition, never for the incumbents because you are the people who should have a plan. The advertising agency should have been sacked on the spot, along with the PR firm (if, in fact, they are different) and the LNP strategists.
For the LNP, it is back to the drawing board. They appear to have no idea that the political landscape is entirely different now even compared to 10 years ago and are still conducting campaigns as they have for 50 years. Both their strategic planning and marketing need a major overhaul.