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Strike first, and repeat

Widespread praise for the Government’s Wellbeing Budget shows the power of not leaving it to others to define your position or product.

This Budget was named the “Wellbeing” Budget many months ago. The name and terminology was used by the Government as a label, an outcome, and a rationale for everything connected to it.

The result has been that everyone else has also used the term; particularly the media, but also commentators, critics and even sections of the public (the quarter who pay attention).

The genius of this approach became more valuable than the Government could have imagined. The Budget had one of the worst pre-release weeks of any New Zealand Budget. Major components were leaked, Treasury and the Minister claimed “hacking” (which were actually web searche) and the mother and child depicted on the cover had returned to Australia because New Zealand was too expensive.

Yet, on release day, the ‘wellbeing’ frame, along with the claim that it was some sort of new model for Budgets, overrode the mess. It focused all commentators on social and health expenditure. Even the complaints were of the “wish there was more” variety.

Another success of the wellbeing frame was that it killed off the tradition whereby other people get to ‘name’ the Budget. There was the Black Budget (1958), the Mother of All Budgets (1990) and the Chewing Gum Budget (2005). Not this time. “Wellbeing” had been repeated so often that it stuck.

Yes, what was in the Budget matters. But how people think about it, even the critics, was set first by single apt phrase, repeated often. It’s a simple lesson to learn.

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