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A Marketer's Perspective of why Kristina Keneally Loses Fowler

Updated: Mar 26

Fowler, nestled in Sydney's south-west, comprises of suburbs like Liverpool, Warwick Farm, Chipping Norton, and Cabramatta, among others, spanning 60 square kilometres. This electorate stands out for its rich ethnic diversity, especially as the heart of Sydney's South-east Asian community of mostly Cambodians/Khmer, Laotians, Thai and Vietnamese immigrants.

Labor's decision to nominate Kristina Keneally for its Fowler campaign in 2022 sparked considerable debate due to her apparent lack of connection to the predominantly South-east Asian community, highlighted by her last-minute attempt to bond by renting a unit in Liverpool just before the elections.The controversy escalated because voters found out the selection of Keneally, a figure with no local roots and residing over an hour away on Scotland Island in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, was picked over local candidates. The decision to choose Keneally meant disregarding Chris Hayes' (the Labor MP since 2010) endorsement of Tu Le, a community-involved local lawyer, but also alienated the electorate. The emergence of Dai Le, a respected local figure and deputy mayor of Fairfield City, as an independent candidate, underscored the demand for genuine community representation.

So was it a campaign failure on Labor's part or was it because the victorious Independent candidate executed a well planned campaign?

Understanding the Target Audience

The fallout from Keneally's candidacy offers critical lessons in political marketing and the importance of authenticity and local engagement. Voters' rejection of Keneally, despite her political stature, was a clear message against perceived inauthenticity. This episode also underscores the need for political campaigns to deeply understand and resonate with their target audience's values and concerns.

The Dangers of Misconception and Bias

The Labor party also underestimated the close ties of each member of the community. The tight-knit nature of the community, is humorously described by a Chinese saying 'when you fart, it smells for ten years.' It means word travels around and any rumours will circulate for an extensive period of time.

Cat-Thao Nguyen, author and inclusive leadership strategist, reports Keneally's candidacy highlights a broader issue with how leadership qualities are perceived and valued, challenging the notion that diversity at the leadership level is unwelcome due to biased views on leadership capabilities. The campaign's failure to appeal to the electorate's community-focused values, assuming name recognition would suffice, was a significant flaw.

A Missed Competitive Advantage

Labor held the Fowler seat since 1984 and had a competitive advantage which they squandered due to their failure in addressing the needs of their target audience (voters).

Contrastingly, Dai Le's campaign effectively addressed local issues and leveraged her Vietnamese heritage, demonstrating the power of community representation and targeted messaging. This approach, which aligns with voters' desires for candidates who understand and advocate for their specific needs, offers a blueprint for successful political engagement in diverse communities. Conequently led to Labor's fall from grace due to their arrogance and preconceived misconceptions of their audience and the overestimation of their abilities to executive whatever campaign they desired, believing the seat was a given.

Lessons Learned

Kristina Keneally's experience in Fowler serves as a reminder of the essentials for political success: authenticity, community connection, and a reflection of the electorate's diversity. These principles, if prioritised, can serve stronger bonds with voters and pave the way for meaningful political campaigns. The 2022 election episode provides valuable insights for political marketers, emphasising the critical role of genuine engagement and diversity in building trust and resonating with the electorate.


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