How Australian creatives would craft a Voice referendum campaign

By Ruby Derrick | 12 October 2023
Clemenger BBDO's 'Yes Makes It Possible'.

Australian creatives, asked to craft a Yes campaign for Yes23, tend to the simple, subtract emotion, engage directly by using TikTok's Q&A feature.  

Some have already had a go at crafting campaigns, including The Hallway, The Monkeys, Clemenger BBDO and independent creative Adrian Elton.

Clemenger BBDO worked alongside Yes23 to launch 'Yes Makes It Possible’. 

The brief was to create clarity and take politics out of the equation; to focus on combatting misinformation in the media; and ultimately rally the country to vote yes on October 14 to give Indigenous Australians a voice. 

The Hallway's Voice pitch 'Don’t Listen to the Galahs' was a plea from the independent agency to the advertising community to ignore the vitriolic commentary coming from both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ sides of the debate, and instead have well-informed conversations.  

Elton also cracked the internet with a guerrilla tilt at the Voice referendum. The campaign scorched the digital social world with the tagline, 'Don't Guess. Vote Yes'.  

It took off when businessman and political activist Simon Holmes à Court shared the campaign on social media earlier this week. 

The Uluru Dialogue's 'You're The Voice' via The Monkeys, part of Accenture Song, paired John Farnham’s song with transformative moments in Australia’s history to galvanise support for its Yes campaign.

Despite the Australian familiarity that lay within the iteration and direct call to action, the campaign has had zero or a negative influence on Australians ahead of the referendum, according to the latest findings from strategic insights business Pollinate. 

At the time of publication, 34% of current 'No' voters said the ad has reinforced their voting plans and 55% said it has not influenced them at all. 

The findings from Pollinate revealed that 44% of people plan to vote 'No', up five percentage points since the first wave of research in late August, followed by 35% of people who plan to vote 'Yes' (up four percentage points) and 21% at 'undecided' (down nine percentage points).

AdNews spoke to creatives on how they would construct a Yes campaign. 

Ant Melder: co-founder and creative partner at Cocogun:

Speaking as a human being rather than a creative, it’s been a pretty depressing few months, to be honest. Although the Walk For Yes a few weeks ago was a memorably inspiring day out, the realisation that we’re sliding inexorably towards a categoric ‘No’ has felt like a grim, slow-motion car crash.

The optimism I sensed back in July has been steadily choked and poisoned by a perfect storm of misinformation, ignorance and something much darker and more heinous.

On Sunday morning, I got chatting to a lovely old lady in the supermarket when we found ourselves standing next to each other in the freezer aisle, both bemoaning the ever-increasing price of frozen chips. After 10 minutes of friendly banter about the respective pros and cons of ‘pub-style’ chips vs shoestring fries, the rising cost of living, our families and football, it came to light that she lives round the corner from me in Redfern. 

“Do you like it round here?” she asked.

“I love it,” I said. “How about you?”

“Well, it’d be alright if it wasn’t for all the A**'s,” she said.

I felt like I’d been punched hard in the solar plexus. Today, it hurts even typing out that A-word, but I think it’s important to be honest about the language that’s being used in public in 2023. At the time, surprising myself, rather than letting the red rage take over, I managed to have a civil conversation with her about the challenges of our diverse community, and whether The Voice would be beneficial. However, no matter what I said, she had a reply that started with one of the following:

“Yeah, maybe, but Peter Dutton said…”

“But I read online that if the Yes vote passes, they’re going to…”

“If we give them this, then next they’ll be wanting…”

“But most of ‘em don’t even want it…”

“Well no-one’s explained to me exactly what I’m voting for, so…”

Each time I tried to land a common sense point, she parried me with a bleak, moronic, racist soundbite. All in the warmest, chirpiest, friendliest manner. She was honestly one of the loveliest racists I’ve ever met. We agreed to disagree and said “See you around".

Afterwards, I sat in my car outside Woolies and literally cried in frustration. My chat with that little old lady was just the latest in a series of interactions I’d had with ‘No’ voters over the last few months. Each time I’d been unable to get them to see that ‘Yes’ isn’t born out of cynicism, greed or political expediency, it’s rooted in empathy, compassion and humanity. And each time that ugly word had hung unspoken in the air between us, like a grim fart: racism.

And outside of those chats, with a keen eye on media content, chat shows, comments sections, televised debates and sentiment trackers, it’s become increasingly evident that the r-word comes in so many different forms, often semi-cloaked as righteous concern, fairness, objectivity, prudence. This bleak knowledge, and witnessing the bile that the referendum has stirred up, the ugliness that has come crawling out from under the rock over such a mild, common sense proposal, has depressed me enormously.

Having said that, could it ever have been any different? Speaking as a creative, was there a way our community could have positively influenced the outcome? And what do I think would be the most powerful way to have championed the ‘Yes’ vote?

My suggestion would be to take the emotion completely out of the issue and strip everything back to simple facts. Remove the emotive language and tell it like it is. For starters, I’d rebrand ‘The Voice’ as the ‘Aboriginal Advisory Panel’. Then I’d lose the epic music tracks, inspirational VOs and beautiful art direction. Stop trying to get the hairs on the backs of people’s necks standing up and just get them nodding along with the logic of this thing.

Bold, simple art direction. Facts. Stats. Quotes. Think Ronseal, think Bunnings, think boring but hard-hitting retail campaigns. The result would be less Pencil-winning but - hopefully - more vote-winning. The closest thing I’ve seen to my way of thinking is Briggs asking people to Google what The Voice is, in his Far Enough video. Just reading out loud what it actually is takes so much of the hearsay, distortion and bullshit out of the equation. Because, just like with Brexit, when there’s a vacuum where clear information should be, it leaves a path for the BS merchants and fake news warriors to ride into town.

Now, I’m well aware that it’s easy for me to say all this with the benefit of hindsight, as the official campaigns enter the home straight. I probably would have started with a big, emotive ad myself, and I’m a fan of a lot of the ‘Yes’ work I’ve seen out there. But I’ve been blindsided and depressed by the loaded, vociferously negative reaction to it.

Bill Bernbach famously said that good advertising makes a bad product fail faster. However, this is a good product…and it’s one we need. But reflecting on how everything’s played out over the last few months, maybe consumers just aren’t ready for it. Hopefully one day they - we - will be.

Penny Buck: executive creative director at Jane Doe Creation:


Our approach is anchored in Creative Realism, prioritising meaningful impact over the allure of accolades. Therefore, we would have suggested the following. 

In response to the misinformation spread by the 'No campaign', we would propose targeting TikTok’s 8.5 million Australian monthly users with #YesToRealFacts. We’d essentially use TikTok as a campaign tool to amplify truth and debunk misinformation currently surrounding the ALP’s ‘Yes campaign’. 

Drawing inspiration from The Washington Post's approach on TikTok, our plan is to be the curator of the best daily content that pairs the credibility of professional journalism with the platform's highly engaging dynamics. We would aim to highlight content that deconstructs lies and fake news in a way that educates and captivates, encourages conversations and widespread sharing. 

A cornerstone of our strategy could also be to implement direct engagement with our audience. By utilising TikTok's Q&A feature, we could invite followers to pose questions, addressing them promptly either live or through follow-up content. A daily commitment could be made to counteract comments bearing misinformation by offering factual counterpoints. Additionally, the 'duet' feature could be instrumental, as it simultaneously counteracts misleading content being shared, while allowing us to amplify the real facts.

To further fortify our campaign, we would intend to collaborate with the renowned independent fact-checking platform, PolitiFact. By integrating their esteemed "Truth-O-Meter" system— which categorizes claims from "True" to "Pants on Fire" — we could introduce an easily recognisable metric that underscores our commitment to the truth. 

Taylor Thornton: creative director at Jack Nimble:

I'm a big fan of music and how it can whisk Australians back to a specific place and time in their lives. I mean, I'm totally into John Farnham's "You're the Voice" – it's iconic, super moving, and that name is pretty spot-on. But, you know, I felt there was a chance to take it a step back even further in time and connect with some of our older folks who, let's face it, might need a bit more convincing to vote yes.

What's the solution, you ask? Well, my approach would involve repurposing something from a pivotal time in people's lives when change was needed. Gough Whitlam's "It's Time" jingle from 1972 left a lasting impression on the minds of young Australians. Half a century on, Whitlam, a strong proponent of First Nations people having an input into policy making, would be proud to see this message being reimagined by a contemporary First Nations artist like Briggs.

Beyond being just a song, what I find appealing about its message is that it doesn't dictate a "vote yes" or "vote no" stance. It's an inviting message that doesn't push people into a single camp but empowers them to make the decision. This approach also serves as a simple communication tool to educate and counteract the waves of misinformation that have plagued this process. For instance, it could be used to advocate for initiatives like "It's time for an independent advisory body" or "It's time for recognizing First Nations people in our constitution and honouring 65,000 years of culture and tradition." In a sea of uncertainty, something simple and emotive works best. 

Ryan Stubna: executive creative director and partner at CX Lavender

As someone who identifies as Indigenous Australian having a lived experience with the stolen generation, like many others, I’ve found the last few months a difficult time across both sides of the campaign. A ‘fair go’ for all has always been at the heart of Australia’s identity.

But with extraordinary disparity between First Nations people and non-Indigenous people on things like life expectancy, suicide, infant mortality, education, employment, and incarceration, we’re far from everyone getting a ‘fair go’. Clearly articulating the inequality in our country and educating voters on how a Voice to Parliament could begin to change this would help dispel the confusion and uncertainty of undecided voters – the most important people to be talking to for the Yes campaign – and stamp out the effectiveness of lines like ‘If you don’t know, vote no’ early.

A three phased approach would be most effective.

1. Lead with awareness and education. Dispelling any confusion or perceived risk around the Voice to Parliament would need to happen early. It’s only when this conversation begins that the value of a Yes vote can be made clear.

2. Follow with confidence and hope for progress. Once more clarity has been brought to the Yes campaign, people would increasingly see its potential for change, equality, and unity – and newly decided Yes voters would be spurred on in their decision.

3. Finally, bringing it home with highly emotive messaging. This would give everyone a sense of just what can be made possible with a Yes vote – now their vote and one they can be proud of.

We cannot underestimate the importance of the decision ahead of us. Nor the importance of equipping voters with the means to make informed decisions that will help them write a more inclusive, empowered, and harmonious future for us all.

Matt Wilson: creative partner at Wildlings Creative

In my cosy ad land echo chamber, all I see and hear are the YES voters. The beautifully designed YES logos and genuinely well-intentioned YES campaigns. Many of which have been created out of sheer frustration due to the giant information void created because the YES23 campaign launched so late in the piece.

And so, as a creative, how would I put a campaign together for the Yes campaign?

I’d start by making sweet, sweet advertising love to apathetic middle Australia. Those Bali holidaying folk who aren’t particularly engaged in the debate yet will ultimately decide its outcome. Turns out they’re the 30% who just might be undecided or are open to changing their minds. 

Then, I’d set out to find a campaign line for the affirmative that’s better than… wait? What is our rally cry? Whatever it is, it’s not as good as “If you dont know, vote no.” And whilst it’s no KEVIN07, it does imply that you, as a voter, can remain blissfully ignorant. And so, they probably will.


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