A new type of political ad airs in Canberra

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —June 6, 2012
Filed in Business storytelling

Yesterday in Canberra a new political advertisement aired for the very first time. As luck would have it I was in Canberra and happened to see it. The moment it started I hushed everyone in the lounge-room. I could sense that this was something different for a political ad in Australia. It was clearly a story.

In the 2 minute TV version we’re told how the Labor government in the ACT turned the best performing hospital system in Australia to the worst in the country in just 10 years. Here is the 6 minute version.

It certainly created a poor impression of the Labor leader for me. She appeared incompetent and at a loss. That’s a powerful conclusion for the ad to generate with any viewer.

I asked Mark, a Canberra voter, who watched the ad with me whether he thought the ad was plausible. This is the first test of any story. Mark just shook his head slowly and said, “yep, that’s pretty much what’s happened.”

The ad feels like a mini documentary, something like a Four Corners expose. The newspaper clips shown throughout the ad give the impression that we’re merely hearing the facts of what happened. The big story is the demise of the hospital systems but inside that we hear the smaller stories about hospital data being changed to make things look better, patients being flown interstate because they can’t be treated in the ACT, and how parts of the hospital are at war with each other and the good doctors are leaving.

Toward the end of the story the advertisement jumps out of story mode and tells us what we’ve just learned are “the facts, pure and simple.”

I think this takes the listener out of the story and moves from the natural pull the listener experiences as they draw in each anecdote and event to being pushed a set of facts, bullet-point style, and our natural response is to push back. I never like it when I’m told what to take away from a story. For me it reduces its power.

A colleague once told me that you can only beat a story with a better story; you can’t beat one with denial or just recounting the facts. The best response the Labor party could make is to tell their own, better, more plausible, more authentic story. The worse thing they could do is simply say it’s untrue or unfair. I sense we are seeing an entirely new type of political ad in Australia and political parties on all sides will need to hone their narrative skills to even compete.

(In full disclosure I’m friends with the creator of this advertisement but I have no affiliation with any political party. I just found the use of narrative in this field an interesting one to discuss)

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Fergus says:

    Thanks for sharing Shawn. I found the story quite compelling, except the slow motion vision of the Labor leader had a touch of Mike Moore (Rob Sitch) and ‘Frontline’. It will be interesting to see whether this goes viral. I reckon its success (or failure) will guide campaign decisions at the next Federal election.

  2. Les Posen says:

    Disagree with the part about the Bulltet-point style summing up push back, and you know how I detest bullet points. It wasn’t so bad, and provided a summing up which should have then led to the called for change visual. I thought it went on about a minute too long, having made it’s point quite sufficiently.
    The use of authentic headlines is one all presenters should note when they’re quoting sources. It loses authenticity when you just write the words on a slide. Screencapture the original and learn how to insert it. Use ABC’s Mediawatch as your teaching tool.

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