Some say a new legal definition of political advertising is a victory for democracy and freedom of speech. Others believe it will open the door to attack ads backed by big money.

Either way, politicians are gearing up for a new, potentially more bloody, media landscape in the run-up to the election.

In October last year, a Court of Appeal decision found that there is no bar to anyone using TV and radio advertising for partisan political purposes. Until then, the widespread assumption had been that such campaigns were out of bounds, unless they were the work of a political party.

Labour and the Greens are concerned about the more relaxed rules for third-party promotions.


Which is ironic. During the 2014 election campaign, many of their supporters would have chuckled along with the parody song Planet Key. The Electoral Commission ruled the song was a "political broadcast", meaning it could not be broadcast without a statement saying who promoted it.

That finding was later over-ruled by the High Court, and the Court of Appeal subsequently backed up that view, though for different reasons.

Of course, the relaxed rules for third-party advertising apply to all parties. If they want -- and if they have the money -- left wing groups can run campaigns against parties and politicians they don't like.

However, industry and business groups will have the most resources to fund attack ads.

Green day

The Greens have enjoyed a sunny start to the campaign season -- in editorial coverage at least.

The party managed to double dip, with media coverage of both its preliminary and final party lists.

Elsewhere, there has been a very soft Newshub Facebook interview with Greens candidate Golriz Ghahraman. Newshub says future political interviews in the series with other candidates will have a similar tone.

The softly-softly approach fits with the Greens' strategy. Greens co-leader James Shaw says the party has had to remind itself that it is something of a content creator, which was not the way it previously perceived itself.


As well, North & South magazine ran a cover story with a glossy Vanity Fair-style shot of Green candidates.

The Greens are looking beyond current affairs and maintaining a broader focus on magazines and "soft media".

Shaw says the approach is based on the premise that the vast majority of people are not political or partisan, but they do like to see the stories behind candidates.

The Greens have promoted young female candidates such as Ghahraman, Chloe Swarbrick and Hayley Holt in the media, and have been rewarded. Shaw acknowledges that "the media really liked them".

Post fact marketing

Plenty has been written about the existential problems facing media. And it is apparent that changes in the techniques used by advertisers and marketers are subsequently having an impact back on media.

Dr Mike Lee is a senior lecturer in marketing at Auckland University and has a nuanced view of how clickbait and "fake news" has a flow-back effect on advertising and media.

"Fundamentally, there are major questions about how much people regard as truth and how much it matters to them," says Lee.

In the current environment, he says opinions matter more than fact, and there is "cherry picking" by media consumers of opinions falsely labelled as fact. As well, there are the "echo bubbles" in social media, where people are grouping together and exchanging views because of their pre-existing opinions.

"So you get this self-perpetuating cycle." Many of the issues relate to the increased choice in media, Lee says.

"In the past, there were only a few media that reached the mass.

"In those days, if you did not have the facts, people would not buy you.

"Now, you have the plethora of choice where people pay attention to things that support their pre-existing opinions."

In his view "media have become caught up in sensationalising and presenting facts that are more appealing to their target audience. They are writing in a way that does not jolt pre-existing opinions."

In this environment, Lee says marketers can be much more specific. Media have segmented themselves into niche pockets of consumers, allowing marketers to be much more targeted and advertise in a way that reaches only people with certain views.

Advertising agencies are adjusting to the breakdown of some of the old relationships between creative content and media buying.

Marty O'Halloran is executive chairman of the DDB Group for Australia and New Zealand. His role encompasses several advertising and marketing brands, including media buying.

He warns that marketers can be too focused on efficiently reaching target audiences, and that longer term brand development through creative can be left behind.

"Media agencies can lose sight of the messaging and sometimes the creative is really bad," he says.