In jiu jitsu you never fight your enemy’s fight. You never match strength to strength. You avoid the line of their attack. You deflect the straight punch, step inside the roundhouse kick, sweep the foot which seemed to be so firmly planted on such solid ground.
The Coalition for Marriage, stepping up for Team Jesus in the same sex marriage survey, looks at first blush like a motley crew — the creeping weirdos from the Australian Christian Lobby, some shameless hypocrites from the Catholic Church (still fighting compensation claims after decades of enabling hundreds of rapist priests, while sermonising against other people’s so-called ‘lifestyle choices’).
But with their first TV ad, the Coalition for Marriage has shown itself adept at the principles of jiu jitsu.
The twenty-four second TV spot it released earlier this week was immediately howled down as lies, damned lies, concern trolling, and bigotry. Three worried mums and one mournful piano solo. Barely a mention of marriage equality, just one mum after another worrying about their kids, our kids — your kids, gentle viewer. The snarky blowback was a wonder to behold and could be read as yet another massive branding fail.
Three women, three stories, and less than half a minute long, the No campaign’s first video ad is a litany of misdirection and outright lies. Virtually every claim is either flat wrong or so twisted out of shape that it bears no connection to reality — but that might not matter.
The use of women — of mothers — softens what would be a harsh and even hateful message coming from the thin-lipped mouths of the old white males who actually do run the Coalition for Marriage, even if those mothers aren’t nearly as average as their plain, unadorned onscreen characters would suggest. (Insider tip: they’re totally not).
Andrew Hughes, a lecturer in marketing at the Australian National University, thinks the widely lampooned advert might actually be very effective. Analysing the short ad for the ABC, he said “The underlying message here is clear, and has been well thought out by the No team. Realising it will be harder to take on Yes with a straight-up attack, they instead have gone down the path of what has worked so well in so many social marketing campaigns around the world — made the unknown potential consequences of behaviour what viewers should fear. It didn’t focus on the Yes vote or the actual same sex marriage issue itself.”
It’s not fighting the opponent’s fight.
It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in any eventual survey. In one sense what’s happening here is a match-up between old and new media. The No campaign chose an old fashioned, linear delivery system for its message. Straight down the funnel of the TV networks into the living rooms of middle Australia.
It didn’t go for a frontal attack on the ‘love is love’ argument. Like motherhood, that’s a statement you can’t refute. So they didn’t try. They moved offline, they deflected, and they tried to sweep the feet out from under their enemy.
Yes campaigners will need to counter with their own techniques. Snarky memes are good fun — but they didn’t stop Donald Trump.