Political party ads have been hammered into roadsides. It
must be election year. But what are they trying to say?
Vaughan Elder asks political researcher Ashley Murchison
which messages work - and which do not.
Political parties risk turning off already cynical voters if
their advertising campaigns are all rhetoric and no
University of Otago student Ashley Murchison has been
studying voter response to both negative and positive
political ads for her politics PhD, and has found people
become angry if there is no policy or facts to back the
''Advertising is a really great opportunity to present your
message in a digestible and efficient manner, but that
doesn't mean that it should just be a vague message that says
'trust us, we can do better'.
''Voters want to know why they can trust you and what it is
you are going to do better.''
Ms Murchison tested the response to mock negative and
positive ads, both with individuals and focus groups, and
found people were generally cynical about political
advertising, with people using words such as ''manipulative''
and ''deceitful'' to describe political ads.
The study also showed political parties risked facing a
backlash if they went with a negative campaign.
''It's not that [negative campaigns] won't work, but there is
a lot of risk associated with running negative advertising.''
However, if done well, negative or fear-based advertising
could be effective.
Research showed people were more likely to switch the party
they voted for as a result of negative campaigns.
An example of negative advertising seen as being successful
was National's Dancing Cossacks advertisement in the 1975
election, which criticised Labour Party's recently introduced
superannuation as being socialist.
Positive advertising was more about ''mobilising'' support
and she singled out the Green Party's advertising campaign in
the 2008 election as being a good example.
It combined a simple slogan - ''Vote for me'' - with ''quite
powerful and emotive imagery'', she said.
It was ''too early'' to rate the advertising ahead of this
year's election but indications were that National and Labour
were running positive campaigns.
An exception to this positivity was the early Green Party
advertising, which superimposed a positive slogan - ''Love
New Zealand'' - over negative images, for example of an
As in previous years, the slogans from both the major parties
- ''Working for New Zealand'' for National and ''Vote
Positive'' for Labour were ''pretty generic''.
• Ms Murchison runs a website repository of New Zealand
political ads dating back to 1925 at www.electionads.org.nz.
The purpose of the site was partly to hold politicians and
political parties - who often changed messages and policies
from election to election - to account.