It’s time we found a catchy election slogan

Famous election advertising campaigns have been few and far between.

The 1972 ‘It’s time’ campaign, after Labor’s 23 years in the political wilderness, is Australia’s best example. We also remember ‘Kevin07’, Don Chipp’s ‘Keep the Bastards Honest’ for the Democrats, and to a lesser degree the Liberals’ 1996 call that ‘Enough is enough’ after 13 years of Labor government. In the US, we recall Barack Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’, and ‘All the Way with LBJ’.

They are all famous campaigns that drove buzz and talkability, that became part of popular culture, and that delivered the ultimate election result. More proof to add to the British Institute of Practitioners in Advertising’s findings that ‘fame’ campaigns have a 72 per cent chance of being effective.

There are clear parallels with Australia’s most famous, and similarly successful, ad campaigns running outside of politics, such as ‘Not happy, Jan’ and ‘Sick ’em Rex’. They are all memorable, engaging and simple.

And like famous election campaigns (with the exception of ‘It’s time), none has relied solely on a slogan or tagline to capture attention or drive awareness, yet they’ve all become part of the vernacular.

At a stretch, you might remember that the Qantas ‘I still call Australia Home’ campaign was followed by the ‘Spirit of Australia’ tagline, but you’d really be stretched to remember Kevin07’s ‘New Leadership’ slogan. What people remember is just Kevin07 and what that stood for. And that’s the point in 2013.

With vanilla concepts and slogans front and centre for the Liberal and Labor parties, where is the famous, memorable, schoolyard-mimicked moment going to come from?

There are also a couple of big lessons to be learned from the ad campaigns that delivered a change in government, after two or more terms in opposition.
Think 1949, 1972, 1983, 1996 and 2007. Firstly, they were created by Australia’s best ad people at the peak of their powers, not by faceless spin doctors and researchers; ad people with an innate ability to understand the pulse of Australians.

Solomon ‘Sim’ Rubensohn, Paul Jones under the supervision of Rubensohn, John Singleton, Ted Horten et al and Neil Lawrence. The big question in 2013 is whether the Liberal and Labor parties have the cream of today’s ad talent at their disposal.

Second, these were ad people who not only knew the power of famous campaigns, but also knew the power of innovation. In 1949, Rubensohn, a lifelong Labor man, switched sides and delivered the Libs a first for election campaigns.

Fifteen-minute radio plays, lampooning the Labor government, political satire at its best, for 18 months leading into the election. Entertaining, innovative and memorable – a campaign that entered the popular culture of the time.

In 1972 Rubensohn had switched back to the Labor camp, in an overseeing role, as his agency created ‘It’s time’. The innovations and firsts continued. Famous Australians singing the jingle. The song actually released as an LP.

The line plastered over merchandise, from t-shirts to matchboxes. A campaign organised at a national level for the first time. A campaign led by television for the first time. Engaging, innovative, memorable. Recited by kids and adults across the country. Famous.

Fast forward to 2007, and the power of social media was used for the first time by Labor and Lawrence to create a two-way dialogue with Australian voters.

It mirrored the era that the communications industry had recently entered, where brands no longer shouted one way at consumers, but engaged with them in conversation. Kevin07.

Once again, engaging, innovative and memorable. One has to ask the question in 2013: has either major party heeded these lessons? They certainly didn’t in 2010, with both parties’ campaigns remarkably unmemorable. One week into the election countdown, 2013 is feeling more 2010 than 2007.