Monday, August 9, 2010

In Focus

'Stop the boats.'

'Moving forward.'

'Dismantle the debt.'

'Jobs, education and the economy.'

'An action plan for Australia.'

As has been noted here and everywhere, Federal Election 2010 has been overrun by sloganeering. So much so that the casual political observer would think that there has been little else other than slogans on offer... and a more engaged political observer would also think this, and be angry about having wasted more time finding it out.

And there's a reason for all of this empty, banal word play: The major political party's in this country think you're stupid.

And disengaged, disinterested, disenfranchised and disabled (mentally that is. See previous point). They assume that you, the voter, have no real interest in how the country is or will be run, and you wouldn't be able to understand the way it is or will be run even if you did. You like football and porno and books about war. Little else interests you, certainly not how billions and billions of dollars of your money, harvested straight out of your pay packets, is going to be spent. Hell, you can hardly even count to ten! Best leave the politickin' to the politicians while you get on with... whatever it is you do, out there in the suburbs.

But every few years, our nations elected and wannabe elected have to come to us looking for our vote. What then do they do, to try and get us interested in a subject - politics - that we have no interest in and don't understand? They turn to the advertising industry.

Because everyone knows that the advertising industry can sell any idea, any concept, anything to anyone.

Take the 'Advanced Medical Institute' as one example, among, well, all of the corporate world. Started by a Russian immigrant to Australia with no medical background, the AMI sells nasal spray with no beneficial properties - and possibly some harmful ones - to the public under the vaguely worded promise that it'll 'Make Sex Last Longer.' The modern day equivalent of the old travelling medicine show that contemporary westerns make fun of... right? Right?

Did I mention that the AMI has billboards, lots of them, dotted around every capital city in Australia that say things like:

and that they also have some really crappy TV ads? And did I mention that they sold $36 million worth of their benign-if-you're-lucky product in Australia last year?

The power of advertising.

And so it's only natural that our major political party's will turn to the same dark... scratch that, evil forces of marketing and advertising to try and get us to vote for one of them over the other. So you're familiar with the ads on radio and television and in the press. And by familiar I mean bombarded. What about the slogans then. How do they come about?

And this is where we get to talking about a particular aspect of the dark... sorry, evil, art of advertising: Focus Groups. It works like this.

The major political party's know that the election will be decided in a handful of marginal seats out of the 150 in the lower house of parliament. And an analysis of the electoral results will show that most of these marginal seats are on the suburban fringe of our major cities. And some quantitative research from among the population on the fringe of our major cities will show that most of the people living in these areas are 25 - 44, have 1 - 2 kids and a mortgage that they can barely afford (Now do you understand all the education refunds and increased baby bonuses and child care super premium rebate thingos that get handed out to middle class parents during every election campaigns?).

So what happens next?

Firstly, a large and obscenely expensive marketing company, paid for by YOU most of the time, goes onto the Labor or Liberal payroll. This company will go out to a marginal electorate and look for people willing to participate in 'discussion groups.' These people will be 25 - 44, have 1 - 2 kids and a mortgage they can barely afford. The marketing company might advertise in the local paper or just contact people directly off lists the major party's keep of constituents who have identified themselves as swinging voters at some point (during a doorknocking campaign or at the local Church fete or in an overheard conversation in the Woolies check out queue) and ask them if they'd like to participate. Sometimes the marketing company will offer small cash inducements, but mostly they have no trouble finding people willing to contribute to what's pitched as something to do with policy formulation.

So the marketing company gets these people together and asks them what they think about a hot button contemporary topic:

The answers that are given are recorded:

And they try and get as many views as possible:

While encouraging people to be as honest, as off-the-cuff, as non PC as possible:

The marketing company then draw up a report which highlights the key statements of the group:

Which they present to Labor/Liberal HQ, so that the campaign team and the speech writers can convert it into a short slogan or two that they can bludgeon us over the head with.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott, you've committed to substantially reducing Australia's Greenhouse Gas emissions but have also pledged not to put a tax on carbon. How will you achieve one without the other?

ANSWER: Well that's an important question that needs to be addressed, but an even more important question and one that the the Labor Party have failed to address entirely is what they're going to do about the fish problem plaguing this country and that's why I'm ready to stand here committed to a policy of STOP THE FISH!

Essentially feeding the people in the marginal seats their own views back to them, in slightly rephrased form. Which bizarrely, somehow, makes the Labor or Liberal leader look like they understand them and how they feel. At least in theory. What it actually makes the Labor or Liberal leader look like is a mindless little drone with a few push button, pre-programmed responses to anything they get asked

And the other purpose of all of this activity, time and money? So that when we think of Tony Abbott, we'll immediately know that he wants to 'STOP THE FISH!' I mean, BOATS! Without thinking about it too much ourselves.

Which leaves the idea of political leadership or courage in this country exactly... where? I don't need my own expensive focus group and quantitative research to know the answer to that. I'll let Bill Hicks sum it up for me:

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