The Liberals have moved to peg back Kevin Rudd's runaway lead over Tony Abbott as favoured prime minister, launching a new advertising blitz in print and television, beginning Sunday evening.
The ads highlight the Labor leader's role in a series of high-profile program and policy failures – from the carbon and mining taxes to wastage in the school halls program, and Labor's internal leadership tensions.
Liberal sources, who insist the move is not a panicked response to Mr Rudd's success in catapulting Labor back into contention, described the advertising buy as "substantial".
They said the prime-time offensive had been informed by focus group testing, which found voters were initially happy Mr Rudd had replaced Julia Gillard but that many harboured doubts about his capacity to deliver, and some regarded him as a "fake".
While the mini-campaign will consist of both positive and negative political messaging, insiders said the real "bite" of the campaign would come from reminding voters of Labor's record.
"You don't win elections just on positive advertising, it's a simple fact that tough negative advertising is more effective," one senior Liberal said.
It is understood the lion's share of the new advertising spend will go to television ads aimed at Mr Rudd's tendency to make big announcements as prime minister up to mid-2010 when his colleagues replaced him with Ms Gillard.
Fairfax Media understands the first anti-Rudd television ad features a picture of the Prime Minister's face with a positive expression, which then sours as the viewer is told of 46,000 irregular maritime arrivals under Labor, the fatal home insulation debacle, long-promised budget surpluses that became deficits, and an overall atmosphere of "chaos and dysfunction".
It concludes with the tagline: "Kevin Rudd is all talk – imagine three more years of Labor failure."
Signs of the opposition's market testing are already evident in comments of frontbenchers from Mr Abbott down.
The morning after Mr Rudd made a generally well-received economic speech to the National Press Club, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey depicted Mr Rudd as a fake, declaring that anyone who knew him personally was aware he was "full of it".
Previous attack ads featuring Mr Rudd's former colleagues complaining about his management style were criticised by some advertising experts as "amateurish and juvenile" and do not appear to have dented Mr Rudd's popularity. The most recent national polls suggest he enjoys a substantial and growing lead over Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister – a factor which has many Liberals worried, while others say it will evaporate once the election campaign begins.