From aspirational to confrontational: Green Party brings the issues into the open for election push

For the past two elections, The Green Party’s messaging has been what national campaign director Ben Youdan calls “aspirational”. That’s worked very well, with its vote going from five percent to 11 percent in 2011, making it by far the fastest growing party. But for the 2014 election it’s getting slightly more confrontational, juxtaposing images of open-cast mines, oil spills, Auckland gridlock and poor children with its positive—and protective—campaign slogan of ‘Love New Zealand’. 

Youdan says ‘Vote for Me’ in 2008 by Special Group was a defining moment for the party, because instead of running with traditional political billboards, it moved to something “more exciting and creative”. It built on that with ‘For a Richer New Zealand’ in 2011 with the help of Running With Scissors (which is now working with Labour on its ‘Vote Positive’ campaign). Of course, society is moving in a greener direction and there is much more focus on some of the areas the Greens focus on than there has been in the past, so that has obviously helped increase its vote. But he says the research showed it needed to do more than simply reaffirm its values. It needed to elevate some of the key issues the party have been holding the Government to account on over the past few years.

“Those campaigns did a really good job in terms of helping massively increase our vote but also really building voters’ awareness of us as a party that had really strong values, a strong vision and huge amounts of integrity. This year we’re trying to go from 11 percent of the vote to 15 percent. And we want to firmly be the third political party ... We’ve been the fastest growing party over the past two elections by a long shot, and with that comes huge responsibility to demonstrate you not only have strong ideas and vision but that you have practical solutions. That was something voters said they wanted to hear … We did quite a lot of testing and what became very apparent was those cusp voters, which is where we’re focusing, who weren’t Green voters but were open was that we needed to be very issues led.”

After a competitive pitch, The Greens chose Post Creative as their new agency and partner Nick Baylis says the challenge was to showcase the party’s policies around its three main pillars—the environment, the economy and social equity—but “deliver that in a way that would make people think and dive into the issues head on”.

  • Check out the video of The Greens at Piha launching their clean beaches policy here

“Showing them utopian solutions was seen as unrealistic. They said ‘it doesn’t mean anything to me, my life is not like that, I want to know and understand that you get me, you get the issues I face every day and you’ve got a solution for them’. What we wanted to do was to wrap it up in an idea of the calibre of Vote For Me; something that would appeal to all New Zealand.” 

Some might feel the imagery used is overly negative and, as one Facebook commentor said, played into the “anti-everything” image of the Greens being constructed by its opponents. But there is some evidence to suggest that this is a smart approach. 

As Simon Veksner writes: “Of the six basic human emotions, five are negative. Namely anger, fear, disgust, contempt, and sadness (the only positive one is ‘joy’). That’s right. It’s a pretty dark place, down there in your unconscious. (Side note. Why are nearly all the basic human emotions so negative? There’s an article on Fast Company here that explains it a bit. “It’s not that nature inclines us to hate. We’re profoundly social creatures designed to protect: our kin, our tribe, and ourselves.” In other words, negatives resonate because we’re wired to watch out for threats) …  I’ve written before about the power of the negative. At least start negative, before you end on a positive. Or in marketing terms, create a tension, and resolve it. That’s how you generate some charge.” 

Youdan says the use of the confronting imagery is about showing that the Greens can “provide the protection that New Zealand needs” and Baylis says the point is that these are not warm, fluffy images of made-up scenarios. They’re very real and, to many, very concerning. 

“It’s real New Zealand and the real issues New Zealanders face every day. Obviously there was a lot of discussion around this work,” says Baylis. “The word negative came up in the research but not when people were showed these images. It came up when there were unrealistic solutions. For many of them this is their world. Traffic, kids at school without shoes or lunch, men in white suits cleaning up oil off a beach. They’re not made up. So negative doesn’t come into it from a voter point of view, because it’s true. The issues-led approach was very powerful for those people who are concerned about these things.” 

And while some might see it as a risk put the things you’re against on your campaign material, rather than things you’re for, as Baylis says: “If you want something you’ve never had you have to do something different … They stand out amongst the pack. Everything else is very traditional.” 

There is a big focus on personalities in some of the other campaigns, particularly with #TeamKey and The Conservative Party’s Colin Craig, who some might argue is offering proof of David Icke’s reptoid hypothesis in the black and white images now dotted around the country (some have already been having a bit of fun with it). But as Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said recently: “It’s not a Mr New Zealand contest, it’s an election.”

“New Zealanders care about issues and we need to treat them as intelligent,” says Baylis. 

The Greens are gunning for the party vote and they’ll be using this creative across all their electorates. Youdan says the slogan ‘Love New Zealand’ is a great conversation starter for candidates to use when they’re out amongst the voters. And he’s confident it will also resonate with its overseas supporters too. 

“We’d like to increase that,” says Youdan. “Last election the overseas vote got Mojo Mathers in to parliament, so it is a substantial chunk of our vote. And this campaign works extremely well with this group. We have seen quite a bit of feedback from our overseas branches, particularly Australia and the UK, who saw it as an opportunity because people are really worried about the New Zealand they are going to return to after their OE.”

So will they, as they often are, be accused on being idealistic and anti-business? And will these messages resonate with those in the regions where industries like oil and gas and mining offer employment opportunities? 

Youdan says it actually has a big vote split with National and in Helensville, for example, thousands of voters gave their party vote to the Greens and their candidate vote to John Key.

“So people are genuinely concerned that an economic dependence on things like oil or open cast mining is not a good future for New Zealand. We’re about smart solutions for the economy.” 

He points to the Waihi mine, which is featured on the rural version of its ‘For a smarter economy’ creative and was granted consent to extend its operations underneath locals’ houses, as an example of the conflict. 

“There clearly are jobs from those industries. But equally [residents]are concerned about their extension. On the West Coast, mining is moving into native bush. And some of the people we tested felt very strongly. They don’t want to have these things on their doorstep … The Greens’ position is we don’t need to be opening up our coast for deep sea oil drilling. There are alternative economic models. Hence we have policies to significantly increase R&D into sustainable technology.” 

While Baylis says many creative agencies are frightened by research, it’s a very important part of the political world and that’s also the case for campaign development.  

“It’s important how you use that research,” says Youdan. “It’s not about using it to go and say ‘what do the voters want to hear?’ and then doing that so we can win those votes. We use it to decide how to frame the issues and what we stand for in a way that helps people understand and gets them to take an action and vote.” 

As the numerous hoardings show, the scattergun approach to election campaigns is still popular. But increasingly it is making way for smarter targeting. The Obama campaign in 2012 is regularly held up as an paragon of that shift, specifically the move to target voters with tailored messages depending on their location, demographic and financial situation (in 2008, it also found success by galvanising the support of young Jewish community in urban areas with The Great Schlep and getting them to convince their older relatives in places like Florida that Obama was a good option). 

Youdan says all parties have taken lessons from that campaign about how they target particular communities and find their influencers. He says The Green Party has invested quite significantly in really intelligent organising software and tools and done a lot of data analysis of sources like the electoral roll, the Census and Facebook to find people who are likely to vote Green. This means it can target doors to knock on and people to call. And it’s not just about getting them to vote Green, it’s also about getting them onboard and inspiring them to have more conversations with their network. 

“We’ve certainly got our most organised ground campaign ever. We’ve got 10,000 volunteers, which is about twice as many as the last election. It’s been phenomenal.” 

So far Youdan says about 600 people have put their hands up to put one of the signs on their fence. And the creative is already up on one of APN Outdoor’s new digital billboards in Auckland. 

The campaign will also include TV, social (via #LoveNZ) and digital, with the TV ads launching on 20 August. 

About Author

Comments are closed.