Opinion: Why The Yes23 Campaign Is A Lesson In Creative & Media Planning Failure

Opinion: Why The Yes23 Campaign Is A Lesson In Creative & Media Planning Failure

Dave Levett, managing director of Murmur Group (pictured), opines on why the Yes23 campaign has failed to move the needle on support for the Yes vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum.

If the latest polls for the Voice referendum from The Guardian are anything to go by, the ‘Yes’ vote continues its downward trajectory receiving at best 43 per cent of the Vote according to Essential, and at worst 38 per cent care of Redbridge.

With just over a week to arrest and turn the tide, it will take a monumental effort from the Yes23 campaign to succeed and become the ninth successful referendum from 44 in amending the Australian Constitution – and to do it without strong bipartisan support.

When Yes23 started its advertising campaign in April, it commanded 60 pe cent of the electorate, so where did it all go wrong, and why are they now staring down the face of a creative and media planning failure?

Good brief, good result. Poor brief, poor result.

The decay started by either ignoring – or not understanding or interpreting the insights presented.

At the start the biggest challenge facing Yes23 was the lack of bipartisan support. Starting with a historic 18 per cent chance of success – the odds soon blew out further when it became apparent that the ‘No’ vote would be heavily backed politically.

The campaign brief was to “create clarity and take politics out of the equation, as well as combat misinformation.” However, what was needed – was to make politics the centre of the equation – and not run or shy away from the core battleground that the combatants in Albanese and Dutton would be fighting from.

We know from Binet & Field’s research in ‘The Long and The Short of It’ that emotional campaigns are more effective than rational campaigns long term on almost all business metrics – however this referendum was a six-month, one-off campaign and didn’t need to reap benefits from emotional advertising in three years from now. It needed to win now.

​​​When Yes23 released its first ad in April, it centred on a feel-good emotional plea to Australians, yet the rational proof point of the discussion – ‘the only explicit Voice reference comes in the form of a hashtag at the end.’

The audience that always mattered most was going to be the ‘undecided’ voters. All these ‘swingers’ need are a few rational proof points, not just a pull on the heartstrings. I’d classify that as failure number one.

Too Many Messages

Kantar, or Millward Brown, or even Mark Ritson have spouted furiously about the need to refine messages – because the more messages you try and give your audience, the less they comprehend them.

For Yes23, in a six-month period, they have tried to communicate and land (in chronological order) “we can fix it”, “you’re the Voice”, “yes, makes it possible”, and now “no means no progress”.

Too many messages in the broth, it’s little wonder the electorate is confused or has switched off. Contrast this to the ‘No’ campaign, which has consistently messaged “If you don’t know, vote No”, and the difference in messaging strategy is startling.

Not surprisingly, as the campaign progressed, up to 70 per cent of Australians believed the referendum would fail, with 34 per cent of “No” voters saying the John Farnham ad launched in August “reinforced their voting plans” and 55 per cent saying “it has not influenced them at all.”

Not Enough Distinctiveness

When it comes to creative, some of the most crucial points in Byron Sharp’s take on modern marketing is to:

  1. Get noticed
  2. Refresh and build memory structures
  3. Create and use distinctive brand assets
  4. Be consistent

Yes23 gets an A+ for Point one, but what they’ve done over the last six months is an abysmal C- or D on Points two to four. Definitely another failure.

There have been no less than four different creative iterations of the campaign using different branded assets. Furthermore, there have been four different styles for the four campaign videos released (with a fifth video featuring stories of Indigenous Australians in a different style again). Every time a voter sees one of the ads, there is no previous memory structure or distinctive brand assets to call upon. Sharp’s take on modern marketing theory just flew out the window

All they needed to do was find their few distinctive brand codes.

Media Planning

Finally, the media planning has not focused on the areas that matter. And therein lies the final failure. To win the referendum, Yes23 needs to do two things to achieve a double majority:

Win the majority of the public vote (an overall YES vote of more than 50 per cent), AND win the majority of the States (at least four of the six States).

It is not enough, just to win the majority of the public vote – yet what we’re seeing, is an over-expenditure of media investment in ‘safe States’, while the No camp blitzes key states such as South Australia to try and fortify the gains they have already made.

Another rule in Byron Sharp’s love notes to Brand Growth, is that ‘loyalty is dead’, and that brand growth comes from light buyers. Yes23 should not be spending its money on ‘loyal’ customers in safe seats, the voters already wanting to vote Yes – but invest their media and advertising in the states and the people’s that are undecided or voting no.

A final roll of the dice

One advantage of a campaign like this, is the ability to get real-time feedback on campaign performance as it progresses, and since April there has been a steady influx of data points on success for the campaign​​ – and these data points have not been trending upwards.

Yes23 has a few final days to reset its campaign and arrest the slide in voter confidence. Or if they don’t take immediate action, they risk becoming yet another statistic and a poster for creative and media planning failure.

The nation waits.




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