Comment:

The National Party's latest faux pas is in many ways a case of bad advertising repeating itself.

The latest effort shows a smug bro using a bit of quick maths to explain the shortcomings of Labour's KiwiBuild policy to a young woman, whose expressions seem to have been plucked straight out of a cheesy infomercial.

The cringe-worthy acting set aside, the latest spot steps into a giant advertising turd by belittling a large portion of the voting public: namely women.

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It could well be argued that these are just a collection of quirky characters designed to make the point that Labour's KiwiBuild policy is falling flat. And that would be absolutely fine if the woman in the ad was not the literal embodiment of every dated blonde joke ever told.

Rhetoric vs. reality: KiwiBuild

Labour promised to build 10,000 houses in the first year of its flagship housing programme. Like many of its policies, KiwiBuild has failed to deliver. If there’s one thing we’ve learned with this Government, it’s don’t believe the hype.

Posted by New Zealand National Party on Tuesday, 12 February 2019


This isn't the first time National has managed to deliver a creative message that inadvertently excludes a portion of society in telling its message.

A National ad released in 2017 showed a blue-clad group of strong, fit and healthy runners jogging with intensity past a motley crew of Kiwis dressed in the red, black and green, representative of the coalition parties.

The problem with this was that the vast majority of New Zealanders were more likely to identify with the struggling group, helping each other out, than the eerily determined Übermensch crew running ahead.


Add this to the strong, deliberate strokes of the elite rowers in National's Eminem-powered ad and you have a canon of advertising that makes the political party look aloof and uninterested in those who don't fit its determined mould. It's basically the long-winded Peter Jackson-style version of the "47 per cent won't vote for us" comment that brought down Mitt Romney's US presidential hopes in 2012.

These ads reinforce the notion that National is the old, rich party, looking to maintain the power dynamics that have long existed in New Zealand society.

If anything, it gives Labour further impetus to reinvigorate the smart unifying message delivered in its previous election campaign.

It's all made it too easy for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to come out and say the ad looks like it's straight out of the 1970s era - making the point that National is disconnected from the sensibilities of modern New Zealand.

This is not to say that National shouldn't criticise the Government. As the opposition, it has an obligation to do this, and the latest ad does make some strong points about issues with Labour's much-maligned KiwiBuild programme.

But advertising has always been an emotional game - and statistics alone aren't enough to convince people.

One of the best lessons in smart political advertising can be learnt from the 1988 Chilean National Plebiscite, which asked citizens of the country to vote "yes" or "no" for the continuation of dictator Augusto Pinochet's 16-year reign. It's a story well told in the 2012 film No!, which stars Gael Garcia Bernal as a young advertising executive.

As the political campaigning started the two sides diverged completely in approach, with the "Yes" side creating a culture of fear focused on the economic disarray of the country before the arrival of Pinochet, while the "No" side presented an image of a brighter future with a jingle so catchy that even opposition members were said to hum it during their meetings. The No! campaign - and particularly the song - was all about the idea of togetherness.

That earworm also found its way into the public psyche and was sung all the way to the long lines at the polling booths, where Pinochet's reign was eventually brought to an end.

The story has become a reminder of the importance of making political advertising inclusive and giving people something to hope for, rather than just complaining about the opposition.

Attack ads do have their place, but only if they attack political parties. They don't go quite as well if the barbs end up hitting the very people you're asking for votes.