Lessons from the mishandled advertising in this Referendum


The Voice 2023

As a small business owner, it's insightful to analyze why the NO campaign overcame the YES campaign's advantages. The fact is that the recent public vote on whether to bring back The Voice, a proposed Indigenous advisory body, had a clear result - the NO campaign won with over 60% of the vote. Given the YES campaign's more significant resources, such as money and public profile, this outcome surprised many. In my area, for example, a heavily Asian migrant area, there was almost nothing from the NO campaign. All the local politicians campaigned for YES and yet NO won easily. 

There are essential marketing and messaging takeaways we can apply to promote our businesses effectively:

The NO Campaign Had a Simple, Consistent Message

The NO campaign focused on a clear message that the proposed Voice was divisive and unfair.

NO Campaign Phrase: "Same Rights for All"

See how they emphasised this notion of "unfairness." It is both simple and effective to Australians.

Key Takeaway:

Keep your messaging clear, consistent and repetitive. Find your message and stick to it.

The YES Campaign Had a More Complex Message

In contrast, the YES campaign had a more nuanced message about empowering Indigenous peoples and moving toward reconciliation.

YES Campaign Tagline: "A First Nations Voice Protected by The Constitution"

This is much more abstract, and the terms like "constitutional enshrinement", "Indigenous empowerment", and “reconciliation.” whose finer points would lose many of the audience's attention.

Key Takeaway:

Simplify your messaging as much as possible. Simple messages are more memorable and persuasive.

The NO Campaign Used Fear Messaging Effectively

The NO campaign emphasized fears about the Voice leading to separate Indigenous laws and inequality. Fear is a powerful motivator, particularly when it is not answered.

Key Takeaway:

Address customers' potential fears head-on. Promote how your product or service alleviates worries.

The YES Campaign Couldn't Provide Complete Answers

When questioned, the YES campaign couldn't fully answer how the Voice would work. Voters were told details would be decided later. What will your customers think of your product if you do not supply clear answers before purchase?

Key Takeaway:

Have all the details, including logistics, worked out before promoting a product? Customers need concrete information.

The YES Campaign painted its opponents as racist. 

The Yes proponents cast those who campaigned for No as racists, bastards, or ignorant. Often, they accused them of being dishonest, lying to the Australian people, and spreading misinformation—people who wanted to maintain the status quo of inequality and injustice.

Key Takeaway:

Well, we all knew people who intended to vote NO, who were no such thing. Your advertising has to be believable. Before I voted, I talked with the woman handing out the YES leaflets and the guy handing out NO leaflets at the polling office. Both struck me as good people.


Learning from the failed YES campaign, small business owners can craft more effective promotions. Simple, consistent, fear-alleviating messaging and believable is critical.

What lessons do you see from this historic vote? 

Update: I got requests, to provide a list of sources used for this blog post. However the majority of the information presented here is based on my personal observations and analysis. However, I recommend consulting the report linked here for those interested in further exploring the topic. One interesting finding from the report is that individuals who were more familiar with and understood the proposal were less likely to vote in favor of it. Conversely, those who had a poor understanding of the issue were more likely to vote for it.

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