Advertising Strategy

Politics shows a distinct lack of vision over advertising

It’s political campaigning season again – and that means the normal round of advertising activity. But, you know what? It’s same old (insert expletive of choice), different day. Surely it’s time for a change.

What is it with politicians and advertising? Labour’s recent attempt to crowd-source an image for their latest campaign looks like it has backfired really quite horribly (I can be slightly smug because, yes, I entered but didn’t make the cut), and the Tories’ latest offering courtesy of M&C Saatchi is conceptually no different to the classic ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster of 1979.

The problem is that all of the current party political advertising centres around negative campaigning – it appears to be far more important to point out the failings and the foibles of the opposition than to actually tell the electorate why you’re better than they are.

As a member of that electorate, a committed voter and a political animal at the best of times, I’m heartily sick of this approach. I want to vote for a party based on policies, ethics and beliefs. I want to vote for the party that best fits not only my own outlook on life, but also promises me the most hope for the future.

And there it is – the word that holds the key to the whole mess: hope. Hope. Hope. Hope.

Let’s face it, there isn’t a lot to be hopeful about right now. The economy is jittering; petrol prices are about to eat away at whatever readies people might have in their pockets thanks to minor economic uplifts; the war in Iraq/Afganistan etc rumbles on with no obvious benefit to us ‘back home’, and we’re going to drown as sea levels rise or burn to death as global temperatures soar (or maybe both – so better get a lilo and make the most of it). The ‘war on terror’ has turned certain communities against each other and inwards by telling us that there’s a potential terrorist on every corner; knife crime seems to be on the rise (again) and there’s generally bad news for young people wanting to get a job.

And on top of this, we’ve got the people who are meant to be running the country attempting to make themselves look better than the opposition by nothing better than (the easily offended might want to skip to the next paragraph) cock-wobbling. Heck – if this is such an issue just whip ’em out in the Commons and ask the Speaker to handle the measuring tape. Let’s get it over once and for all…

It’s my firm belief that the general public/electorate are ready for something different and something positive. Who really wants the country run by a person/a party who can’t think up anything more imaginative than slagging off the opposition, and in a frankly uncreative fashion as well? Who really wants to vote for a party that doesn’t advertise their policies, that doesn’t understand them as an individual, that doesn’t use the multiplicity of media spaces to connect with the individual on a personal basis? Who really wants to vote for a party whose central advertising message is ‘I’ve got a bigger one than him’?

Consider it in a different way. You’re in your office one day and need a job doing. There are two people bickering in a corner, another standing on the sidelines having a gawp, throwing coffee on the floor to trip either of them up (they’re not choosy which of the combatants they topple), and someone else getting on with their work quietly and efficiently.

You need this job doing now. It’s not very exciting, it’s only a bit of photocopying. But you need it doing right. Who do you ask? Probably the one who you’d hope would get the job done right, first time. And that’s not going to be the bickerers (who would probably do it upside down), or the coffee thrower who will dribble on your pristine pages. You see my point here; and politics is no different.

What surprises me is that the agencies let the politicians get away with this lazy work (although maybe some agencies just need to make a quick buck?). Don’t they have their finger on the pulse of the ordinary person in the street, who is probably tired of being told that the world is going to hell in an Austin Princess and would like something just a little more cheery for a change?

The other thought that occurs is that negative campaigning can’t be good for brand strategy, or for follow-through marketing. If negative campaigning only results in a diminution of the opposition, it’s only making the party concerned look better by comparison and not actually building/reinforcing their positive attributes.

“What would you like, Sir, mould or dust?” (Mould is better because penicillin comes from mould, but even so, they aren’t very attractive options – you understand my point.)

I also can’t imagine being doorstepped by a party faithful of any colour and having that aspect of my brand interaction opened with:

[Insert politician’s name] “has no idea and will take us back to the dark ages. Now will you vote for us?”

I’d expect the door-stepper to make me feel better about the future after hearing their scripted sales pitch. Not depressed about the whole bloody mess to the point of apathy. So why are poster sites so different?

Unfortunately, Labour’s crowd-sourcing tactics only brought out the same, tired, negative campaigning (although there was one really nice positive poster which I now can’t find anywhere). That being said, the brief was typical of a political organisation, encouraging creatives to churn out more of this stuff. Yes, some of the results were very nicely Mac’ed up, and a couple had some decent word-play, but they were the same old same, which is exactly what Labour wanted anyway because they, like the others, can’t tackle the more difficult task of positive campaigning.

Another interesting snippet is that Paul Bainsfair was quoted in the Guardian (online 02/04/10):

“People are saying: ‘At last – a party than can be funny…’” I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my political parties to be “funny”. I want them to run the country, protect me and my interests and be open/honest etc. Foreign policy probably isn’t funny, nor is running the economy. I can’t see Eddie Izzard directing troops or Hugh Laurie delivering a budget. More’s the pity…

Please, politicians, have some imagination. If that’s not an oxymoron. And if you can’t, employ someone that does. Someone who actually gives a damn about your party and is willing to suffer hours of brain ache to make something surprising and positive, rather than taking the quick buck and rolling out a measuring tape…

And on one final point, Labour’s own website naturally carries the tale of the new poster’s creation. The Milliband brothers talk about how they will take their message to the ‘young voters’, which is presumably where this effort fits into the mix.

But who are these young voters, exactly? Read down the page and you’ll discover that they are focusing on the under 25s, who were born (at the earliest) in 1985. Being born in 1982 myself, I have to wonder how many of these ‘young voters’ actually remember the political spectrum of the 1980s. Granted, they might remember the various fallouts which ricochetted well into the 1990s, as I do. But I’ll bet that they don’t remember the complex machinations which covered the news, aside from maybe when Maggie was ousted from No 10 (that incident being a particularly good one for iconic imagery).

So, to focus on this demographic with a poster which refers to events that happened before they were even at school is a little misguided. Who really knows what goes on before we ourselves take an active interest? And, if we weren’t there, who is best to believe? I doubt that all of the people in this age group will take the time to read all of their source material and make their own minds up – so who will they listen to? I’ll wager it isn’t the politicians.

Therefore I wonder if this was a poster commissioned by those who became politically active in the 80s, for those who lived through the political 80s (not the 80s of Super Ted, He-Man and The Broom Cupboard as I and the rest of the ‘youth vote’ did). Not, in that case, the ‘youth vote’, so to mix the two is more than a little misleading…

Rant over, for today…

(If anyone’s interested, here’s a couple of the thoughts I had for the Labour campaign. No, they’re not Mac’ed up beautifully, I admit that. But I thought I’d share them, else run the risk of running down the other offerings without being able to back it up with my own efforts.

Oops – did that sound like political advertising? Anyway, here they are…)

We believe concept - Copyright NEIL HOPKINS

We Believe concept for Labour's crowd-sourcing competition

Real Politics concept - Copyright NEIL HOPKINS

Keeping it Real

You Matter concept - copyright NEIL HOPKINS

You Matter concept

Not perfect concept - copyright NEIL HOPKINS

Not Perfect concept

Believe in You concept - copyright NEIL HOPKINS

We believe in you

What are you voting or concept - copyright NEIL HOPKINS

What are you voting for?


4 thoughts on “Politics shows a distinct lack of vision over advertising

  1. Excellent post. Top work. You’re quite right in saying there’s far too much focus on negativity when it comes to political advertising and surprisingly enough it’s the more questionable parties (ie, the BNP) who are advertising in a more positive way although they’re trying to appeal to a more (shall we say niche?) demographic.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Politics shows a distinct lack of vision over advertising « Interacter's Blog --

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