Despite the assertion that religion and politics are often considered forbidden topics in polite conversation, here’s our take on the marketing virtues of a few interesting political ad campaigns. 

Political campaigns have their challenges. Primarily, they need to zero in on a tight message and remain on-brief – this is not as easy as it sounds when there are multiple touchpoints around a nation. And the need for speed has never been more important.

Apart from the requirement to build and despatch campaigns within weeks, there’s the ever-growing media channel options out there that campaigns need to mine to reach the masses. How do you achieve all this without software that can deliver consistent messages across all media in double time? And finally, there’s the need to pivot fast when things happen on the campaign trail. And they always do. Smart tech can change tack and get a new message out there in a matter of hours. Doing so can turn the underdog into the favourite instantly. Brand Management Platforms are a shoe-in for successful political marketing campaigns.

As Australia goes to the polls in May, what insights can be learned from other political marketing in the past and from around the globe? Let’s take a look at some notable campaigns:

Time for Gough

Okay, it’s not recent, but it’s iconic. Whitlam’s 70’s campaign was a seminal moment in Australian political history. Two simple words – sung to a catchy tune by notable actors, musicians, and entertainers of the time – anchored the famous tv ads and flicked a cultural switch.  McCann Erickson’s simplistic ‘It’s time’ creative was a lot more sophisticated in its strategy than it looked – it needed to be to topple the conservatives that had ruled for nearly three decades. 

This was the first time that political campaigns had used modern marketing research and comms techniques with focus groups and quantitative polling. Analysing that research shaped an integrated communications strategy involving TV, radio, print ,and cinema. Merchandise played an important role with badges and t-shirts mobilising the Whitlam supporters. Even though it obviously didn’t have social media, in every other respect it has become the roadmap of what the best modern political campaigns follow.

Bernie goes virtual

At the height of the pandemic, Bernie Sanders organised an innovative virtual rally as part of his tilt at the top job. While he didn’t get past Biden, the rally was a massive hit at the time, featuring pre-recorded performances from musicians including Neil Young. 

Live-streamed on multiple channels like Facebook, Periscope and Twitch, the rally brought together speakers who pre-recorded messages of support. The rally was kicked off with a live stream fireside chat featuring Bernie sharing his vision for the country, while taking questions streamed into a comments section. Leveraging influencers and getting away from monologues drew well over 4 million viewers who obviously enjoyed the mix of message and music.


The Spanish Iron Throne

Back when GoT was must watch TV, Spanish political parties decided to lean into the plotlines to capture the imagination of voters. Spain’s right wing Popular Party created a video brimming with references to the Iron Throne in a bid to target opponents in the leadup to the 2019 elections.  Scripts for the social media videos featured lines like “there are those who think that Spain is made up of seven Kingdoms… those who would do anything to say in power.” Cue overhead shot of a Dassault Falcon Jet (a standin for Khaleesi’s dragon) as a subtle reference to misuse of taxpayer resources by President Sanchez. Not so subtle is the tagline “Spain is not Game of Thrones, it is a modern country that does not need more wars.” 

Child’s play in the UK

A delightful campaign by the Green Party in the UK’s 2016 General election took off Channel 4’s popular reality show ‘The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds’, casting famous party leaders as kids. The young actor playing Boris Johnson is brilliant and the message around the childish squabbling that dominates Westminster politics is absolutely on point. The tagline ‘Tired of playground politics? So are we.’ resonated with UK viewers, eclipsing Labour party efforts on social media in no time at all.

The ad was an instant hit, shared on socials widely thanks to brilliant natural performances. Incredibly, the ad was shot in one day. The ad gained plenty of plaudits and was described as “one of the best pieces of political advertising in years” yet some have argued it is very close conceptually to an Israeli campaign featuring Benjamin Netanyahu. Still, great stuff and so much fun. As it turns out, fun seems to work.