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Hope? Contempt? Reciprocity? How each political party’s election ads reveal their key messages

The federal election campaign is underway and political advertising has really started to ramp up. But who is the target audience for each party’s ad, what are their key messages and how effective will they be?

I research how people or organisations use stories to effect change via, for example, political advertising or entertainment. When I look at each party’s early campaign ads, here’s what stands out for me.

The Greens: hope, change, power

The key message at the centre of The Greens ads is hope.

Australian Greens ad.

This ad aims to draw attention to “the people demanding change” giving rise to hope – a message that will hit hardest in the early stages of the campaign.

Hope is a powerfully motivating emotion. Probably the most famous recent example is Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can!”, used in a popular poster that boosted interest in his campaign.

Science suggests hope does not make people remember new policy positions or political personalities. However, voters who already wanted strong climate action, will be more hopeful and likely to cast their actual vote for the Greens after viewing this commercial.

Labor: a straightforward argument

The Labor Party relies on arguments as a means of persuading voters:

Labor Party ad.

Labor wants to persuade Australian voters that the future will be better if you vote for them, underpinned by five key premises: Labor will manufacture more things here, make child care cheaper, lower power bills, invest in fee-free TAFE, and strengthen Medicare.

The argument follows a “topdown” structure, starting out with a general statement idea – that for a better future Australia needs to more local manufacturing, cheaper child care, lower power bills, fee-free TAFE, and stronger Medicare.

From this, a more specific, logical conclusion derived – that Labor can deliver these things to you, the voter.

Whether or not this argument resonates with voters depends firstly on the extent to which voters want these things and secondly on whether they believe Labor can make them happen.

Liberal Party: contempt

The Liberal Party’s ads focus attention on contempt for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese:

Liberal Party ad.

Contempt is an intense, powerful emotion with clear influence on voters. Contempt encourages avoidance; we try to create as much distance between us and the subject of contempt as we can. Such a response is seldom reasoned, which can make it difficult to counter.

The Liberal Party’s ads aim to make us link Albanese – and by extension, Labor – with a sense of contempt and disgust.

The emotion in these ads seems to be directed at undecided voters, in an effort to harden attitudes.

The National Party: one good turn deserves another

The National Party’s ads centre on the idea of reciprocity.

National Party ad.

The ads hinge on two crucial ideas:

1) if voters want to keep bringing regional Australia to life, they need to give their vote to the Nationals

2) one good turn deserves another; since regional Australia has received from the Nationals, the ads imply, they should give something back.

This network of obligations enables the National Party to forge relationships with regional voters. Failure to honour and observe the rule of reciprocity is deeply frowned upon among many regional Australians; the rule of reciprocity is so influential it does not matter how much regional Australians like the National Party.

If the Nationals do regional Australia a favour, then plenty of regional Australians may feel obliged to do something in return.

People are inclined to reciprocate not only because they are afraid of being judged negatively, but also because they consider it the right thing to do.

The United Australia Party: ‘that’s my kind of party’

This United Australia Party (UAP) ad uses music to create a particular ambience.

United Australia Party ad.

Music’s behavioural influence is often automatic and the effect considerable.

The attention-grabbing song in this ad – “That’s my kind of party. The United Australia Party” – is energetic. It inspires action. It also positions the UAP as an alternative to the major parties.

This ad may be targeting a voter who either feels voting is not that important or that all the major parties are similar. It may hit a note with a voter who is hesitating about where to direct their vote and is tired of the usual political offerings.

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