Government Advertising: Campaigns for 2015–16 and 2016–17

Overview

The 'Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities' and the 'Dogs deserve better' government advertising campaigns complied with the Government Advertising Act and most elements of the Government Advertising Guidelines.

However, some advertisements were designed to build support for government policy and used subjective or emotive messages. This is inconsistent with the requirement in the Government Advertising Guidelines for 'objective presentation in a fair and accessible manner'.

Advertisements in the 'Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities' campaign used subjective statements such as 'the system is broken' and 'brighter future'. While advertisements in the 'Dogs deserve better' campaign used confronting imagery such as gun targets, blood smears and gravestones.

Executive summary

The Government Advertising Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Auditor-General to conduct a performance audit in relation to at least one government advertising campaign in each financial year. The performance audit assesses whether advertising campaigns were carried out effectively, economically and efficiently and in compliance with the Act, the regulations, other laws and the Government Advertising Guidelines (the Guidelines). In this audit, we examined two campaigns:

  • the ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ campaign run by the Office of Local Government and the Department of Premier and Cabinet
  • the ‘Dogs deserve better’ campaign run by the Department of Justice.    

Section 6 of the Act details the specific prohibitions on political advertising. Under this section, material that is part of a government advertising campaign must not contain the name, voice or image of a minister, member of parliament or a candidate nominated for election to parliament or the name, logo or any slogan of a political party. Further, a campaign must not be designed so as to influence (directly or indirectly) support for a political party.

Conclusion

We concluded that neither campaign breached the specific legislative prohibitions on political advertising in Section 6 of the Act. Both campaigns also complied with most other requirements of the Act, the regulations, other laws and the Government Advertising Guidelines.

We did identify shortcomings in both campaigns that potentially compromised value for money. These mostly resulted from the perceived urgency to advertise. The ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ campaign chose a creative supplier based on a quote for only part of the work required. The ‘Dogs deserve better’ campaign gave potential suppliers a fixed budget, meaning they were not required to compete on price. Both campaigns did not meet all recommended timeframes to minimise media booking costs. Combined, the final cost of campaigns may have been greater than necessary had more time been allocated.

We also identified areas where requirements of the Guidelines were not met. Both campaigns completed a cost benefit analysis, as is required for campaigns above $1.0 million. However, the cost-benefit analyses did not meet requirements to compare alternatives to advertising that could be used to achieve the same objectives. The department could not provide evidence of a compliance certificate for one phase of the ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ campaign. For the ‘Dogs deserve better’ campaign, two statements used in Phase 1 advertisements were inaccurate and radio advertisements did not clearly identify that they were authorised by the New South Wales Government during the first few days on air.

In both campaigns, advertisements adopted subjective or emotive messages designed to build public support for government policy. Campaign research identified a wide range of community attitudes towards proposed policy changes. Planning documents argued that providing information through advertising would help reduce opposition to and build public support for both the prohibition of greyhound racing, and local government reforms. Some advertisements used subjective or emotive language to achieve these ends, which we consider inconsistent with the requirement for ‘objective presentation’ as set out in the Guidelines. However, both campaigns directed audiences to government websites for detailed information that was needed to meet the full range of identified campaign objectives.

We make four recommendations to the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The first recommendation will help agencies comply with the Guidelines by clarifying the meaning of ‘objective presentation’ in the context of advertising. The second will improve transparency by requiring the head of an agency to publicly report the reasons for ‘urgency’ where this is claimed. The third aims to improve the usefulness of the peer review process where advertising is expedited in ‘urgent’ circumstances. The final recommendation will align NSW Treasury advice on cost benefit analysis with the specific requirements of the Guidelines.

1. Recommendations

By July 2018, the Department of Premier and Cabinet should:

  1. clarify the meaning of ‘objective presentation in a fair and accessible manner’ as referenced in Section 2.1 (iii.) of the NSW Government Advertising Guidelines
  2. require the head of an agency to publicly report the reasons why he/she is satisfied there is an ‘urgent circumstance’ to advertise before completing the relevant compliance processes
  3. consider methods to adapt the peer review process to enable it to be conducted as close as possible to the release of advertisements where the need to commence advertising is deemed to be ‘urgent’
  4. work with the Treasury to ensure requirements for cost benefit analysis in Section 6 of the NSW Government Advertising Guidelines are fully reflected in the ‘Cost-Benefit Analysis Framework for Government Advertising and Information Campaigns’.

1. Introduction

1.1 Background

What is government advertising?

Government advertising is used to communicate information to the public about government policies, programs and initiatives. It can be delivered through various channels, including radio, television, the internet, newspapers, billboards and cinemas.

The NSW Government Advertising Handbook defines three broad categories of government advertising:

  • Recruitment advertising – advertising which promotes job vacancies and employment opportunities across government
  • Public notices – advertising which communicates simple messages or announcements and is generally short-term in nature. Examples include information about
    transport disruptions, safety announcements, election information and statutory appointments
  • Public awareness advertising – this includes behavioural change campaigns (such as a public health or road safety) and
    campaigns which make the public aware of new government policies or initiatives.

How much is spent on government advertising in New South Wales?

The NSW Government spent approximately $83.8 million on advertising in 2016–17, a 53 per cent increase from $54.8 million in 2014–15. This represented a significant reversal in trend, after advertising expenditure fell by 53 per cent between 2007–08 and 2014–15.

NSW Government Media Expenditure 2007-08 to 2016-17
Exhibit 1: NSW Government media expenditure from 2007–08 to 2016–17

How is government advertising regulated?

NSW Government advertising is governed by a regulatory framework which includes both policy and legislation. An overview of the regulatory framework is shown in Exhibit 2.

Regulations for Government advertising
Exhibit 2: NSW Government advertising regulatory framework

Prohibition of political advertising

Section 6 of the Act contains specific provisions to prohibit political advertising. Government advertising must not include the name, voice or image of a minister, member of parliament or a candidate for an election to parliament, or the name, logo or any slogan of a political party.

The Act also prohibits the use of advertising to ‘influence (either directly or indirectly) support for a political party’. The Government Advertising Guidelines also require that government advertising materials ‘must be clearly distinguishable from party political messages’.

Requirements prior to the commencement of a campaign

Under the Act, before an advertising campaign is released, the head of a government agency is required to sign a ‘compliance certificate’ to certify that the campaign:

  • complies with the Act, regulation and Guidelines
  • contains accurate information
  • is necessary to achieve a public purpose and is supported by analysis and research
  • is an efficient and cost-effective means of achieving the public purpose.

In addition, government advertising with a total cost likely to exceed thresholds of $50,000 or $1.0 million are subject to further requirements prior to release.

Government advertising campaigns with a total cost over $50,000 are subject to a peer review before the campaign commences. Peer review involves a panel of two or three public sector employees with expertise in marketing and communications assessing a proposed advertising campaign. The peer review process is managed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Government advertising campaigns with a total likely cost over $1.0 million are required to complete a cost benefit analysis before the campaign commences. A cost benefit analysis aims to calculate the net economic cost or benefit of a campaign and show decision makers how the campaign will affect the wellbeing of New South Wales residents.

The requirements before a government advertisement is released are shown in Exhibit 3.

Requirements of a government advertising campaign
Exhibit 3: Requirements before an advertising campaign can commence

Exception for ‘urgent’ circumstances

The Act provides an exception to the requirements outlined above in the case of an ‘urgent’ matter. If the head of a government agency is satisfied that an advertising campaign relates to an ‘urgent public health or safety matter or is required in other urgent circumstances’, the compliance certificate, peer review and cost benefit analysis may be carried out after the campaign has commenced [Section 7(4) and Section 8(3)]. In introducing the Government Advertising Bill to parliament in 2011, the then Premier noted that exceptional circumstances would cover situations ‘such as a civil emergency or sudden health epidemic’.
 

About this audit

The Government Advertising Act 2011 (the Act) requires the Auditor-General to conduct a performance audit on the activities of one or more government agencies in relation to government advertising campaigns in each financial year.

In conducting the audit, the Auditor-General must determine whether a government agency has carried out activities in relation to a government advertising campaign in an effective, economic and efficient manner and in compliance with the Act, the Guidelines and other laws.

The following campaigns were selected for the 2015–16 and 2016–17 financial years.

government advertising campaigns chosen for review

Appendix three contains further details about this Audit.

2. Campaign one: Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities

The ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ government advertising campaign was run by the Office of Local Government and the Department of Premier and Cabinet in four phases from August 2015 to May 2016. The total cost of the campaign was over $4.5 million. See Appendix 2 for more details on this campaign.

The ‘Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities’ advertising campaign has not breached the specific provisions of Section 6 of the Act which prohibits political advertising.

Two factors potentially compromised value for money for the campaign. The request for quotes for the design of the Phase 1 advertisement did not reflect the full scale of work to be undertaken, which was substantially greater than initially quoted. Further, the department did not meet all recommended timeframes to minimise media booking costs for all phases of the campaign.

The campaign did not comply with all administrative requirements in all phases. Advertising for Phase 1 commenced before the compliance certificate was signed. There was no evidence that a compliance certificate was signed for Phase 2 extension. The cost benefit analyses for Phase 2 and Phase 2 extension did not sufficiently consider alternatives to advertising, as is required by the Government Advertising Guidelines.

Advertisements adopted subjective messages designed to build public support for council mergers and directed audiences to websites for more detailed information. Campaign research identified statements that were most likely to reduce resistance to mergers. Some advertising content used subjective language, which we consider inconsistent with the requirement for ‘objective presentation’. Evaluations of advertising effectiveness also measured the success of the advertisements in increasing public support for council mergers.

No breach of specific prohibitions in the Act

Section 6 of the Act prohibits the use of government advertising for political advertising. A government advertising campaign must not:

  • be designed to influence (directly or indirectly) support for a political party
  • contain the name, voice or image of a minister, any other member of parliament or a candidate nominated for election to parliament
  • contain the name, logo or any slogan of, or any other reference relating to, a political party.

We did not identify any breach of the specific prohibitions listed above in the advertising content of this campaign.

Request for quotes to design advertisement did not reflect the full scope required

The request for quotes for the design of the Phase 1 advertisement did not reflect the full scale of work that was to be undertaken, and this created a risk to achieving value for money. The Office of Local Government sought quotes for design of a television advertisement only. It did not request an estimate for radio, online advertisements, or translation for linguistically diverse audiences, which were ultimately required for the campaign.
 

A full and fair assessment of which supplier could provide the best value for money could not be made given that the quotes obtained did not reflect the full scope of work. The final amount paid for the design of Phase 1 was 2.7 times the original quote. It is possible that another supplier that provided a quote could have provided overall better value for money.

The Office of Local Government continued to use the Phase 1 supplier for Phase 2 and Phase 2 extension (Exhibit 4). Where there are other suppliers that could feasibly compete for a contract, direct negotiation increases the risk the agency has not obtained the best value for money. The department advised that it continued with the same agency to avoid costs involved in briefing a new agency on the campaign.

expenditure on creative design for stronger councils stronger communities campaign
Exhibit 4: Expenditure on creative design (including GST)

Short notice did not allow for cost-efficient media booking for all phases

Placement of advertisements in various media channels was done through the State’s Media Agency Services contract. This contract achieves savings as the government can use its aggregated media spend to gain discounts from the media supplier.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet provides guidance to ensure cost-efficient media booking. For example, media time for a television advertisement should be booked at least 6 to 12 weeks in advance.

Radio advertisements should be booked at least 2 to 8 weeks in advance. In Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 2 extension the television media booking did not meet these timeframes. The radio and digital media bookings did not meet these timeframes for Phase 2 and Phase 2 extension respectively, or for Phase 3 for both radio and digital. The cost of media placement may have been less if the booking was done within the recommended timeframes.

Only two phases met the requirements in the Act for a compliance certificate

Under Section 8 of the Act, an advertising campaign must not commence until the head of the agency has given an advertising compliance certificate. This section allows for the head of the agency to give a compliance certificate after a campaign has commenced if he or she is ‘satisfied that the campaign relates to an urgent public health or safety matter or is required in other urgent circumstances’. Exhibit 5 details which phases met the compliance certificate requirements.

Advertising compliance dates for stronger councils stronger communities campaign
Exhibit 5: Advertising compliance certificate dates for each phase of the campaign

There is no requirement for the head of the agency to explain or justify the urgency of the campaign. This provision was originally intended for exceptional circumstances like civil emergencies or a sudden health epidemic. There is a risk that this provision could be misunderstood and misused by government agencies to avoid or delay compliance processes until advertising has commenced and therefore the value of compliance processes in improving advertising efficiency, effectiveness and economy is diminished.
 

Peer review process completed two months after advertising commenced in one phase

The Act requires government agencies to complete a peer review of an advertising campaign before advertising commences if it is expected to cost more than $50,000. Under the peer review process, experienced government marketing practitioners assess the need, strategy and management of the proposed campaign and make recommendations for improvement.

The Act allows for peer review to be completed after advertising has commenced where the head of the agency is satisfied there is an ‘urgent circumstance’. For Phase 2 extension, the peer review process was completed more than two months after advertising commenced. A longer time between advertising commencing and peer review limits the usefulness of recommendations to later phases and post-campaign evaluation.
 

Cost benefit analysis did not sufficiently consider alternatives to advertising

The Act requires an agency to carry out a cost benefit analysis prior to the commencement of a campaign if the total cost of the campaign is likely to exceed $1.0 million. The Government Advertising Guidelines specify the requirements for the cost benefit analysis (Exhibit 6).

A cost benefit analysis was completed for Phase 2 and Phase 2 extension. However, these did not meet the requirements to specify the extent to which expected benefits could be achieved without advertising, and to outline options other than advertising that could be used to successfully implement the program.

The Office of Local Government sought advice from Treasury on the cost benefit analyses. Treasury advised that each cost benefit analysis was consistent with Treasury Policy Paper 07-5 (NSW Government Guidelines for Economic Appraisal). This does not have the same requirements for cost benefit analysis as in the Government Advertising Guidelines.

It is the responsibility of the advertising agency to ensure that the cost benefit analysis complies with the Government Advertising Guidelines. Treasury was not asked whether the cost benefit analyses were consistent with the requirements of the Advertising Guidelines.

cost benefit analysis stronger councils stronger communities campaign
Exhibit 6: Government Advertising Guidelines – requirements for cost benefit analysis

Advertisements focused on building the level of community support for reform

There is evidence to suggest that the advertisements were designed to build support for council mergers. Pre-campaign research focused on community attitudes and the level of support for the reform. Council districts were ranked as ‘apathetic’, ‘apostles’ or ‘combatants’ based on their level of support or opposition to council mergers. The research found that ‘effective communication by the State government will serve to reduce the level of resistance to council reform’. The campaign adopted some of the key messages the research found would help build support. For example, that it was time to make the system ‘simpler’.

Cost benefit analyses relied on advertising reducing opposition and increasing support for the reforms and its impact on the likelihood of the reform being implemented. Advertising was expected to ‘increase confidence of Members of the Legislative Assembly and Members of the Legislative Council to support the reform legislation’. Other benefits identified included reduced risks of public disruptions and reduced enquiries to the NSW Government.

Post-campaign evaluation reports for each phase of the campaign tracked and reported on community attitudes and the level of support for council mergers. This was measured throughout each phase of the campaign even though increased community support was only established as an objective for Phase 2 extension.


Some advertisements used vague and subjective terms

The Guidelines require ‘objective presentation in a fair and accessible manner’. Neither the Guidelines or Handbook explain what objective presentation means in the context of advertising. We have used an ordinary definition of this term as ‘not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts’. This is synonymous with terms like ‘impartial’, ‘neutral’, and ‘dispassionate’ and opposite to ‘subjective’. We consider that to meet the current requirements in the Guidelines for objectivity, advertising content should contain accurate statements or facts, and avoid subjective language.

Some advertisements used subjective and vague statements like ‘the system is broken’, and terms such as ‘stronger councils’ and ‘brighter future’. Similarly, there was no explanation of how ‘stronger councils’ would deliver better services or infrastructure. The only facts presented in Phases 1 and 2 were that there are 152 councils in New South Wales and this system was designed over 100 years ago.
 

Advertisements relied on referral to websites to meet overarching campaign aims

This campaign aimed to increase public awareness about the reasons for Local Government reform. Each campaign phase had slightly different overarching objectives. These were:

  • Phases 1 and 2 – to increase awareness of the reasons for the reform and provide a timeframe for implementation
  • Phase 2 extension – to remind the community about reasons for reform and direct people to the website to have a voice in the community debate
  • Phase 3 – to address misinformation and highlight the benefits of the reform.

Messages in the advertising content did not directly meet the overarching objectives identified above. For example, the advertising content in Phases 1 and 2 did not explain timeframes.

Advertisements directed audiences to government websites for more detailed information about the reasons for reform and timeframes. Phase 2 extension identified directing people to the website as an overarching objective but did not measure this as a target. There were over 370,000 unique page views to the Council Boundary Review website and over 260,000 unique page views to the Stronger Councils website.
 

Campaign evaluations did not measure achievement of the overarching objectives

Post-campaign evaluations were carried out for Phase 1, Phase 2 extension and Phase 3. Evaluations reported against targets such as prompted and unprompted awareness of the reform and the advertisement. While most of the campaign’s targets were met, it is unclear if the campaign successfully improved awareness of the rationale for reform. In the final evaluation report, 37 per cent of respondents stated they did not know much about council mergers.

Each evaluation report also measured the level of support for and opposition to the reform, although increased community support was only established as an objective for Phase 2 extension. The baseline level of support for council mergers in August 2015 was 34 per cent, which had increased to 46 per cent by June 2016.

3. Campaign two: Dogs deserve better

The ‘Dogs deserve better’ government advertising campaign was run by the Department of Justice from August 2016, after the government announced its decision to prohibit greyhound racing, and was terminated in October 2016 after a change of government policy. The campaign had a budget of $1.6 million, with an actual spend of $1.3 million. See Appendix 2 for more details on this campaign.

The ‘Dogs deserve better’ advertising campaign has not breached the specific provisions of Section 6 of the Act which prohibits political advertising.

The Secretary of the department determined that urgent circumstances existed that required advertising to commence prior to completing a cost benefit analysis and peer review. There was a concern that industry participants may make impulse decisions to destroy greyhounds without further information on support services; there was also an identified need to promote public greyhound adoptions.

Phase 1 advertisements focused on explaining the reasons for the prohibition on greyhound racing with a reference to a website for further information. While industry participants were identified as the primary audience, media expenditure was not specifically targeted to this group. Phase 2 advertisements more effectively addressed the originally identified ‘urgent needs’ of providing information on support services for greyhound owners and information on how the public could adopt a greyhound.

The urgency to advertise potentially compromised value for money. The department did not use price competition when selecting a creative supplier due to a concern this would add to timeframes. Further, the department did not meet recommended timeframes to minimise media booking costs.

We identified three other areas in Phase 1 advertisements that were inconsistent with government advertising requirements. Advertisements used provocative language and confronting imagery, which we consider to be inconsistent with the requirement for ‘objective presentation’. Two statements presented as fact based on the Special Commission’s Inquiry report were inaccurate; one of these was due to a calculation error. Radio advertisements did not clearly identify that they were authorised by the New South Wales Government for the first few days of the campaign.

No breach of specific prohibitions in the Act

Section 6 of the Act prohibits the use of government advertising for political advertising. A government advertising campaign must not:

  • be designed to influence (directly or indirectly) support for a political party
  • contain the name, voice or image of a minister, any other member of parliament or a candidate nominated for election to parliament
  • contain the name, logo or any slogan of, or any other reference relating to, a political party.

We did not identify any breach of the specific prohibitions listed above in the advertising content of this campaign.
 

Animal welfare concerns were identified as the reason for urgent advertising

A brief prepared by the department in July 2016 raised concerns about the welfare of greyhounds following the NSW Premier’s announcement that the government would prohibit greyhound racing. The brief raised the risk that industry members may make impulse decisions to destroy their greyhounds without information on support that was being offered.

The department used the provisions in Sections 7(4) and 8(3) of the Act to expedite the release of advertising due to ‘other urgent circumstances’. This provision allows advertising to commence prior to completing the peer review process and cost benefit analysis.

In introducing the Government Advertising Bill to parliament in 2011, the then Premier noted that exceptional circumstances would cover situations ‘such as a civil emergency or sudden health epidemic’. There is no other guidance on when it is appropriate to use this section. It is at the discretion of a government agency head to determine whether a campaign is urgent.
 

Phase 1 advertisements did not focus on the urgent needs

This advertising campaign had three overarching objectives:

  • to increase public awareness of the animal welfare reasons for the closure of the greyhound racing industry
  • to change the behaviour of dog owners from potentially harming their greyhounds to treating them humanely, by accessing the support options and packages available
  • to promote greyhound adoptions by the public.

Alongside advertising, the department took other steps to engage with the greyhound racing industry. This included direct mail, face to face meetings around the State, setting up a call centre and community consultation through an online survey. Other government agencies and animal welfare agencies were also engaged to reach out to affected stakeholders.

Phase 1 advertising content focused on providing information about the reasons for the closure of the industry. The department’s radio and television advertisements did not refer to support packages or encourage the public to adopt a greyhound. While print advertisements did mention these things, this was only presented in fine print. In all advertisements, audiences were referred to a website for further information.

The focus of advertisements on the reasons for industry closure was not consistent with the identified needs to urgently commence advertising to influence the behaviour of dog owners and encourage the public to adopt a greyhound.

The content in Phase 2 advertisements, which began around four weeks after the first phase, was more explicit in highlighting the services and support for industry members such as offering business and retraining advice. These advertisements also referred audiences to a call centre number as well as the website.

Peer review process limited to influencing second phase of advertisements

In urgent circumstances, the Act allows for peer review to be completed after advertising has commenced. For this campaign, the peer review process was completed on 19 August 2016, two weeks after advertising had commenced. Where advertising commences before the peer review process is completed, the usefulness of peer reviewers’ recommendations is limited to informing subsequent phases of advertising and the post-campaign evaluation.

The peer review report found the messages in Phase 1 advertisements were not clearly defined, and the role of advertising was not clearly defined amongst other campaign activities. These recommendations informed the second phase of advertising, which ran from 27 August 2016 until the campaign was terminated in October 2016.
 

The department could not demonstrate value for money was achieved for creative work

The department provided a fixed budget for creative work when requesting quotes from creative agencies to develop advertising material. This is not consistent with the quotation requirements in the government’s Guidelines for Advertising and Digital Communication Services. This approach creates risks to achieving value for money as creative agencies are not required to compete on price for their services. The department advised that it had pre-set the creative costs based on a comparative government campaign of a similar size. This was done due to a concern that requiring agencies to compete on price would affect the short timeframe given to develop creative material.

Three creative agencies accepted the opportunity to present design ideas for the campaign. The department was unable to provide evidence of how it chose the preferred supplier out of these three agencies. Records are important for accountability and allow a procurement decision to be audited after an urgent decision.     
 

Short notice did not allow for cost-efficient media booking for all phases

Placement of advertisements in various media channels was done through the State’s Media Agency Services contract. This contract achieves savings as the government can use its aggregated media spend to gain discounts from the media supplier.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet provides guidance to ensure cost efficient media booking. For example, media time for a television advertisement should be booked at least 6 to 12 weeks in advance. Radio advertisements should be booked at least 2 to 8 weeks in advance.

The peer review report noted that the department did not have adequate time to look for the most cost-efficient way to advertise. In its response to the peer reviewers, the department acknowledged this to be due to the urgency to start advertising. The media booking authority was signed by the department one day before the campaign commenced.
 

The department used a wide public campaign for a narrow target audience

The campaign identified greyhound industry participants as the primary target audience. In 201516 there were 1,342 greyhound trainers, 1,695 owner/trainers, 983 attendants and 1,247 breeders in New South Wales. The department’s advertising submission identified ‘concerns that industry members could make impulsive decisions, potentially jeopardising the welfare of a large number of dogs, prior to the shutdown of the industry’.

The submission’s evidence of advertising effectiveness focused on increasing the level of wider community support for the ban rather than stopping industry members from making impulse decisions. It used an early opinion poll to show that total support for the ban on greyhound racing rises by 17 points and opposition drops by four points following explanation of the findings of the Special Commission of Inquiry report.

The peer review report noted that the role of advertising was not clearly defined amongst the department’s range of other direct and targeted communications and consultations held with industry members.

No demonstrated basis for use of confronting imagery and provocative language

The Guidelines require ‘objective presentation in a fair and accessible manner’. Neither the Guidelines or Handbook further explain what objective presentation means. We have used an ordinary definition of this term as ‘not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts’. This is synonymous with terms like ‘impartial’, ‘neutral’, and ‘dispassionate’ and opposite to ‘subjective’. We consider that to meet the current requirements in the Guidelines for objectivity, advertising content should contain accurate statements or facts, and avoid subjective language.

Phase 1 focussed on the ongoing consequences if no action was taken to close the industry. The advertisements used provocative language, for example ‘Up to 70 per cent of dogs are deemed wastage by their own industry. Wastage! Slaughtered just for being slow’. Advertisements used confronting imagery like gravestones, blood smears and gun targets.

Our literature review into this area highlighted mixed findings on the effectiveness of confrontational advertising materials. In some cases, shock campaigns may cause an audience to reject or ignore the message, and may even encourage people to do the opposite of the intended behaviour. In other cases, such as in road safety campaigns, this style of advertising can be successful. This shows the importance of conducting pre-campaign research before adopting a confrontational or emotive approach in advertising.

The Government Advertising Handbook recommends that an agency explain the rationale and the evidence for their chosen advertising approach. There was no evidence that the department researched the effectiveness of its advertising approach with its target audience. The department had planned to undertake creative concept testing as part of a strategy to ensure the creative material was understood by its audience. The department advised that due to the urgency of the campaign, it did not have time to conduct this testing.

Not all Phase 1 radio advertisements clearly identified that they were authorised by the New South Wales Government

For the first few days on air, Phase 1 radio advertisements ended by referring the audience to a government website, instead of clearly identifying that it had been authorised by the New South Wales Government. Government authorisations and logos ensure the work and the programs of the NSW Government are easily identifiable by the community.    

The department’s cost benefit analysis did not consider alternatives to advertising

For government advertising campaigns that cost over $1.0 million, the Act requires the advertising agency to carry out a cost benefit analysis and obtain approval from the Cabinet Standing Committee on Communications, prior to commencing the campaign.

The department engaged with audiences through direct mail, face to face forums, and a telephone helpline in addition to advertising. However, the department’s cost benefit analysis did not meet the requirements in the Guidelines to specify the extent to which expected benefits could be achieved without advertising, and to compare costs of options other than advertising that could be used to successfully implement the program (see Exhibit 6).

The cost benefit analysis made optimistic assumptions about the impact of the campaign on greyhound adoptions. It estimated that 2,360 greyhounds would be adopted if the campaign was run. This is significantly higher than the ‘most optimistic outcome’ of re-homing in the Special Commission Inquiry report (we calculated this to be 1,467 greyhounds). There was insufficient evidence to support the higher number of adoptions in the cost benefit analysis.

The sensitivity analysis shows that using the Special Commission’s ‘most optimistic outcome’ figure of re-homing would reduce the net present value of advertising to be negative. Further, the cost benefit analysis also assumed that increased government funding would be made available to animal welfare and rehoming organisations to support more adoptions, but did not estimate or include this cost when calculating the net present value of advertising.
 

There were two factual inaccuracies in key messages used for Phase 1 advertisements

Section 8(2) of the Act requires the head of a government agency to certify that the proposed campaign ‘contains accurate information’. The Secretary of the Department of Justice signed the compliance certificate on 29 July 2016, before advertisements commenced.

We examined the accuracy of factual claims in this advertising campaign, by comparing the key statements to the report of Special Commission of Inquiry into the Greyhound Racing Industry (the Commissioner report). The Commissioner report was quoted by the NSW Government as the basis for its policy to transition the greyhound racing industry to closure.

We identified that two of the key statements used in Phase 1 advertisements to support the animal welfare reasons for industry closure were inaccurate (Exhibit 7).    

Accuracy of two key statements used in advertisements
Exhibit 7: Accuracy of two key statements used in advertisements