Be Clever – It’s the New Black!
Posted by Possum Comitatus on October 8, 2007
One of the more amusing things in politics would have to be when the psychological warriors and political meme managers are allowed to play with the desktop publishing software for government ad campaigns.
We might all remember back to when the ALP extracted from their focus groups (probably like teeth) the killer line “Howard is a clever politician”. What made this line so effective was that it was always framed in such a way that it simply gave voters a blank canvas from which to paint a picture, where all of the paints available were specifically anti-Howard in hue.
Howards cleverness for some might have been about dishonesty, for others it might have been about wedge politics, and for others still it might have been just the general vibe of the bloke. But regardless of which particular shade of negativity tickled your fancy, the canvas was presented as a ready to paint portrait of your favourite anti-Howard political grievance.
This line of attack is probably one of the more devastating lines used over the last 20 years against a politician, and Howard has struggled to neutralise its power because of the combination of there being as many reasons underlying the clever politician line as there are punters that believe it on the one hand, and the fact that most of these reasons are based upon 11 years of observation by the punters on the other hand.
So rather than addressing the foundation of the attack, the Libs are attempting to utilise taxpayer funded climate change advertisements to reframe what ‘clever’ means, to redefine it’s context and to neutralise the power of the word “clever” by associating it with an issue that has a lot of traction with the public.
Word association is a powerful propaganda weapon. Think Beazley and ticker, Keating and elitist, Latham and learner, and now Howard and clever.If the Libs could disassociate the word clever from Howard and reassociate it with climate change policies, not only would they neutralise the ALP attack, but would reduce the power of any residual word association with Howard.
So we end up with this from the spinmeisters:
Notice how the word “climate” stands out, but in a contrasting way by being in white. It’s a standard use of colour technique to isolate a word from its surrounding words. The yellow word balloon on the green and blue background is another standard advertising technique used to grab your attention to the message in the balloon.
So what we end up with, the actual constructed message underneath the superficial facade is “Be Clever – I can do that.”, all the while associating the constructed message with the word “Climate”, and hence the push button issue of climate change.
It’s a pretty ballsy attempt at subliminal manipulation – but the time for this was months ago. That horse has already bolted now.
And that’s the most amusing aspect of all this. The government probably didn’t release the climate clever campaign earlier (when it could have had an impact on the word association of clever) because to do so would have increased the awareness of the environment as an issue. Remember back to the Crosby-Textor Oztrack 33 research which detailed what happened the last time the Coalition tried to highlight the environment as an issue at the Federal Council meeting of the Liberal Party. The result of the Coalition promoting issues that the ALP had dominant positioning on was to increase the ALP vote. People saw those issues, thought “Hmmmm, ALP”, and up went their vote (which is the simple version of the process)
But such is the current desperation of the government, that they are now willing to risk a part of their own vote by promoting issues that the ALP have dominant positioning on, simply to attempt to improve Howards personal standing with the punters by dismantling the power of the Clever Politician attack. The personal standing of Howard is important because it plays into a vast array of issues that Crosby Textor identified as vote drivers, from Deserve to Win, to Preferred PM, to Leadership to Honest and Trustworthy to Win Expectations… the list is long.
I think they’ve waited too long, and the result will be the Coalition losing on both fronts; the environment issue will strengthen and/or harden the ALP vote and issue positioning while the neutralisation attempt of “Clever Politician” will fail because that word association has been given enough time to settle into the public mindset as a colloquial reality.