Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Lesser of Who Cares

A political campaign is just another marketing campaign with a few twists.

So how on earth has this Queensland Election managed to deliver such a bunch of negative, dysfunctional and demoralising messages?

Let’s try something: imagine a new world where every advertisement you saw for, say, an airline, was honest?

Virgin Australia – because we’re not Qantas

Jetstar – If you want to be snooty, fly with someone else

Qantas – Cheap seats now, because after last year, we need to suck up
Now, let’s try the same thing where the airlines are all choosing campaigns that criticise their opposition:
Virgin Australia – because we’re not Qantas

Jetstar – We’re cheap

Qantas – So much classier than those cheap and nasty airlines
Both of these approaches are pretty honest, and both of them are unlikely to win that many new customers. Frankly, if this was the best on offer, you’d have to think about travelling by train. Or bus. Or staying home.

Which brings us back to the Queensland election campaigns. I said in a recent blog that I don’t think these campaigns have been particularly dirty, but they continue to be appallingly negative, to the extent that if I didn’t have such a brilliant local member in Steve Kilburn, I’d have a hard time caring enough to make a decision. My colleagues who don’t live in Chatsworth are having that problem. There’s very little to inspire us, but plenty to infuriate us, disappoint us and make us want to disengage from the whole process.

Why? Because the messages about us just aren’t cutting through.

So what’s the purpose of an election campaign?

The short answer is to gain votes. Each party wants to secure the highest number of votes for their candidate and/or party.

My old Foundations of Buyer Behaviour lecturers would probably start talking about the Differential Advantage now. Each of the campaigns is trying to make itself different from all of the others. Note – different, not better. The hope is that by being different, they’ll be better for some.

The ALP has experience – that’s its difference. It’s governed for most of the last two decades, and it knows how to govern.

The LNP is throwing around a few differences: it’s the only party other than Labor that can govern, it’s time for a change, and it has Campbell Newman almost at the helm.

The Greens are just a step to the left, a bit more progressive and they don’t apologise for it.

Katter’s Australia Party were trying to position themselves as an alternative to the two big parties, but a lack of candidates, lack of support in the cities, and that unfortunate advertisement which has tarred them all as homophobes has killed that.

This is what we already know. Now, factor in a month or so of campaigning. Where are you and I, the voters, in amongst all of this?

Well, if we were a marketing department in an airline, we’d probably be talking about the CVP: The Customer Value Proposition. It’s the be-all and end-all for too many marketers these days, and too often, it’s a meaningless buzzword. Listen out for it though: the Cuuustomer Vaalue Proposition. It sounds so special, like it has a cherry on top, and I think it applies to voters even more than it does to customers.

The problem is that very few people actually know what it means. *removes cherry now*. Wikipedia thinks the CVP can be defined as follows.
A customer value proposition is a business or marketing statement that describes why a customer should buy a product or use a service. It is specifically targeted towards potential customers rather than other constituent groups such as employees, partners or suppliers. It is a clearly defined statement that is designed to convince customers that one particular product or service will add more value or better solve a problem than others in its competitive set.

Yeah, okay…but what does that mean for you and I?

In terms of the election, it’s the bundle of stuff that each party is offering us, in an attempt to get us to vote for them. It’s a combination of all sorts of goodies: policies, experience, personal appeal, attitude, reputation, accessibility, heritage… It’s policies, plus a whole heap of less tangible things. The problem for us – and for the campaign managers – is that the focus has been on the intangibles, and not on the policies, so that’s what we have to work with when making our voting decisions.

For example, what do you actually know about the ALP’s campaign? The tables below summarise the small chunks that I remember of these crazy campaigns.

So what’s the Voter Value Proposition from each of the major parties? When packaged up, what are these political campaigns offering us?

• The ALP will stoop to mudslinging to win, but they’re the devil we know.

• The LNP is probably dodgy, pretty conservative but at least they’re not Labor.

• The Greens are progressive, but not relevant in Queensland, other than as an alternative to Labor.

• Katter’s Australia Party is a very conservative, untried, unpredictable and unlikely to make much of an impact.
I’m reminded of Leo McGarry’s eternal wisdom, particularly his speech from In The Shadow Of Two Gunman (The West Wing):

I'm tired of it: year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it.
If Queensland was the airline industry, all fleets would be grounded.

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