Opinion

The Weekend Mumbo: How an underdog hopes to convince a whole country

The next six weeks will see scenes not witnessed in Australia for almost a quarter of a century, as opposing sides of a referendum passionately try to convince the population to vote their way. 

The trigger this week was the official announcement of the date: the referendum for the Indigenous Voice to Parliament will be held on October 14.

And now the campaigning begins in earnest. But when one side is far behind the other – and still losing ground – convincing a majority of voters in a majority of states becomes an enormous marketing challenge.

The ABC has taken an average of recent polls, finding the Yes vote sitting at 45.3%, compared to No at 54.7%. The Yes vote has been trending down and the No vote trending up – but there is a lot of uncertainty, with roughly 30% apparently under contention. The next six weeks are crucial for both sides of the debate, but arguably the pressure is on the Yes campaign, which appears to be starting on the back foot. In fact, just yesterday, The Guardian reported that Coalition MPs who oppose the Voice are spending four times more on Facebook ads than their counterparts. 

So what does Yes23, the official Yes campaign vehicle, intend to do to flip the narrative in its favour? 

Despite concerns about the polls, Yes23 spokesperson and proud Gooreng Gooreng woman, Jade Appo-Ritchie, told Mumbrella the campaign is “prepared” and “well positioned” for the next six weeks.

Jade Appo-Ritchie is confident in the campaign

“What we know is that there’s still about 30% of undecided voters,”  she said.

“But we feel really confident that we are going to reach them between now and the referendum.”

According to Appo-Ritchie, Yes23’s main objective is getting information out there, filling in the gaps of knowledge and correcting misinformation that is circulating. And they have a band of approximately 30,000 volunteers at their disposal.

Appo-Ritchie believes that since Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the date, she has already seen the narrative shift. 

“Just look at this week. It was on every channel, but more importantly, on the streets there was a sea of ‘yeses’. 

“There are corflutes in people’s homes, people are wearing ‘yes’ t-shirts, people are talking about this.”

The campaign has volunteers at train stations and markets every day, handing out leaflets and information brochures, as well as door knockers across the country having the conversations needed.

“That’s how we’re going to win,” she said. “It’s all about the conversations.”

To support this, the campaign has launched online explainer videos and fact checking videos, it is updating its social media regularly and it is encouraging people to have online conversations too.

Seán Marsh, creative strategist at Climate 200, assisted Yes23’s campaign, building a selfie tool seen on LinkedIn among other social platforms. 

Marsh agreed the narrative is being controlled by the No campaign, but hopes with simple messaging such as the selfie tool, the Yes campaign can get ahead.

Marsh helped create the ‘I’m voting yes!’ selfie tool

“What the No campaign unfortunately seems to be doing really well is just the consistent same phrases over and over again. And they seem to have stuck. And I feel a similar approach needs to be taken [by Yes23]. 

“People are unsure as to what the Voice actually is, the seeds of doubt have been sown and so I feel that really easily understandable messaging is going to be key,” he said.

Industry experts told Mumbrella it’s all about simple, clear messaging and grassroots conversations.

General manager of indie creative agency TABOO, Kate Prowse, suggested this might be missing from the Yes campaign right now.

“The Yes campaign needs a simple, easy to understand message or slogan for people to get behind (which the No campaign has done well),” she told Mumbrella. 

“To date, the Yes campaign content has been long, onerous and often overly complex – too many 13-minute videos. Our attention spans are short. Make your message shorter.”

Marsh agreed, suggesting that conservatives (and, in this context, the No campaign) do a good job of being on the same page, compared to progressive organisations.

“I think if everyone’s able to agree on a singular focus, then that would be a benefit to everyone,” he said. 

TABOO has been making moves in Indigenous representation, launching TABUR’AN in July, a strategic alliance aimed to drive progress in Australia’s creative landscape. The agency has stressed the increasing need for diversity and inclusion in adland, hoping to push the idea into wider environments. 

TABOO partnered with Aboriginal artist John Smith Gumbula to launch TABUR’AN

However, Prowse said it’s equally important in this context to engage with non-Indigenous Australians too. 

“It’s important for the Yes campaign to not only engage and promote Indigenous personalities. Utilising non-Indigenous people will allow the campaign to add context and relevance to a broader audience,” she said. 

Robyn Sefiani, founder of Sefiani Communications, part of Clarity Global Group, said, as a communicator, she would love to see myth busting and debunking of misinformation in layman’s terms.

“The Yes campaign needs to urgently fill the information gap, and they need to do that quickly and effectively in simple language,” she said..

“They need to make it clear what the Voice is, but also what the Voice isn’t.”

Craig Badings, partner at SenateSHJ, wrote about the harm of misinformation in an opinion piece published by Mumbrella

Badings said he has seen the corrosive and devastating social impact of people not having a voice firsthand, growing up in apartheid South Africa, and can see a similar dangerous pattern playing out in Australia now. 

The best strategy in Marsh’s mind is at the grassroots level. He argues that individuals talking to their friends and families is what will “really change hearts and minds”. 

Prowse agreed, saying the Yes campaign needs to move away from policy and politics to people and humanity. 

“The campaign needs to create and equip people with simple and shareable soundbites to be leveraged via advocacy and word of mouth, with social media being a critical channel. 

“We often say ‘people are a brand’s most powerful medium’ and there’s a lot of data that proves that word of mouth and trusted sources of influence have the greatest effect on decision-making. Yet to date, the Yes campaign has failed to arm supporters with clear, simple and compelling messaging that’s easy to share,” she said.

Sefiani suggested the Yes campaign should offer community forums for people to have a chance to ask questions, express concerns and have open conversations. But, she stressed that the campaign must have the answers. 

“They’ve got to have the details,” she said. 

“I think that’s been lacking, and there’s the opportunity for the Yes campaign to fill that gap and inform people at a grassroots level, which could push them over the finish line.

“If we fail now, it could be another generation before we have another opportunity.”

The rest of the week

Radio ratings came out on Tuesday, and Mumbrella covered all markets – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. Plus, in the latest Mumbrellacast, Michael Thompson and Adam Lang took a deeper look at the ratings, who the big winners were and why some of the results have got broadcasters questioning the numbers

A Mumbrella story from earlier in the year surged back to life this week. In May, Mumbrella published an opinion piece by Comms Declare founder Belinda Noble about the Walkley Foundation’s controversial commercial relationship with Ampol. The conversation has now been reignited by Walkley Award-winning cartoonist John Kudelka in a fiery blog post, which has seen a number of editorial cartoonists withdraw or refuse to enter this year’s Walkley Awards as a form of protest. Kudelka yesterday told Mumbrella journalist Darcy Song: “If they’re going to be sponsored by a large fossil field company in 2023, while the world is falling apart, then I’m not going to get involved.” 

Just a friendly reminder that the Mumbrella Publish Awards are coming up next Thursday, September 7. You can see the shortlist here, and tickets are still available

Enjoy your weekend.

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