News Election 2019 Electric cars and whinging Wendy: Why political ads sting more in election attack
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Electric cars and whinging Wendy: Why political ads sting more in election attack

Newspoll, released on Sunday, showed Scott Morrison had narrowed the gap against Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP
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It’s the Liberal attack ad that has already captured attention, claiming there’s a “new tax” on Australia’s favourite cars.

With a cash register sound effect designed to raise viewers anxiety levels it’s one of the most memorable negative ads to emerge in this campaign. It’s even reminiscent of the 1993 GST cash register ads designed to destroy John Hewson.

Labor insists it’s “lies” and there is no new tax on cars under their plan to move towards a new 50 per cent target for electric vehicles in 2030.

Labor also argues its plans to introduce emissions standards are not a tax.

So does the ad work? Or does it risk going too far?

Toby Ralph has worked on more than 40 election campaigns in Australia and overseas. If you want results, he admits the answer isn’t complicated.

“The short answer is negative ads,” he said.

One of the most famous negative ads was “Whinging Wendy” in 1987, which attacked John Howard with Pauline Hanson-style twang.

The target is always swinging voters who are not that keen on politics.

“They are not stupid, but they are disengaged. For them, voting is typically an act of punishment. The trick is to make them despise the other guys more than your guy,” Mr Ralph said.

But he believes the Liberals’ claim of a new tax on cars lacks credibility.

“The commercial is OK, but I’m not sure it’s making the most potent message or particularly credible,” he said.

“If you push something too far, you get beyond a helpful head nod and start creating disbelief.”

Mr Ralph’s advice if he was working for the Labor Party would be to build on resentment about Liberal infighting.

Iconic Australian federal election advertisement by Labor, from 1993. It was called ‘How Dr Hewson’s GST would change your day’.

The ALP must have read his mind, because they have already rolled out digital advertising featuring various Liberal PMs in a ring fight.

Scott Morrison’s first digital ad was a family-focused positive ad.

“You invariably start off with a positive ad. Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, that’s nice. It does give you permission to be negative,” Mr Ralph said.

“The It’s Time ad was a great ad. A lot of people think it actually worked. But what it did was summarise a mood for change. It didn’t create the change.”

Labor campaign strategist Bruce Hawker is also nostalgic for Gough Whitlam’s It’s Time song in 1972.

“I always think of It’s Time. It was a classic. That was for a time and a moment when we were looking at a great change taking place in society.”

The GST ad fearing cash register sounds also used in the Liberals 2019 “car tax” ad is also effective.

“It made you feel anxious these policies are going to drive you to the poorhouse. Often it’s just sound effects,” Mr Hawker said.

Labor’s ‘It’s Time’ ad.

After working on too many Labor Party campaigns to count, he describes the Liberals “car tax” ad as “incredible”.

“There’s no taxes involved at all. The impression you get watching it is that the price of cars is going to go up,” Mr Hawker said.

“That’s a totally misleading ad. But under our laws these days you can get away with anything.

“There was a time when you had to prove that what you were saying was actually accurate, but the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations (FACTS) decided it was too hard to police.

“The internet has kind of created this libertarian free for all.”