By JAN CORBETT
Imagine the agony of National Party strategists staring down the barrel of a six-week election campaign and across the 20 per cent chasm between Labour's poll support and their own.
What are they going to do? The Weekend Herald asked advertising and public relations specialists, including a couple of old campaigners.
Jenni Raynish, public relations consultant, says National has to ignore the polls to avoid "self-fulfilling prophecy anxiety".
Personalities: "I'd use all of them in different ways and move away from the traditional leadership head-to-head positioning.
"I'd look at what a lineup of potential National Cabinet ministers has that a lineup of Labour ministers doesn't. It's like soap powder - what's the extra enzyme? For National that's real-life experience as opposed to academia."
Policies: "I'd be quite exploitative of what Labour is doing badly: teachers, nurses, health and the Treaty of Waitangi.
"I'd take it down to the level of personal experiences, like talking to parents who are having to take days off work during the teachers' strike because the kids aren't at school."
Methodology: "They should remember how people used to campaign before there was advertising, and that was on street corners, in town halls and by door-knocking.
"In a small country it's easy to explain to people directly what's in it for them.
"Advertising is the icing on the cake ... The cake is door-knocking. It's harder, but it works."
Gimmick: "Would be knocking on doors. If you found Bill English on your doorstep ... "
Cedric Allan, also a PR consultant, says National has to campaign as though it intends to win, "not as though it's a practice run for next time".
Personalities: "Forget the others and concentrate on Bill English, who has been on a roll since his boxing match. Promote Bill as the man who will do it."
Policies: "Tax cuts, a better super scheme and less government.
"Push the negatives of Labour. Push the message that New Zealand is in for tough times; that the rising dollar will stuff our exporters; that Labour's run out of steam; and that National would be a better manager of the economy.
Methodology: "You can't go past television. I'd have Bill on TV as much as possible. If he has to skydive or bungy jump, so be it. I'd also make sure he did a whizz-bang tour of the country in the next six weeks."
Gimmicks: "I'd produce something simple - three reasons to vote National and three reasons not to vote Labour."
Marco Marinkovich, creative director of advertising agency Creativebank, says Bill English has to remember to be himself and tell the truth.
"He's very earnest, but it can be like talking to an accountant - you wonder what he's saying."
Personalities: "Him doing that fight was brilliant for Yellow Ribbon [which Mr Marinkovich is associated with]. He has to capitalise on the respect he earned from that.
"People will give him a go if he's got a good structure around him. But right now no one is too sure who his right-hand people are.
"He needs to bring those people forward. They need to put the National brand ahead of Bill English the leader."
Mr Marinkovich thinks promoting Mary English smacks of a presidential style that New Zealanders mock, but she at least makes her husband seem less of a geek.
Policies: He thinks National should attack around the edges, and that means Labour's potential coalition parties, particularly the Greens because "it's easier to attack what the Greens stand for".
Methodology: "Get other people talking about Bill English. Make him seem nicer by getting other people saying he's a good guy.
"Plus he's got to stop standing with his arms folded."
Gimmicks: "Just be who he is - that's the hardest thing for these guys to do. And he could put some dreadlocks on."
Michael Wall, who devised National's advertising in the 1970s and was Jim Bolger's right-hand man in the Prime Minister's office, says the only chance National has left is the list.
"Forget the present draft, whatever it is - with the possible exception of Don Brash - and draw up one which includes in safe positions Rachel Hunter, Paul Holmes, Mandy Smith, Jonah Lomu, Judy Bailey, Dean Barker, Suzy Cato, Sam Neill, Dame Kiri te Kanawa, the entire Southern Sting and Jim Bolger.
Bob Harvey, former Labour Party advertising guru and president, thinks National faces an impossible task but there might be leverage in the striking resemblance between Bill English and Tobey Maguire, who plays Spider-Man.
"He should get a Spider-Man costume made as quickly as possible," Mr Harvey advises the National's leader.
"In fact, they should all run and get costumes of superheroes - it's their only hope.
"Pansy Wong would make a great Wonder Woman. Murray McCully could do The Hulk ... "
By JAN CORBETT