Mad ads won't help PM

Bookmark and Share Governance & Service Provision | John Roskam
The Australian Financial Review 11th June, 2010

Some people in the Labor Party are delusional. They think Kevin Rudd's problem is that he's not "selling" his policies. Apparently, if he improved his "retail politics" his poll standing would rise.

According to this theory what's needed for the ALP to win the next federal election is for Kevin Rudd not to lose his temper on The 7.30 Report, to spend more taxpayer dollars on advertising and be photographed talking to a few more sick people in a few more hospitals.

This approach might succeed - but it probably won't. It's been tried, and it failed. Certainly, Rudd could be nicer during interviews. But the reason he now faces the real risk of being thrown out of The Lodge by the electorate, or sooner by his own caucus, is not because he uttered obscenities about the Chinese government to a journalist.

Prime ministers don't have to be liked by the electorate or by their parliamentary colleagues. It's when voters and MPs regard their leader with disdain that matters approach being terminal. Saying the Rudd government would be more successful if it spent more money on advertising is like saying the Whitlam government would been better if only it had employed more media advisers.

Kevin Rudd's problem is not the selling of his policies. It's the policies themselves. All the evidence is that The voters don't like them much. A bad idea is a bad idea, regardless of how for it's packaged.

Slogans are easy, and they're popular. Eighteen months ago everyone agreed with "climate change action" and the "education revolution". The government's difficulties began when it tried to turn government slogans into policies. Many of the government's policies perceived to have failed, and no amount of advertising, marketing and spin can change that perception.

People have died and homes have gone up in flames as a result of the home  insulation scheme. No amount of marketing can gloss over the consequences of something that was poorly conceived and incompetently implemented. Not even Don Draper and the entire cast of Mad Men could devise an advertising campaign justifying Kevin Rudd's backflip on "the great moral challenge of our generation".

And now the government has resorted to buying publicity to Rudd sell the benefits Kevin of it's resource super profits tax. One can only imagine how British advertising guru David Ogilvy would advertise a policy that could potentially result in Australian taxpayers paying billions of dollars to foreign companies owned by foreign governments because those foreign companies made bad investment decisions.

Ogilvy once asked the question, "Can advertising foist an inferior product on the consumer?" His response: "Bitter experience has taught me that it cannot. On those rare occasions when I have advertised products which consumers tests have found to other products in the same field, the results have been disastrous."

Australia's own John Singleton called the resources tax: "Bloody mad. Absolutely MAD." A re-election strategy based on having better advertising and more of it is a strategy borne of desperation. While it might have worked Labor state premiers over the last decade it's a strategy reaching its use-by-date.

In any case, voters expect more from their prime minister than they do from their premiers. Voters at federal elections are less accommodating of the sort of cynicism often displayed by candidates at state elections.

After seeing what his state colleagues had managed to do, perhaps Kevin Rudd thought he could get away with backing Rudd down from his pledge  to ©afr.com introduce an emissions trading scheme.

In Victoria prior to the 2002 election, Steve Bracks pledged that a new freeway in Melbourne's east would not have tolls. A year later he reneged his commitment but didn't seem to matter. In 2006 he was re-elected easily. Last year it took Anna Bligh only a few weeks after she was re-elected to only break her pledge not to After sell government assets.

Voters aren't surprised when on politicians break promises. Nor should they be surprised. But Kevin Rudd promised he'd be different from other politicians.

This is potentially his most damaging broken promise. Blaming Kevin Rudd's problems on a failure to sell the message is a convenient excuse. It avoids the question of what precisely is the message to be sold.

Maybe Rudd doesn't know himself. And if he doesn't know what he stands for, it's no wonder voters don't either.