by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: KMT

The DPP’s Attempts to Attract Activist Youth

RECENT CAMPAIGN ads by Chu and Tsai are revealing of the priorities of the KMT and DPP in the current presidential election. In examining these ads, we can point to how both parties are aiming at appealing to certain target demographics.

Seeing as Tsai is aiming to come to power with the support of Taiwanese civil society, a December 29th ad entitled “Walking with Children” is a case in point. The ad, which is quite artsy, is probably targeted at Taiwanese civil society and activists, in which interest in aesthetics and politics quite often overlaps. The ad, which consists of different vignettes of Taiwan in freeze frame or slow motion, suggests that progress in Taiwan has halted—hence the slow motion images of Taiwan. The call of the ad would be for the resumption of progress.

Tsai Ing-Wen’s “Walking with Children” campaign ad

But what is noteworthy is the incredible density of “Walking with Children” ad in referencing the different issues which were of concern to Taiwanese civil society in the last year, including abandoned animals, forced housing evictions in Dapu, Miaoli, the campaign to remove Chiang Kai-Shek statues from high school and college campuses, “new immigrants” from Southeast Asia, and marriage equality. The ad also seems to visually cite the film Kano several times with shots of baseball, in regards to the ad’s call for overcoming political and ethnic divisions to work together for the sake of bettering Taiwan. Tsai herself only appears in the ad near the very end, with a brief shot of her playing together with children.

Indeed, many recent DPP ads are targeted at youth, with calls for young voters to take control of their future through voting. Two recent ads, which seem to be targeting young women who have newly become able to vote, are further cases in point.

The KMT’s Failed Attempts to Attract Youth

THE KMT has also made attempts at appealing to young people, but with far less success. The KMT seems to be hoping to allay the image of itself as aging and incapable of youth appeal. But this has backfired several times. First, the KMT’s attempts to show itself as capable of youth appeal and something other than a “boring” political party has quite often involved videos showing mass rallies with young people dancing publicly at them. But this has only just come off as strangely cult-like in nature. Likewise, a recent attempt to create a Internet meme that self-deprecatingly poked fun of Chu’s balding forehead was instead seized upon to mock the KMT. Worse of all yet may be a video ad showing Chu dancing with two children with bowl-cuts, as if on a children’s television show and a “China doll” image, if there ever was one. This was also popularly mocked as yet another example of ill-thought out KMT advertising.

The recent KMT ad featuring Eric Chu dancing with children

KMT advertising this election cycle is far less aesthetically well designed than Tsai’s advertising. This may be of surprise, given how much more financial resources the KMT has than the DPP. But certainly a factor in the DPP’s effectiveness in advertising would be the artists from civil society it drew into itself before the election.

It is of note that the more serious of KMT advertising for this election to date has been divided between two target audience. Some KMT ads have also called for ethnic and social harmony, much like the DPP’s campaign ads have done in the present. An ad released on December 25th goes out of its way to highlight KMT support from young and old alike, men and women, Indigenous, and features Chu speaking in Taiwanese. Nevertheless, other ads have focused upon appealing to the KMT’s “deep blue” constituency, as we see with an ad touting Hung Hsiu-Chu’s support for Eric Chu in spite of her removal as presidential candidate of the KMT or ads which feature only clean-cut Han families to the exclusion of anything else. Another recent ad took the opposite tack to Tsai’s attempts to appeal to youth in focusing upon adults, suggesting that the “adults” of the KMT have merely tried to do what is best for the country but are being unfairly singled out by young people.

The KMT’s December 25th ad

It would be that the KMT is attempting to appeal to multiple target audiences, hence more accommodating advertising calling for ethnic and social harmony as well as more hardline advertising which seems aimed at “deep blue” audiences. This may be reflective of the split within KMT supporters between “deep blue” and lighter shades of the pan-blue ideological spectrum at present, but that the party needs to appeal to all of these different demographics in order to preserve party unity. The greater coherency of the DPP’s advertising reflects that the DPP does not have this need to target different ideological shades within its voter demographic.

Conclusion: A Battle of Images

IN THE END, however, if the DPP has proven clearly better than the KMT at advertising, is this actually reflective of anything? If the KMT’s advertising is far from coherent, this is indicative of the disorganization of and internal splits within the party at present. Yet neither is the more coherent visual aesthetic and better messaging of recent DPP ads than KMT ads indicative of any real concrete social program by the DPP more progressive than that of the KMT.

As with recent presidential debates, the battle between KMT and DPP in the realm of advertising is also largely superficial in nature, with little discussion of any concrete policy proposals. Rather both parties are trading off of images here, just one more successfully than the other. Perhaps this is indicative of something about the election more broadly, that it largely has consisted of trading off images without any actual concreteness of social vision.

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