Is the next election heading for an ad disaster?

Both Conservative and Labour Parties Misfire With First, Feeble Efforts,” was the comment on a recent article in America’s AdAge magazine.


The two biggest parties will need to do better if they want to persuade the British public to vote for either of them.”

Even the Independent was less than impressed, “Although the Tory’s poster is about as poor a start to a general election campaign as you can get, Labour’s first poster isn’t that much better.”

Well when it comes to election marketing the Americans can teach us a few things. But if the Tories recent ad is anything to go by, the era of great British political advertising is well past. Not to say the last election produced any decent posters either.

Conservative election poster 2015

As we head for May 7th are we also heading for some all time bad ads? Based on the last few election campaigns, showing terrible strategic thinking combined with school boy jibes at the other side, I doubt any will be being voted for at D&AD.

Usually the term ‘stuck in the past’ is an insult but in this case, maybe the parties would do better to stick to the past when election campaigns were brilliant marketing rather than mediocre and middle of the road (somewhat appropriate when applied to the Tories poster).

Einstein said, Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Unless political parties shake off the current limp approach and radically reinvent the way they market themselves, we will get stick in a status quo of hung Parliaments and coalitions. I am amazed that many of the parties are still using old school thinkers – if they want to get a different result they need to take a different approach which means new thinkers.


Political parties have become pathetic in their approach to using advertising to market their pitch”.

The great days of Saatchi ads, like EDUCATION ISN’T WORKING, has passed, and been replaced by limp campaigns driven by fear driven campaign directors running poorly thought through campaigns.

“The biggest challenge of the next election is not getting people to vote for your party but getting people to vote at all!”

In fact it has been suggested that all the parties would be more effective if they pooled their ad budgets and just ran a generic campaign to encourage people to turn up and put an X in the box.

“It’s not social media that will make a difference but the national media –The Sun, Daily Mail, Express, Telegraph and the rest, because they influence the minds of millions.”

As for social media, I followed that at the last election for Brand Republic and it was less than impressive. The spoof campaigns got more followers than the parties! At best it was talking to the converted. At worse bad news does more damage than good online.

I was approached by the Labour party with the question. “Will social media make a difference?” My reply, “Yes”. But I added probably more in a bad way than good. My point was proved when Gordon Brown made a big gaff and it went viral.

Politicians can be as gullible as marketing directors when it comes to the hyped claims of social media, preferring to ignore the reality and put faith in false numbers. The number that matters is how many votes you get and how many seats.

Any party that thinks social media will tip the vote is either being sold a pup or living in Pixel Land. And don’t kid yourself that it’ll make you cool with the kids, it won’t. You can Tweet, Facebook, Instagram as much as you like but it really will make bugger all difference.

It’s what the public say that matters, and remember real world conversations account for 80-90% of influential chat, only 10% is online.

One TV debate can make or break you, the headlines will be the real influencers. To prove the point look at the gaff made by the Greens.

Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, admitted on TV (BBC Sunday Politics Show) that they would make it legal to be a member of a terrorist organization. They also would to reduce immigration restrictions and get rid of the armed forces, to be replaced with a Dad’s army!

Whatever support the Green Party may have had as environmentalists, when it comes to real world politics, they have blown all credibility. To quote one comment, “Ms Bennet needs to stop tree-hugging and face reality.”

Einstein different

 “Iain Dale’s prediction of the European election was so close to the final results that his latest predictions must be making the Tories and Lib Dem’s very uncomfortable.”

Iain Dales’ recent article in the Independent is not good reading for either the Tories or the Lib Dems. Having successfully predicted the outcome of the EU elections, he has great credibility.

The biggest threat to any of the parties is themselves not the voter.

All parties are in a state of panic, but their mistake is thinking that old ideas will win in an election that requires new thinking.


“Unless one party does something radical, innovative or inspirational they may as well save all their ad and online budget and spend it on the post election wake instead.”

Having worked for two of the three parties, and offered advice to the third, I fear that all the learnings of a 100 years of advertising will be tossed aside by committees of inexperience middle managers, to be replaced by rational, multi messaging campaigns that are more about assaulting the competition than engaging the consumer.

The simple fact is, do the political parties really understand the consumer? It’s one thing to conduct a poll or get feedback from the doorstep, but do they use the sophisticated tools of consumer psychology, NLP or many of the others? Do the understand Behavioural Economics (about me) and Ecological Economics (about we)?

Shockingly, the Lib Dems have yet to even appoint an ad agency. A bit late I think. But maybe, just maybe, the need for speed may mean they will be more focused and less bureaucratic.

Are the political parties about to launch upon us ad campaigns that will be as bland as they are? I fear so. Politics and bureaucracy go hand in hand and both are the opposite of inspiration and the enemy of innovation.

So what are the brave to do?

When in crisis, take risks. Go to the edge and be prepared to fly or fall.

The biggest risk the whole political establishment faces is the lack of anyone voting. Being brave is probably the best way to communicate to consumers that you actually have something to stand for and therefore something to vote for.

Leaders stand for something, they make their voice heard and they know how to engage with people’s fears and dreams.

Advertising is still one of the most powerful tools when used well, especially TV and outdoors. But used badly it’s as good as useless. To use the oldest quote of all, if you don’t think brave then “you’ll get the advertising (and the result) you deserve.”