This week, it was reported that the New Zealand Labour Party had appointed Australian agency Moss Group to manage its election campaign.
The NBR’s Victoria Young wrote that Moss Group creative director Darren Moss had set up a studio in Wellington to work on the campaign.
Moss Group is no stranger to political advertising, having orchestrated the Australian Labor Party’s ‘Australians First’ campaign in 2016.
One of the campaign ads, featuring Labor Australia leader Bill Shorten standing alongside a group representative of Australian workers, was widely slammed across local and international media for its abject lack of diversity.
The outcry was loud enough to provoke an apology from Shorten, who said: “Some people have pointed out the lack of diversity in the ALP's video about local jobs. Fair cop. A bad oversight that won't happen again.”
The risk of controversial ads aside, Labour NZ’s emphasis on reducing the unemployment rate, protecting local jobs and cutting immigration makes the move somewhat incongruent with what the party says it’s hoping to achieve.
The irony of the Labour Party employing a foreigner, who has had to move to New Zealand to do a job that could’ve potentially been given to a local, won’t be overlooked by opponents of the party.
In many ways, this feels akin to the PR nosedive by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise earlier this year in appointing an Australian agency to lead its web redesign.
PR veteran Carrick Graham, who has previously worked behind the scenes on numerous political campaigns in New Zealand, says it’s standard practice for local political parties to consult external advisors (National often does this), but he believes the move doesn’t make sense in this instance.
“It’s a bit of an own goal,” he says. “With Labour’s positioning, it’s just going to lead to people saying ‘really, what are you doing?’ Could they not find a local agency good enough to do the job?”
Graham says Labour could’ve approached any of a number of “great local agencies” and says he can’t quite understand why they would opt for an Australian shop.
“It might also be a case that none of the local agencies wanted to accept the work from Labour,” he says.
He adds that it’s particularly ill-advised to rely on a foreign agency in the context of political advertising, which usually requires a strong understanding of the nuances of the local market.
And judging by the campaign launched across the ditch, it would appear that nuance isn’t exactly Moss Group’s strong point.
That said, what happens above the line might not have as much impact as what happens below the surface, with recent events in Britain and the US showing that data is playing an increasingly important role in influencing the way citizens vote.
The Labour Party has not yet responded to a request for comment.