22 Mar 2024

Social media agency's $320k bill for National's campaign advertising

6:59 am on 22 March 2024
Collage of Christopher Luxon's TikTok account posts

National Party leader Christopher Luxon starred in a series of videos created for social media channels during the election campaign. Photo: Screenshot / Composite RNZ

The National Party spent almost $320,000 with social media agency Topham Guerin while campaigning to win the election.

Founded by former 'Young Nats' Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, the agency is known for its use of memes. It has worked on campaigns for conservative parties in Australia and the United Kingdom and been credited with helping Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison win elections.

Figures just released by the Electoral Commission which detail party expenses show almost 9 percent of National's total spend went to the agency.

Most ($212,000) was spent with the firm on "production and support" for advertisements on Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter) and Google Search. Another $107,000 was listed as being spent on "tactical advertisements" on the same platforms. A party official confirmed costs for the production of videos posted on TikTok were included in this.

Co-founder Sean Topham, who has previously said "sometimes shitty memes are effective," told the NZ Herald TikTok videos had reached 17 million people in three months leading up to election day.

Much of the simply shot TikTok content featured National Party leader Christopher Luxon and used common TikTok formats.

A "getting ready with me" post - a format popular in TikTok videos - featured Luxon deciding what to wear for a day on the campaign trail. He "cut loose" with a pink shirt, spent some time explaining the importance of having two studs on his silver fern lapel pin so it doesn't spin and opted for slip-on shoes instead of laced shoes. The video, which concluded with Luxon doing a spin for the camera in his chosen outfit and telling viewers to vote for National, received almost 225,000 views.

In another TikTok post, which has been viewed almost 200,000 times, he shared his morning skincare regime, including how he applies sunscreen to his "lovely bald dome" to avoid skin cancer.

National also spent more than $1.1m with Rainmakers, an agency which describes itself as a media expert and backed by media buying company Attivo. The expenses listed include radio, print and outdoor ads as well as digital ads run on a range of websites including Facebook, Skykiwi.co.nz, stuff.co.nz, newshub.co.nz, tvnz+, nzherald.co.nz and Google.

The party also spent $310,000 with Big on Writing for television, radio, print and outdoor ads.

National was the second biggest spender overall, spending 78 percent of what it was legally allowed to during the campaign period.

Spending limits are set each year based on a per party limit of $1,388,000 for parties which submit a party list and a per electorate candidate limit of $32,600. In addition to this, parties are given a broadcasting allocation to spend. This amount differs between parties and is set by the Electoral Commission based on votes received in the previous election.

The Labour Party was allocated $1.2m and National $1m. Labour spent almost all of its allocation, with just 34 cents left over, while National left $12,643 unspent.

Overall, Labour spent the most of all the parties at $4.8m declared, spending 96 percent of what it was allowed to spend. ACT was the third biggest spender with a total of $3.1m and the Greens and NZ First spent almost the same amount, coming in around $1.7m each.

Third party supporters

NZ First was the only elected party which had advertisements run by a third party. Non-political parties which endorse parties or candidates must receive written permission from a party before running ads endorsing them and the money spent counts towards the party's spending limit.

The S.B. Group, which lists former journalist and lobbyist Glenn Inwood as its authorised representative in details submitted to the Electoral Commission, spent $53,000 on advertisements promoting NZ First or Shane Jones.

Inwood has attended anti-vaccine 'freedom movement' events and is behind the right-wing group Resistance Kiwi. The group ran advertisements in the NZ Herald and created videos featuring Sir Graham Lowe and Lorraine Moller.

It was joined by the Natural Health Alliance, which spent $48,300 on full page advertisements in the Herald. Inwood's LinkedIn profile shows he's now a board member of the Natural Health Alliance.

Both the S.B. Group and the Natural Health Alliance campaigned for NZ First as a means to repeal the Therapeutic Products Act, which some feared might limit their access to natural health products. Winston Peters had credited himself with being instrumental in stopping similar legislation in the past.

The coalition agreement between the National and NZ First includes a condition to repeal the Therapeutic Products Act as well as conditions to end remaining vaccine mandates and launch an independent inquiry into how the Covid pandemic was handled.

Some parties have not yet submitted expense returns to the Electoral Commission. These include Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, Leighton Baker Party, New Nation Party and NewZeal. The commission says it is following up with these parties.