Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Narrativewatch: Green Party European Election Broadcast

The Green Party start their European election broadcast by showing what looks like the archetypal green “geek”, sitting behind a computer, in a dark and somewhat messy room. Then the (male) voice over reminds us why we may have doubts about the party. What gives?

The broadcast tries to tell an “I know what you are thinking” story. In her book, The Story Factor, Annette Simmons explains that if you name peoples’ objections first, you are that much closer to disarming them. She says:
"Telling an "I know what you are thinking" story can neutralise concerns . . . and dispel fears . . . without direct confrontation."

Simmons stresses the need for a subtle approach. I’m not sure that some of the broadcast’s statements (“if you think we're only concerned about the environment, think again . . .” ; “you might assume we don’t know much about the economy. . .”) are really what she has in mind.

Likewise, one of the party’s defences is to say “our policies cover the economy, jobs and human rights, to name but a few”. Another is that their economic policy will “create jobs”. But these are statements, not stories. So the Greens ask us to take them on trust – just like the other parties.

When trying to take on the “all talk and no action” charge, the broadcast offers a bit more detail – with, for instance, the Greens’ work in the European Parliament on GM food labeling and on toy safety. These don’t really amount to stories, despite the obvious potential they provide to use what Chip and Dan Heath call the challenge plot.

Still, the broadcast is partly saved by its visuals. The geek is replaced by a series of “ordinary guys” (yes, men), each of whom are seen working on a succession of diverse policy issues. The messy room becomes more and more tidy. And they stress the potential for the PR used in European elections (oops, wrong frame) to elect more Greens. The photos of the party’s candidates also try to convey their diversity.

The Greens’ broadcast tells another story. We keep hearing about villains – “big corporations” (whom other parties support for their own gains), “immoral bankers” and “unethical businesses”. They tell us that “[a] vote for the other parties will only result in more of the same . . .”. And guess who will “take on anyone who threatens your health, your community, or your future”.

Stop the rot at the top. A plague on all their houses. We’ve heard all that before somewhere. In this angry political climate, these story lines are too good for the Greens to miss.

“Just think what a change [voting Green] would make,” says the party leader, Caroline Lucas. But they may not have disarmed enough peoples’ objections or won enough trust. In these tough times, and with a public in a climate trance, the Greens do not tell a story with the sort of ending that grumpy, anxious voters are looking for.

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