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The New Zealand Greens campaign story

Read a wonderful case study of how the New Zealand Greens increased their votes by 65% and was cited by mainstream journalists as the best run campaign of all the parties.  The following article was published in the Australian Greens magazine this June 2012:

New Zealand’s population would fit nicely into a small city Australians like to call Melbourne. Small population?  Sure, but a country full of innovation and big ideas. The 2011 Green Party election campaign was no exception.

The New Zealand Greens achieved record results this last election – our vote grew by over 65%, our MPs increased from 9 to 14 and our share of the vote increased over and above our stretch target of 10%, rising from 6.6% to 11.1%.  And, in a country without public funding for political parties, we raised over one million dollars to fund our campaign.

A key part of this success was making sure we had a clear core purpose, while our messaging was streamlined and clear, and tapped into the core economic concerns of voters.  Early and effective market research was critical.

Our core platform was “clean, green prosperity for every New Zealander” – this wasn’t a slogan, rather it crisply summarised what we campaigning on and was used to brief our ad agencies, and as a touchstone for other comms work.  This platform stamps a green perspective on the economic issues that our research told us loom large for all voters, including green voters!

In copy and speeches this platform often became ‘A clean green economy, that works for everyone’, crisply putting sustainability and fairness at the heart of our economic message.

Our hoardings and other advertising crystallised this platform even further with the edgy and ironic phrase “For a Richer New Zealand” coupled with carefully planned imagery. The combination of words and images spoke to core economic issues, and invited people to think about what makes life truly rich.

Research after our award winning 2008 “Vote for Me” campaign showed that we effectively tapped into voters hearts but that this needed to be combined with a few key commitments to “close the deal”.  Voters needed an emotional connection and needed to understand what they would get when they ticked Green in the polling booth. We needed to make an emotional connection with voters and then give them the reasons to follow this all the way to the ballot paper!

This led to us focussing on 3 priorities that we used as the key issues for the campaign. These were Rivers, Jobs and Kids. Three was a magic number.  It helped us to penetrate the media, it was easy to focus the efforts of our candidates with, and above all it was easy for voters to remember.

The Priorities we ran with:

1.      Making every river clean enough to swim in (environment)

2.      Stimulating green jobs through business incentives and government leadership (economy)

3.      Bringing 100,000 children out of poverty (fairnesss)

These were 3 carefully costed priorities that could deliver a genuinely richer New Zealand for everyone, and substantially transform the economy. So when we rolled out ‘For a Richer New Zealand’ we were able to connect into those priorities to show voters exactly how we would make New Zealand ‘Richer’.  Our candidates felt empowered with clear, positive, and simple language and our target voters responded in record numbers.

The campaign went though three stages:

  1. Awaking the teams and voters. It’s an election year!
  2. Stating our case. Our story is, creating our identity.
  3. Sealing the deal. Everyone else is with us, why aren’t you?

1. We started out with an opening campaign: An opening campaign is designed to ‘wake up’ branches and engage the public. The opening campaign also helped us see what gaps we had at a local level.

‘What are you looking forward to?’ was the question we put to the public on our opening campaign leaflet. Across the country, supporters took photographs holding cards stating what they were looking forward to. These were then uploaded to Facebook where people could share their ‘looking forward’ statement.

2. Following the opening campaign, we focussed on political positioning as an independent and distinct party.  Essentially we took the stance that we would prefer to work with Labour post-election, but did not completely rule out working with National, while recognising the vast policy gulf between us made any formal deal highly unlikely.  We formally launched this position after it was agreed by our national Annual General Meeting in June.

This stance was credible as we had cooperated issue by issue with National on schemes like a major home insulation programme and a national cycleway, while remaining highly critical of other policies like mining in National Parks, which we helped defeat.   The incumbent National government remained very popular, throughout the campaign.  Our principled, independent stand enabled us to retain relevance while reinforcing that our priority was implementing good green ideas rather than politics as usual.

Our core political message: we stand up for our values and we aim to achieve principled, positive change (as summarised by the three priorities) whoever is in government.

Launching our three priorities early was a key decision in a campaign that was broken in the middle by a major sporting event – the Rugby World Cup in September and October.  Between June and September we rolled out major launches for Kids, Rivers and Jobs. We followed this up with a national leaflet delivery that introduced the Richer New Zealand slogan and imagery and the three priorities, restated our political positioning and set out our achievements.

Getting clear, simple messaging out early proved a major tactical advantage in the sprint to election following the end of the RWC, little more than a month before polling day!  With the core messages already established, we were able to focus on materials and stories that repeated and reinforced our campaign slogan and priorities.

Tactics aside, this campaign was on the pulse of technology. We knew that our target voters tend to be younger than other parties and online is where we could best get their attention!

3. Learning from Australia, we adapted the successful Melbourne campaign slogan ‘Make History’ to help seal the deal on the last day of campaigning, committing significant budget to a “Make History Tomorrow” message. This combined direct comms through our database, with a heavy emphasis on on-line advertising.  We even had the full front webpage banner of the NZ Herald (think Sydney Morning Herald) the day before polling!

Placing the power in people’s hands and helping them see that they can be the difference was a huge success of this campaign. Our ‘Green Machine’ helped us achieve a record number of volunteers. The Green Machine enabled visitors to log and complete missions such as liking the party’s Facebook page, becoming a member, helping hand out leaflets or work on stalls, doorknocking, write letters to the editor and various other missions that could be updated depending on our needs. Once a mission was complete the visitor would earn stars. Competition was hot!

An online ‘Calling Engine’ was developed. This project utilised our contact database and enabled members and supporters to call other members and supporters from the comfort of their own home reminding them to vote – voting of course, is not compulsory in New Zealand. Using this tool, our members called over 3,000 people!

These are just some of the innovative ideas that made this campaign so successful.

Post-election it was clear that New Zealand would have three more years of corporate-orientated conservative government.  But that Government now faces an expanded Green team which provides a positive alternative voice, and is living up to our commitment to speak up for Rivers, Jobs and Kids.  A strong Green voice is challenging the benefit cuts, privatisation and mining agenda, promoting a compassionate economy, and setting out the smart, sane and sustainable alternatives that are the hallmark of Green politics.

The Green wave is growing around the world.  We are looking forward to a Greener future not only in New Zealand but Australia too. 2011 was a great year electorally for Greens in New Zealand.  We wish you every success in your elections this year and next. And we look forward to cooperating more and sharing more good ideas (and great people) in the future.

Similar but different – three things you might not expect about elections in New Zealand 

Campaigning on polling day is ILLEGAL, as is distributing anything that too closely resembles ballot papers – handing out “how to vote cards” would be a criminal offence in New Zealand!!

Under our MMP electoral system, every Party Vote counts the same wherever it is cast, and it’s the Party Vote that determines how many MPs we get – we spend a lot of time encouraging people to give us their Party Vote rather than vote for our candidates!

Voting isn’t compulsory, and turnout rises with age – so getting out the vote is a huge issue for a Green Party with predominantly younger voters!

If you have any questions about this, feel free to email Roland on

06/08/2012 – 16:10


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