A group of celebrities, led by Alison McCallum, sing the ALP It’s Time song for the 1972 federal election campaign.
In the 1969 federal election, the defeated ALP, led by Gough Whitlam, had nonetheless gained 15 seats. But key sections of the party were far from complacent about the outcome of the election to follow in 1972. The need for a well-managed campaign with a coordinated approach was recognised. Pre-campaign market research revealed that Whitlam’s image required ‘humanising’. Women in particular found him ‘cold’, ‘distant’ and not enough of a ‘bloke’. Margaret Whitlam was virtually unknown to the public.
Creative Director of Hansen Rubensohn McCann Erikson, Paul Jones, conceived the phrase ‘It’s Time’ and a three-stage campaign was developed around the slogan. In the first stage the slogan was popularised. The television commercials were part of the second stage. They were aimed at sections of the community identified in focus groups as elusive – broadly speaking, women and young people. For the ads, it was decided to produce a campaign song ‘with hit qualities’. The song was written by Paul Jones and Mike Shirley, and sung by media and entertainment personalities – predominantly from television and other media, popular amongst the target demographic. Shadow Minister for the Media, Senator Doug McClelland, had been a member of the Vincent Committee, set up some years earlier to investigate means of encouraging local television production. He had no difficulty securing cooperation from a range of willing participants.
In the meantime, to ‘humanise’ Whitlam, images of a ‘relaxed and friendly’ Gough were to be included in the commercials. As NCC member and NSW Campaign Director Peter Westerway set out for the Whitlam residence, armed with a photographer, he envisaged capturing Gough in ‘family man’ poses, akin to the then familiar photographs from earlier US campaigns of John F and Robert Kennedy enjoying time with their families. Westerway recalls arriving at the house, only to be met at the door by Gough dressed in a formal suit. Plan B – the Whitlams’ photo collection – was resorted to, and these are the photos intercut with the celebrity choristers in the ad. Nobody seems to have a definitive list of those who gathered on the day of the song’s recording at Supreme Sound in Sydney’s Paddington, but among them were Alison McCallum (lead singer), Bobby Limb, Dawn Lake, Jack Thompson, Little Pattie, Jacki Weaver, Barry Crocker, Col Joye, Jimmy Hannan, Judy Stone, Bert Newton, Chuck Faulkner and Kevin Sanders.
The final version of the It’s Time commercial was more effective than anyone could have anticipated. Long before Live Aid and its many progenies, and long before celebrities were in our faces 24/7, the fact that popular personalities would stand up publicly to be counted for a cause was significant. And the song they sang was significantly catchy and significantly inspiring. As well as reaching its target audience, the ad reached a far wider and probably quite unexpected segment of the electorate. The muster of stage and screen personalities – young, optimistic and very Australian – seemed, for many, to capture the mood of a nation on the threshold of rediscovering and redefining its cultural identity.