Millions spent on failing ad campaigns: audit

The government’s $210 million advertising spend has come under scrutiny in a new audit that questions administration and spending decisions across key campaigns.

Millions of taxpayer dollars were injected into failing advertising campaigns despite the government knowing they were duds, the audit reveals.

The audit from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) last week found that two campaigns spruiking the thwarted National Energy Guarantee (NEG) and another encouraging young women to exercise cost millions despite knowledge of their shortcomings.

Both campaigns had a million-dollar ad spray despite misgivings about their effectiveness.

$11m ad spray on failing campaign

A $27.2 million campaign touting the government’s thwarted National Energy Guarantee ahead of the election cost millions of taxpayer dollars despite the government knowing it was failing KPIs.

The audit found that $11 million in taxpayer dollars were spent on the Powering Forward campaign, which promised ‘a better energy future for Australia,’ despite the department’s knowledge of its shortcomings.

“Environment nonetheless conducted a fourth phase at a cost of $4 million (including GST). After receiving an evaluation that Phase 4 of the campaign struggled to engage the audience, Environment conducted a fifth phase at a cost of $11 million (including GST) without documenting whether this represented a proper use of public resource,” the audit said.

Justification for the campaign was not “clear-cut,” the audit found, with millions put into the campaign despite successive evaluation reports finding the campaign was not working.

The probe also found the justification for the production of thousands of brochures promoting the NEG which included campaign imagery and messages without authorising statements is “unclear.”

The accuracy of a number of campaign messages could also not be verified in the audit by the department, who couldn’t demonstrate “a clear line of sight” between statements and sources.

$6 million ad blitz on physical activity

Another campaign aimed at improving physical activity in young women spent $6 million despite clear-cut evidence that it was unlikely to change levels of physical activity in the short-term.

The campaign from the Department of Health, which aimed to boost uptake of exercise in young women, had millions splashed on it despite repeated concerns it was ineffective.

Evaluation reports found high reach but “little evidence” the campaign was impacting activity levels.

“Phase 3 was undertaken at a cost of $6 million, notwithstanding evaluations indicating that the campaign was unlikely to change behaviour in the short term,” the audit said.

Government spending in doubt

The audit also raised serious concerns about the framework governing advertising spending, saying that it’s “ineffective” in achieving its purpose of “building confidence” and public trust.

Instead, the current framework is riddled with “shortcomings,” such as non-mandatory guidelines and the failure of third party compliance.

Annual reporting on spending is also incomplete and information relating to government approved campaign budgets is discretionary, according to the audit.

A radical shake-up of advertising standards is required, the audit argues, to restore public trust in campaign spending.

“Transparency and accountability to Parliament would be improved if all related advertising costs and GST were included in the total annual figures reported by Finance, and if approved campaign budgets were reported as soon as possible after launching a new campaign or phase.”

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