State transport ad campaign costs mount

The Age: State transport ad campaign costs mount. August 12, 2014. Clay Lucas, City Editor, The Age

Ads audio swap: can you tell the difference?
Daniel Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association swapped the audio between a 2010 Labor and 2013 Coalition transport advertisement and was surprised to see that the ads still made sense.

Planning documents for the Napthine government’s long-running Moving Victoria ad campaign reveal an unprecedented blitz of television, radio, print, online and outdoor billboards – in many cases to tell the public of transport plans that are many years from reality.

The campaign, which the government says is purely information and not political advertising, comes despite promises before it was elected to curtail publicly-funded ‘‘self-promotion’’.

But, unlike its Labor predecessors, the government is refusing to detail exactly how much the public is paying for the campaign.

One of the roadside ads the government is using to sell its message.

Reports and advertising timetables from late 2013 and early 2014, released by the government under Freedom of Information, show thousands of 45-second television ads running during a variety of programs, from golf, cricket and football to Sunrise, Deal or No Deal and Futurama.

The government late last year said the campaign had by then cost $3.2 million.

It has since run widely across television screens, on radio and in newspapers, online, in outdoor ads, and in railway stations and inside trains.

Moving more people more often and costing Victorians more money more often: railway station government advertising.

Among the recent ads appearing inside trains has been one promoting an airport rail link with services departing every 10 minutes. But that rail line is not scheduled to commence operation for at least another 12 years.

A government spokeswoman, in response to repeated requests for how much the Moving Victoria campaign would cost by November’s state election, said only that it was lower than an estimate of between $9 million and $13 million provided by an industry insider.

She said that government advertising was ‘‘reported through the Department of Premier and Cabinet annual report’’, and figures would be released then.

Premier Denis Napthine. Photo: Andrew Meares

She also said that the ad campaign ‘‘tells people how real, fully funded projects will affect them, rather than Labor’s wishlist of transport ‘might dos’.’’ Around half a million people have accessed the government’s website set up as part of the campaign.

However Daniel Bowen, a spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association, said it was ‘‘particularly insulting seeing advertising for projects which aren’t fully funded yet, and which may never happen’’.

‘‘While the government promotes the Melbourne Rail Link project, less than 10 per cent of the construction cost has actually been allocated,’’ he said. ‘‘It is at just as much risk of being deferred or cancelled as the Metro Rail Tunnel project before it.’’

Mr Bowen said ad campaigns for public transport were excusable if they informed people of disruptions or completed upgrades. ‘‘But this is clearly designed to try and convince people to re-elect the government.’’

The government released the ‘‘creative’’ brief for the ad campaign, awarded to Richmond agency Magnum Opus, under FOI. The brief was written by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, not the transport department.

The ad schedules included in the documents, which cover only the first three months of the campaign, indicate the television ads were to run 2655 times on metropolitan and regional television including 180 times during Channel Seven’s Sunrise morning traffic report, and 225 times on Channel Nine’s Today traffic report.

Full-page colour ads also ran for five weeks in a row in 33 local newspapers in Melbourne, and 34 regional Victorian newspapers.

During this same period between November 10 and January 19, a set of radio ads ran 844 times on 22 commercial radio stations. And they ran 284 times on foreign language radio stations.

The ads also ran in all of Victoria’s ethnic newspapers, including The Croatian Herald, The Serbian Voice, Il Globo, Neos Kosmos and 21st Century Chinese Weekly.

The ad campaign strategy also says the government would run outdoor ads on ‘‘large format [billboards], street furniture, rail, airport, transit’’ in various locations around Melbourne. The documents show at least 138 outdoor ads with advertisers Adshel and JC Decaux were booked at bus and tram stops, and at railway stations.

As part of the ad campaign promoting the government’s good work, a website was also built to help with ‘‘the highlighting of particular projects or images’’.

And banner ads were bought for a range of news websites, including Fairfax Media, owner of The Age, and News Australia.

Just months before the 2010 state election, then opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said a $6.6 million Brumby government ad campaign on improvements and plans it was making for the system should be considered ‘‘electioneering’’ and withdrawn.

‘‘If I’m the transport minister, the money I have available to me will be going into nuts and bolts business, not self-promotion,’’ he said at the time.

Labor’s public transport spokeswoman Jill Hennessy said the government was spending millions ”advertising their transport visions, whilst neglecting the services that Victorians use every single day’’. She said public money was being ”thrown away on government propaganda”.

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