Labour spent more than National in last year's election campaign for the first time since 2008 – but at least $275,000 worth of advertising and campaign work was effectively wasted and written off after Andrew Little stepped down and Jacinda Ardern took over as leader.

The election returns show Labour spent $2.58 million on election advertising during the 2017 election campaign while National spent $30,000 less at $2.55 million.

National got better bang for its buck – once the taxpayer-funded broadcasting allocations for each party were added in National spent about $3.40 for each vote it secured while Labour spent $3.85.

But the nose to Labour shows its dramatic change of fortunes since 2014 when it was cash strapped and spent just $1.27 million on the campaign led by David Cunliffe – slightly less than the Green Party and less than half National's spending.


Labour's General Secretary Andrew Kirton said it was satisfying to be able to match National's spending. National had a reputation as a "financial juggernaut" but a flood of donations after Ardern's move to the leadership had made it possible. The donations returns are due in April.

Labour's return shows some of the financial cost of the leadership change from Little to Ardern just seven weeks before the election.

It had to scrap $114,000 worth of hoardings with Little on them and replace them with Ardern's hoardings, which cost a further $200,000.

Ardern's campaign was focused on youth and Labour spent more than four times as much on social media advertising than National - from gay dating site Grindr to Facebook and Google.

It spent $475,400 for advertising on Facebook and Google compared to National's $101,255.

The returns also showed Labour spent about $225,000 with Moss Group, an Australian-based advertising agency, for Little's campaign including the 'fresh approach' slogan and some design and advertising work, much of which had to be scrapped.

There were also $38,500 worth of television ads produced of Little that were of little use once he stepped down.

An ad agency owned by Ardern's friend Eddy Royal, Curative, was also paid $62,000 which Kirton said was for advertising work done in the initial stages of Ardern's leadership before the new ad agency was selected.


Kirton said New Zealand-based Augusto took over for the television advertisements and online advertising for Ardern, but some of the work done by Moss Group was still used. "It wasn't totally a waste of money. But new leadership, new approach."

Augusto, which specialises in sports advertising such as All Blacks' sponsors AIG and Adidas, was paid $202,000 for its work for Labour.

National's return shows it stuck with the same advertising brains as 2014, Peter Moore and Sue Worthington. Their company was paid paid $475,400 in fees and production costs for National's campaign.

That included an advertisement featuring runners which were intended to represent National compared to Labour, the Greens and NZ First –National paid $13,800 for the 10 people recruited as those runners.

The returns show that the Green Party spent $818,500 while NZ First spent $666,150 and Act. The Opportunities Party spent just over $1 million on advertising for its first campaign, much of it funded by founder Gareth Morgan.

The parties also got taxpayer funded broadcasting allocations to spend on television and radio, as well as online videos.

Although Labour spent more of its own money on election advertising, National had a larger broadcasting allocation because the allocation is based on the party's support level in the previous election and polling since.

It was the first election in which the parties could use their broadcasting allocation for online advertising.

Labour's return showed it had used $105,586 of its allocation of about $925,000 on Facebook advertising and $545,000 on television advertising.

The returns show National dedicated almost all of its allocation to radio and television and paid for its online advertising out of its own funds rather than the allocation.

Party general secretary Greg Hamilton said that was because restrictions on campaign broadcasting meant parties could not use their own money on radio and television advertising time so wanted to maximise that allocation.

Labour's return also included some costs which did not need to be declared and which National had not included – such as the venue hire costs for Labour's rallies in Wellington, Hamilton and Christchurch, as well its main campaign launch at the Auckland Town Hall, which cost $40,570.

Parties only need to disclose spending on election advertising and campaign materials, not background activity such as polling, staff costs and venue hire.

Labour spent about $26,000 on robo-calling, which was yet to be added to its return, while National spent about $29,000.

Robo-calling is automatic calling in which a recorded message from the leader of the party was played to whoever answered the phone.