Now THIS is Social Posting: The Australian election, social media and Star Wars
The billboards are up. Corflutes festoon roadside poles across the nation. Print and TV ads leap out from every screen and page. Yes, it’s election time in Australia and the engine of traditional political advertising has coughed to life once more. But on social media, things are a little (make that a lot) more interesting. Campaign teams craft real-time jabs, reacting to the news cycle and gaffes from their opponents. Pop culture is weaponised, memes are harnessed, videos remixed, the needle swings wildly from effective to cringe.
Thanks to the May 21st election date, one of the biggest days on the geek calendar fell squarely within the campaigning period: May 4th, otherwise known as Star Wars Day. This is a juicy opportunity for political marketers to gain some clout and appear relatable to a very online audience, but it comes with a number of Sarlacc-sized pitfalls – get a detail about the source material wrong and the nerds will crush you.
So, how did the day go? In this article, we’re going to look at four parties (Liberals, Labor, Greens and United Australia) and rate their #MayThe4th content from both a marketing and a Star Wars tragic perspective, focusing on Instagram as it presents the greatest demographic range. Like Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan undertaking their journey to the city of Otoh Gunga, let’s dive in.
It would seem that the government were in the grip of a Midichlorian-induced fever, posting no less than six pieces of Star Wars content on the day. The lowest performing of the six, a video inspired by the iconic opening crawl, shows that the LNP either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that social video needs to capture and hold the attention of an audience that can simply scroll on. It’s interesting to note that their highest performing asset touted a Liberal achievement around naval shipbuilding. Positivity has a place. Finally, with the complexity and polish of the video assets, it’s clear that the party poured a LOT of money into this content. Proving ROI is difficult, but engagement numbers did get a slight bump compared to their always-on content. Ultimately, it smacked a little of desperation to be seen as culturally relevant, and they would’ve been better served by trying to do more with less posts.
Star Wars-wise, it’s a nightmare. One post depicts Albanese as a Sith Lord, however he’s dressed in the brown robe of a Jedi. The shipbuilding post mentioned above positioned the LNP as the Rebellion, which is an absurd claim for an incumbent party to make. A parody movie poster that ripped off the Episode 4 title ‘A New Hope’ featured the face of MP Richard Marles photoshopped onto Jar Jar Binks’ head, who wasn’t in Episode 4. One video showed a holoprojection of Albanese, but the hologram appears above a hand holding an iPhone; did the campaign coffers not have enough for a decent prop budget?
Ultimately, the LNP’s #MayThe4th content demonstrated no understanding of the culture and nuance surrounding the movies, using them as simple window dressing for spreading fear, anger and hate; the Google Map directions for the route to the Dark Side.
The opposition exercised more restraint with only four posts but their posting strategy was chaotic. Their initial piece of May 4th content went live on May 3rd. Then there were large swathes of always-on posts separating their Star Wars content on the actual day. A more tightly focused block of content like the Liberals would have potentially been more effective. The content itself was a bit of a mixed bag but proved that Labor definitely understands social better than the Liberals, including a white bar meme and a video parody that mirror the sort of shitposting younger demographics recognise and respect. Despite the mis-timing of it, leading with a post that actually referenced the day was a good move strategically, especially since the focus of it was positivity rather than attacking the LNP.
On the Star Wars side, Labor hit the mark a lot better than their federal counterparts. Referencing a Lando Calrissian line from Empire Strikes Back to land a blow about wages and cost-of-living prices suggests someone on their social team has actually watched the movies more than once. Their use of the classic ‘help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi’ scene for their sole video was genuinely inspired and featured a brutal punchline, ruined slightly by the more traditional political end to the clip. However, photoshopping Albanese’s head onto Obi-Wan Kenobi for their initial post was cringe no matter how you slice it, and their final piece of content depicting the ‘Debt Star’ floating above the Earth was a dud note, mixing the real with the fantasy of a galaxy far, far away.
Overall, Labor’s #MayThe4th efforts were a mild success, demonstrating a decent understanding of both the movies and the nuances of good social. Will it pay off for them at the polls come May 21st? Hmmmm, difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.
With the largest following on Instagram and a detailed understanding of social media practice thanks to the youthful members in their ranks, Star Wars Day should’ve been a shoe-in for the Greens. However, with only two posts their efforts felt a bit flat, particularly since one of those posts was borrowed from the NZ Greens. Nonetheless, both of those posts avoided attacking other parties which is an overall win, particularly since one reinforced the importance of preferential voting. After all, a Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack.
In terms of Star Wars knowledge the Greens demonstrated the most Force mastery, pulling a Yoda quote from Star Wars Rebels of all places. The use of Wicket Wystri Warrick (an Ewok, you should know this) to outline the Greens’ ideological positions was another deep pull, however since this was the post from the NZ Greens the props should really be split across the Tasman.
With so much cultural knowledge on display it’s a bit disappointing that the Greens didn’t go harder on #MayThe4th. Maybe next election, if the stars align on the date, we’ll see more from them.
UNITED AUSTRALIA PARTY
The UAP posted exactly zero times about Star Wars Day. Since the two heads of the party closely resemble a Hutt and a Gamorrean, this was possibly for the best.
The lead up to the election can be an absolute slog. Cultural moments like Star Wars Day provide a momentary breath of fresh air for the audience and a chance for parties to have a little fun. But as always, it’s important to be precise about the details of the content you’re creating, particularly in the face of a passionate audience. Otherwise you risk making your candidate look like the scruffiest of nerf herders.
Jonathon Valenzuela is a Senior Editor at We Are Social. When not risking his blood pressure writing about politics, he devotes whatever spare time he has to video games.