ALP: It’s Time

ALP: It’s Time
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A group of celebrities, led by Alison McCallum, sing the ALP It’s Time song for the 1972 federal election campaign. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

In the 1969 federal election, the defeated ALP, led by Gough Whitlam, had nonetheless gained 15 seats. But key sections of the party were far from complacent about the outcome of the election to follow in 1972. The need for a well-managed campaign with a coordinated approach was recognised. Pre-campaign market research revealed that Whitlam’s image required ‘humanising’. Women in particular found him ‘cold’, ‘distant’ and not enough of a ‘bloke’. Margaret Whitlam was virtually unknown to the public.

Creative Director of Hansen Rubensohn McCann Erikson, Paul Jones, conceived the phrase ‘It’s Time’ and a three-stage campaign was developed around the slogan. In the first stage the slogan was popularised. The television commercials were part of the second stage. They were aimed at sections of the community identified in focus groups as elusive – broadly speaking, women and young people. For the ads, it was decided to produce a campaign song ‘with hit qualities’. The song was written by Paul Jones and Mike Shirley, and sung by media and entertainment personalities – predominantly from television and other media, popular amongst the target demographic. Shadow Minister for the Media, Senator Doug McClelland, had been a member of the Vincent Committee, set up some years earlier to investigate means of encouraging local television production. He had no difficulty securing cooperation from a range of willing participants.

In the meantime, to ‘humanise’ Whitlam, images of a ‘relaxed and friendly’ Gough were to be included in the commercials. As NCC member and NSW Campaign Director Peter Westerway set out for the Whitlam residence, armed with a photographer, he envisaged capturing Gough in ‘family man’ poses, akin to the then familiar photographs from earlier US campaigns of John F and Robert Kennedy enjoying time with their families. Westerway recalls arriving at the house, only to be met at the door by Gough dressed in a formal suit. Plan B – the Whitlams’ photo collection – was resorted to, and these are the photos intercut with the celebrity choristers in the ad. Nobody seems to have a definitive list of those who gathered on the day of the song’s recording at Supreme Sound in Sydney’s Paddington, but among them were Alison McCallum (lead singer), Bobby Limb, Dawn Lake, Jack Thompson, Little Pattie, Jacki Weaver, Barry Crocker, Col Joye, Jimmy Hannan, Judy Stone, Bert Newton, Chuck Faulkner and Kevin Sanders.

The final version of the It’s Time commercial was more effective than anyone could have anticipated. Long before Live Aid and its many progenies, and long before celebrities were in our faces 24/7, the fact that popular personalities would stand up publicly to be counted for a cause was significant. And the song they sang was significantly catchy and significantly inspiring. As well as reaching its target audience, the ad reached a far wider and probably quite unexpected segment of the electorate. The muster of stage and screen personalities – young, optimistic and very Australian – seemed, for many, to capture the mood of a nation on the threshold of rediscovering and redefining its cultural identity.


It's Time synopsis

This is the Australian Labor Party’s principal television advertisement for the 1972 federal election.


It's Time curator's notes

In the federal election of 2 December 1972, after 23 years of Liberal-Country Party government, Labor, led by Gough Whitlam, won 67 seats in the House of Representatives to the Liberal Party’s 38 and the Country Party’s 20. In hindsight, the success of the ALP election campaign – promoting a charismatic candidate to a national community ripe for change – seems self-evident. And the It’s Time television commercial is still one of the best-remembered ads in federal election history. However, while the ad was a focus of the election strategy, it was only part of a much larger and highly disciplined campaign. In his 2004 essay Modernising Menzies, Whitlam, and Australian Elections in the Australian Review of Public Affairs, Robert Crawford refers to the ‘72 campaign as being at the vanguard of contemporary electioneering practices – characterised by the primary use of electronic media, market research, opinion polls, image management and other consumer-targeted advertising and promotion techniques.

In the political domain of 1972, for this new approach to succeed, all levels of party management had firstly to agree and commit to a standardised and unified campaign. ALP party principals and members, in each of the State branches, who had previously determined election publicity based on their own judgement of the mood of the people, now had to submit to a new facet of the party machine – pollsters, advertising agents and sundry media professionals. Federal secretary Mick Young, energetic, enthusiastic and motivated as he was, had his work cut out for him. A National Campaign Committee was formed, made up of Whitlam, Young, federal publicity officer David White and each of the State branch secretaries. The NCC co-ordinated campaign planning, while ensuring there was co-operation from each of the State executives on the unity of the campaign message and the method of its delivery – right down to printed material for each individual candidate. For the advertising account, the party’s association with Hansen Rubensohn McCann Erikson (HRME) was maintained (Sim Rubensohn was a long-time Labor supporter), but Spectrum International Marketing Services was employed for additional electoral and market research.

Notes by Adrienne Parr