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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

PoliticsSeptember 11, 2023

An advertising veteran judges the political party websites

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Policies schmolicies, what about their tone?

We’ve probably all heard about the policies of the main players in the election, but these alone are not what we choose to vote on, even if we think we should. Often a key determinant of persuasion is “tone” – that unsaid bit of the message that actually often says the most.

After many years in advertising it is fair to say that the biggest single learning anyone can make is that tone generally trumps logic. 

When, some time ago, my insightful creative bosses at Saatchi’s put great music tracks next to wonderful animal footage for Telecom ads, it produced a loved tone that words and rational thinking could never convey. Telecom itself might not have been loved, but its ads were. And they worked in portraying the right tone and getting people calling.

Tone is vital and plays to our instincts. For example, an entertaining tone is generally preferable to a preachy one. Tone, pure and simple, is why, back in the day, I preferred David Lange over Robert Muldoon despite not being aligned to either political party. Lange seemed more fun.

So the tone that each of the political parties is setting is crucial. It’s the unstated part of their offering that says a lot about who they are and what they want for Aotearoa.

In pursuit of their tones, I looked through the parties’ websites. This is what I thought of them. 


Bland photos, go-to sans serif typeface, vanilla words, laid out a bit like the FMG annual report. Conservative and pretty boring. The tone does not seem visionary. Perhaps ‘predictable’ is what people want from National. If so, they read their market well in their tone. Getting us all ‘back on track’ is classic opposition tonal stuff. The trouble is we don’t really know what our track is these days. National’s tone feels by the book (‘leader with baby’ photo, tick), safe and designed not to offend.


Labour’s tone is all smiles from the leader but slightly excuse-y. 

“In it for you” is a four word, non-committal jumble. And the ‘inherited problems’ message is a hard one to push after a term or two. Labour are trying to portray a feeling of success and momentum, of confidence in their own abilities, but it is subdued. It is not “We smashed it NZ! You’d be mad to change!” which it surely would be if they felt more sure of their achievements. 

No doubt their tenure has been affected by consequential global events, but their tone and language are still uninspiring. Labour doesn’t throw me a big vision to love – their tone can be almost snippy at times; it doesn’t uplift or entertain me.

Imagery-wise, photos and video of real people would help lure me in, because warmth doesn’t emanate from the red graphics they use. It just feels a bit check-list. They’re not selling the Labour sizzle.


Not much of a fun tone to be gleaned here either, despite the somewhat violent clash of colours and the team photo that feels a bit ‘real estate agents billboard’.

So much, it seems, needs to change in my world – at least according to this website. 

It’s blunt stuff. The messaging can read as axe-grindy and soulless. But it is unambiguous. They are trying to rationalise me into submission, but I want seduction. I want to feel part of a greater, more positive whole. But that’s clearly not the tone Act is going for with its website.

Te Pāti Māori

The tone is straightforward. It’s righteous, impatient, unrepentant but ultimately somewhat uninviting. The colours and graphic treatment of the landing page help give it a Barbara Kruger-esque sense of urgency and political angst. 

It is not surprising that Te Pāti Māori’s online platform looks and feels this way given their political platform, and it perhaps doesn’t feel so uninviting to their current followers. But again, seduction is hard to find. The tone is determined, not endearing. The website is text-dense and could benefit from some more imagery, photos and video. 

The Green Party

It’s hard to present global environmental disasters in a positive tone, I grant you. 

But still, the tone of the Greens’ website is a case of “when opportunity knocked, they were in the bath”. The world climate is conspiring entirely with the party’s environmental beliefs. “The time is now” (shout out to Moloko) is their central call, yet their delivery fails to encapsulate that sense of urgency. How about a live feed of global environmental disasters running on one side of the website?

Large parts of the Greens website are a bit stock photography meets Powerpoint 101. The words say ‘vision’, but the tone is mundane. The policy language is hardly punchy either. It just feels like another Greens campaign, much like the last one. Motion graphics, moving imagery, music, topicality – all these things can populate websites reasonably easily these days, adding energy, emotion and momentum. But not here. I remain ungrabbed.

New Zealand First

‘Common sense’ is a phrase NZ First uses quite a lot, and who can argue with that? Their site is straightforward, unfussy and, again, dull. To their credit, the site may lack a visionary landing page statement but at least it has an unambiguous call to action for the time-poor: party vote NZ First (a messaging decision which actually is common sense.) Of course its imagery is leader-focused, and the flag behind Winston Peters adds a slightly presidential aura. 

They’re committed to ‘forgotten New Zealanders’, but I can’t remember exactly who we’ve forgotten. In essence, I don’t feel I’m being invited to join a forward-looking movement, I feel I’m being invited to join a hunt for yesterday.

So that’s how the party websites feel to me. Of course others will feel differently and clearly many factors influence how we perceive tone. 

But the question I’m left with is this: Which one exudes a tone that communicates vision, hope, energy, optimism, compassion, unity and more, well, fun?

Of the main players, sadly the answer is none of them. All are straight, sans-serif, slightly pious and lacking in energy. They’ve defaulted to playing it safe. 

So does any party have an appealing tone? I had hoped it would be the Legalise Cannabis Party. If any party should be having fun, surely it’s the one dedicated to smoking weed. But have you seen their website

John Plimmer is a former executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand

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