What did Clive Palmer get for his $100m ad splurge?

Since mid-2021, Australia’s media companies have been awash with ads for Clive Palmer and his United Australia Party. But in the wake of Saturday’s Election poll Mumbrella’s Calum Jaspan looks at how the "most expensive campaign in history" was spent and what, if anything, the media strategy achieved.

After claiming he was set to run Australia’s most expensive ever campaign, there has been a wave of commentary in recent days about how Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party spectacularly flopped at this year’s election. 

Estimates of a spend anywhere between $70-$100 million being pumped into the UAP’s campaign advertising this time around ended up winning zero seats, lost Craig Kelly’s Hughes seat, and failed to ensure the ALP was kept out of government. 

Full page pull-out newspaper ad last week

While you could be mistaken in thinking the UAP’s pledge was to sabotage both the ALP and the LNP over the weekend, a quick look at the party’s leaflets showed that the LNP was still Palmer’s preferred destination of votes.

So where did Palmer’s money go? 

The Age reported on Sunday that with an estimated spend of $100 million in the lead up to federal election 2022, this equated around $210 per vote (487,105 votes). 

Nielsen Ad Intel figures show the party spent $23,933,413 across just one month 10 April to 14 May, in figures that don’t include OOH and search.

It wasn’t all bad for the UAP, with the party raising its percentage of the primary vote by 0.74%, after contesting every seat in the country. 

As things stand, the Legalise Cannabis Australia Senate candidate, Bernard Bradley is even ahead of Palmer for Queensland’s sixth seat, with 74,972 votes.

You might have expected Clive’s mega spend to translate into results over what Party president Michael Balderstone told Mumbrella was a total spend of “less than $20,000”, which exclusively went into posters, and “one radio ad in Queensland”.

The party wasn’t even allowed to advertise on Facebook, due to its name, Balderstone added.

With 34 percent of the vote counted, Legalise Cannabis Australia has so far garnered 74,972 Senate votes, a swing of nearly 5 percent from their 2019 results.

Balderstone told the ABC the campaign “was run on a shoestring budget”, after the majority of it, more than $30,000, was spent on entering candidates in every state and territory.

If we’re only looking at the performance in the Queensland senate race, $20,000 amounts to a whopping $0.27 per vote.

Talk about an ROI…

Puff, Puff, Pass: Word of mouth, rather than ad spend might have done the trick for the Cannabis Party

Figures provided to Mumbrella by Pathmatics show that as the final polling day neared, Labor aggressively upped its digital spend, spending $1,084,000 across the last week of the campaign, compared to the Liberal Party’s $325,000, and the UAP’s $1,393,000.

The Liberal Party appears to have virtually tailed off its digital presence, spending $1,352,000 across digital channels since the election was called on 10 April. Labor, on the other hand, spent $3,164,000, meaning its last week was by some distance its most prolific. The ALP actually spent more than the UAP across the set election period, as it spent $3,106,000.

As Alphawhale director, Nick Montagu told Mumbrella, “generating noise does not equate to sales, or in this case, votes.”

Another way to illustrate this is to look at how the big spenders went about distributing their messages. Over the last seven days of the election, the ALP distributed an estimated 281 ‘unique creatives’ across its advertising, spending $1.08 million. For its $1.39 million, the UAP delivered just 26 ‘unique campaigns’.

(Unique campaign does not necessarily mean completely different creative works, but rather different wording, sizing etc). 

Across the past 30 days, across digital channels Labor delivered 527 different creatives, compared to the Liberal Party’s 135, by contrast the UAP kept this simple with a mere 26.

More generally across all advertising channels, the UAP’s approach was focused on single national messages, rather than the successful “Teal Independents”, who picked up seats through a hyper-local approach.

Group strategy director at Principals, Tim Riches said this time around there was “disenfranchisement, disappointment and unmet expectations for the parties to appeal to”, which manifested as “Clive Palmer screaming on the sidelines but also the Teal independents such as Zoe Daniels – just to demonstrate the breadth of views and values on offer for those prepared to switch away from the big brands”.

The most prominent billboard from the UAP (of which many were defaced) said home loans would be capped at 3% over the next five years.

Commenting on the effectiveness of this campaign, Atomic 212 chairman, Barry O’Brien quipped how a party with zero seats planned on dictating to a bank what it sets its interest rates at?

O’Brien also questioned just how credible most of the ads were, and why this might have been a contributor to the party’s poor performance, stating that “people are a lot smarter and brighter these days”.

“The fact that he spent all of his money on the distribution of a message, rather than it looks like he didn’t really spend much time crafting an actual message, would be one of the problems.”

Riches further adds that an added layer of “mystique” might have gone a long way for Palmer, and that the massive advertising spend may have actually hindered the performance of the campaign, when the underlying product was not credible.

“It only drew more attention to its lack of credibility.”

Any sort of frequency capping or setting maximum impressions, Montagu suggests would’ve done a world of good for the UAP, in particular saving money and impact, as the repeated display of the same messaging turns into a blur.

Consumer frustrations have seemingly bubbled over in several places in response to UAP advertising.

“There’s a lot of marketers with the belief that generating more awareness and noise is going to get them the sales or conversions that they need in this case, votes, but they haven’t actually done the research about what their audience wants.”

“I think if he understood his audience or the general public better, he’d understand that we don’t want better home loans, we want more affordable housing.”

The same confusion, Montagu said arose from the “freedom, freedom, freedom” messaging. 

“Freedom from what?”, he asked, again questioning if this freedom was solely towards social policy, or if it included coal and mining rebates and concessions too, from which he has greatly benefitted. 

Last Thursday, the party also ran full-page print ads claiming the major parties were planning to transfer “all our health assets and hospitals to the Chinese-controlled WHO”, as reported in the Guardian. This was very quickly proved to be untrue.

The party further sent out mass advertising via SMS, pushing the same line. However, unfortunately for the UAP it appears they had a shared number pool with other entities, including GoDaddy, a point which further may have caused confusion and hurt their credibility.

SMS advertising from 19/05/2022

Looking at new data from Streem this morning, it appears that the UAP strayed clear of what consistently ranked as the top two issues for Australians this election in its advertising, the environment, and employment. The party lacked clear or any policy in several areas, as evident in Mumbrella’s media policy write-up last week. 

Finally, the branding, with its yellow and black visuals and “shouty tone”, Riches describes the UAP as standing out in an “unholy alliance between Harvey Norman and JB HiFi, with Montagu agreeing that its visual messaging “reeked of discount”.

“We had the shouty-ness of Harvey Norman combined with the visual punch of JB,” says Riches. “But ultimately, the UAP lacked credibility with dubious promises such as capping your home loan at 3% and the idea of Craig Kelly as PM. Lucky there’s no Trade Practices Act for political advertising. Yet.”

While Palmer might have been on to something, urging Australians to take their vote elsewhere than the two key parties, Saturday’s results showed that buying space does not result in votes. The messaging has to be there too, and it needs to say something. This was evident through the success of the Teals, and the Greens.

Whether this failure will see the end of Palmer’s massive political advertising investment is yet to be seen, though O’Brien suggests that the success of the teal independents show that “Clive could be on a path to something”, just that his message is not what the people are after right now.

The real winners within all of this though for O’Brien were the media across Australia, in both metro and regional, and particularly broadcast and outdoor. And who do they have to thank for it?

“Clive was like Santa – he made Christmas come early this year for the networks.”


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