By focusing so much on the medium, the ALP has proved itself to be completely devoid of message. A “Crikey“-style newsletter won’t make much difference.
The Australian Labor Party is currently as empty of identity as a video rental store is of custom or a Missy Higgins song of gendered pronouns. Perhaps its famously expensive focus groups have managed to communicate what we Few Believers have known for some time: namely that the party communicates a message of “meh”. So someone has decided the antidote is to start a newsletter. In an email sent to members yesterday, national secretary George Wright requested donations to fund a publication “a bit like Labor’s own Crikey”.
And they’re not even offering Guy Rundle, a gift-with-purchase or works that have been professionally produced. It seems Wright is looking to employ a single editor to curate “the very best content submitted by the public”. Think of it as your inexpert statist Facebook feed in daily form.
This paywalled spin follows weedy attempts to sculpt an image from an undifferentiated blob of liberalism. The weeks before and months following September 2013 have fairly stunk of desperate messaging. Rudd coyly threw 11th-hour support behind same-sex marriage in August, and when the new government announced frontbench appointments that included just one woman, placeholder leader Chris Bowen tried to reproduce those gendered Gillard-era approval spikes in crudely comparing the Coalition to Afghanistan. (You know — that country to which he as immigration minister was happy to return refugees.) Then, rather than engage in a program of much-needed mutual reform with trade unions, the ALP began a public stoush with its own foundation.
And, as far as statements on the offshore detention mess Labor advanced while in office, well, the opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs is helping out a breast self-exam awareness campaign.
As efforts by a political party to define itself by what it is not often tend to, these have failed to engage the electorate. The ALP has been faced with a choice: define itself by what it is or just give up on engaging the electorate. From the look of yesterday’s email, it seems they have chosen the latter.
Wright concedes that the “Labor message isn’t making it through the mainstream media”. Someone’s been taking McLuhan a bit too literally as interest in developing a message is abandoned in favour of developing a medium.
This move raises several questions, and not just if the ALP could fund the proposed annual newsletter budget of $95,000 by cutting down on its two-pack-a-day focus group habit. Others include: why the actual heck would any sane person pay to read “content submitted by the public”? What is an organisation predicated on industrial reform doing with unpaid intellectual labour? Shouldn’t the Light on the Hill be made visible to people other than those already disposed to pay for the privilege of illumination; i.e. has it occurred to no one that this risible move will result in no new support? Finally, why not think about changing your free-to-air message instead of your paywalled medium?
“Unable to offer anything distinct for wide sale, the ALP offers shop-soiled remnants up to its few stalwart buyers.”
But Wright has a catch-all answer. He believes “it’s really important that we do this”. He says — plainly not aware of the existence of Twitter — that people who already agree with each other “need a place where we can hear each other’s views”. But these views, it seems, are bound to be selected to reflect the message disdained not only by mainstream media but by an electorate actually discerning enough to reject it. Viz. This is what we are not.
Wright promises more of the same but delivered to a limited, paying audience. There will be “more factual information about what Tony Abbott and his government are doing” and, of course, the same opposition statement of nothing but opposition. That the tedious and ineffective message of “We Are Not Like Those Other Guys But We Won’t Really Specify How” will be delivered through selection of “the very best content submitted by the public” doesn’t change much. Labor just doesn’t see the sense in changing its message. It prefers to limit its audience to those already receptive to its message.
This is not only a psephological absurdity but a marketing error of the most basic order. One communications insider, who prefers not to be named, was aghast at the poverty of thought that has led to such a decision: “Labor keeps supposing that what the Libs got right was their messaging; but really, what they got right was their branding.
“The ALP continues to worry about their messaging — or in this case, the platform for their messaging — without addressing their brand; the core identity from which all else stems.”
This failure to even concede that the brand is in tatters and that Labor has a limited notion of what it is beyond what it is not, said our insider, is “a failure of Marketing 101”: “Unless you and your audience know what the hell you stand for, why the hell should people listen to what you say?”
Unable to offer anything distinct for wide sale, the ALP offers shop-soiled remnants up to its few stalwart buyers. And there’s not even a free-gift-with-purchase.