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Labour fails to win over female voters with their Barbie bus.

Is the latest Labour Party ‘Women to Women’ marketing initiative convincing or condescending? It certainly isn’t winning over the female voters who mainly think it’s patronising.

Harriet Harman is touring the UK in a pink battle van or “magenta bus” according to her, which is about as cool as your dad dancing in his Hawaiian shirt at a teen party.

The pink elephant in the room

Branding and political parties are much more closely aligned than people think.

Both are based on delivering clever dressings of selective truths designed to build a perception, drive a desire or solve a problem. What they truly represent however, is not based on what marketing agencies, clever creative or politicians tell people they represent.

Brands (including political parties) are defined by the meaning people place upon them.

The rise and fall of corporatism – how the big brands could swing the next election back to Labour

This week has not been a good one for HSBC, which means it’s not a good one for the Tories either as they are the party most associated with banking scandals.

HSBC, the world’s second largest bank, helped wealthy clients across the world evade hundreds of millions of pounds worth of tax via Switzerland. The list, originally exposed by the French and a whistleblower, reveals 7000 UK clients alone, plus criminals, a blood-diamond trader, associates of dictators, big businesses and many other unsavory people.

The road ahead: fear and smear or just plain hypocracy?

Back in 2010 the Labour party made campaigning very personal with attacks on Cameron, like the parody of Life on Mars featuring Cameron looking like Gene Hunt on an old Audi. Well it didn’t work, Cameron won and Labour lost badly.

So Labour has announced that this time around they are going to focus on the key issues and avoid Cameron bashing. It certainly would be good to see political advertising that sells us a benefit rather than tells us what’s wrong with everyone else.

How digital will shape political party campaigns in the 2015 election

The UK’s political parties are preparing for battle as 7 May’s General Election approaches. The propaganda machines are rumbling into action, soundbites are being crafted, posters unveiled, strategies planned and tactics devised.

It’s likely to get nasty, and many observers are keenly anticipating it.

While the Liberal Democrats form one half of the current coalition government, commentators have been quick to dismiss their relevance. It is expected that the Conservatives will be entrenched on one side and Labour on the other, notwithstanding a few peripheral factions mounting guerrilla-style incursions.

To read the whole article, first published by Marketing, click here

Does the latest political advertising get your vote?

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.”

Don’t blame the tobacco brands, blame the parents.

The recent Sun story about a
2 year old, Ardi Rizal from an Indonisia fishing village, smoking 40 a day
no doubt fuelled anti smoking groups and attacks on cigarette brands. But this
is not a case where you can blame the brands or us, the advertising industry,
as is so often the case. There is no subversive advertising to babies going on,
not even in the wildest imagination of an extreme anti smoker.

Politicians may express a desire for transparency, but when it comes to advertising…‘Rules, what rules?’

The appointment of M&C Saatchi by the Conservative Party
to steer the party’s and David Cameron’s advertising made for an intriguing
start to this year’s election campaign. The old Saatchi and Saatchi team are of
course famous for the advertisement for Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 Conservative
Party campaign, “Labour isn’t working” which
some suggest won the Tories the election.

It’s arguable whether the 2010 campaign has
produced much in the way of memorable advertising to rival that infamous piece
of work with both the Tories and Labour appearing to have resorted to spoofs
and old clichés. But how far can the parties go in the advertising battle to
win the voters?

The advertising codes of practice (known as the CAP and BCAP
rules) enforced by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) require all
advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful but MPs argued that the
codes ought not to apply to political advertising for elections.

The argument is that it is inappropriate for the ASA, as a
non-elected body, to intervene in the democratic process; that ASA rulings
would have little practical value because the complex issues involved meant
that rulings would probably be made after election day; that ASA adjudications
would come within the arena of political debate; and that party political
advertisements are always subject to a disproportionate amount of media scrutiny.

Perhaps a lot of disillusioned readers will be unsurprised
that the codes – which apply to all other advertisers – do not apply to our
politicians, but that does not mean
mistakes have not been made in the past or that no rules exist at all.

Political parties are not permitted to advertise on
television, save for the party political broadcasts. In addition the
Broadcasters’ Liaison Group produced guidelines that the parties must
adhere to. Unsurprisingly, TV
commercials have to be legal and not infringe any copyright or other
intellectual property rights and they must comply with the Ofcom broadcast codes,
but crucially, accuracy remains a matter for the parties.

In non-broadcast media and on the
internet, political ads are unrestricted and political parties are keen to get
their messages across as vocally as possible. Though the days of billboards
being plastered across the country with political advertising are probably
over, (because the rules on media owners providing free space to political parties
has been made illegal), the rise in the importance of the internet may well
outstrip the importance of the outdoor medium. As well as the party website,
all the party leaders have their own blogs and micro sites, but there is still
a risk that an edgy campaign can backfire.

The now infamous “Demon Eyes” adverts featuring Tony Blair
with fiendish eyes only appeared in three newspapers but the advertisements
were condemned by the church and the Advertising Standards Agency banned the
image. Voters claim to despise negative political advertising but it works,
especially with younger voters.

From the Tories beaming Gordon Brown billboard (itself a
rather frightening sight) with the words “I
let out 800,000 criminals early, vote for me”
to the photoshopped image of David Cameron that led
to a plethora of spoof versions, the campaigns have been hit and miss with both
voters and the parties alike. It’s perhaps not surprising that all the ads look
the same, given the similarities between the parties.

With the lack of regulation surrounding
election campaign advertising, voters can rely on little more than their own
intuition when it comes to believing the facts portrayed. A general election is
a battle ground. Under such conditions, do you think self-regulated accuracy
might sometimes take a backseat?

Palomba is a partner at Reed Smith
specialising in advertising
law and regulation and past Legal Director of the Institute of Practitioners in

Bitchy politics and a three horse race

As we head for the last 24 hours all the guns are firing against the opposition, the trouble is now each party isn’t sure who the opposition really is, it’s a three horse race, or maybe two if you read some newspaper’s comments on Brown’s blunders. Gillian Duffy has flown out of the country to escape journalist, who can blame her? There’s even a Gillian Duffy for PM group on Face book. At least no one can say it wasn’t a fun election.

Clegg it seems has the real power, both Tories and Labour need him, and even though they are trying to knock his popular vote down they know they can’t hit him too hard. In the last TV debate Brown was really gentle with him.

Clegg is certainly enjoying a popularity no liberal leader has for a while, especially with younger voters, he’s cool for kids, the ‘I agree with Nick’ slogan is a brilliant way to put Nick among the common people. He’s certainly hit a cord with youth, even my daughter asked if I was joining the Nick gathering in Trafalgar Square on Thursday (message sent via Facebook).

Even though all the parties have seen a growth in the Facebook sites over the last week, the Liberal’s have had the greatest sign up with, over 10,000 new fans and Rage, their unofficial supporter group adding over 8,000 fans. The poor Greens have added just over 500, this has not been an election for green issues.

I predicted in an earlier blog that green issues seem to have fallen off the agenda. I don’t think it’s because people don’t care, it’s just not a vote winner. Having worked for both the Tories and Labour parties I did offer the creative services of Creative Orchestra to the Greens. I’m still awaiting a reply.

The ‘We got Rage to No1′ group is certainly a new element in politics and reminds us that the British can still have fun, even if Screaming Lord Such is dead. He only got into politics because by standing as a candidate he got free post and wanted a cheap mailing campaign.

It’s also seen independent ideas like Albion’s Slap a Politician website and our Citizen Control TV campaign to get civil liberties on the agenda (www.citizen-control-tv). Check out the commercial on YouTube – hard hitting stuff. (

Leafing through all the DM on my doormat is revealing. While Facebook may be a bit of fun, face to face doorstep visits and direct mail are still very powerful weapons in swinging the floating voter your way.

You can tell how successful Clegg has been from the bitchy attacks the other parties have made at a local level. Labour’s ‘Vote LibDem, get Tories” is pathetic, it’s trying to demonise the LibDems and just makes Labour look desperate. Negative marketing is rarely effective. Their only saving grace is the ‘A future fair for all’ piece. It’s well focused on the local Labour candidate and tackles local issues.

The Lib Dem’s have picked up on the Tories ‘Time for Change’ and revamped it as ‘Britain needs real change’. Their material seemed positive and confident but then they blew it with their ‘Real Change’ mailer, a tacky version of their ‘Time for a clean up’ mailer, which was much better constructed. The tone is bad and it has lowered the pitch to the level of Labour.

Meanwhile the Tories have been pushing their ‘Time for Change’ message with no nasty attacks on the other parties. A very single minded message. To date I’ve had 14 pieces from the LibDems, 7 pieces from the Labour Party and just one from the Tories. Guess I live in an area where the Tories stand no chance, well that’s Crouch End for you. Overall, all pretty terrible as pieces of marketing communications.

The next 24 hours will see one of the most interesting elections in years with endless knocks at the door as supporters try to get that larger group of floating voters to swing their way. Thankfully I’ve already voted by post so no mad rush to the polling station at the last minute.

Does Election knocking copy work?

Misleading election leaflets, ‘Orwellian’ poster campaigns and plain, simple lies. Will negative campaigning prove a vote winner or floating-vote swinger.

When David Cameron accused Gordon Brown of negative campaigning in Labour leaflets at the TV debate, we dived straight into MESH’s real-time Experience Data to see what 1,100 floating voters from Research Now’s panel were saying.

But the study is not a poll in the usual sense, instead, MESH asked people to text whenever they see, hear or experience anything to do with one of the political parties. They tell us the party, the occasion, how it made them feel and how likely the experience made them to vote for a party. So, we pick up all voters’ experiences, whether they are checking out a debate, seeing a party poster stuck in a field or having a chat about TV news with work colleagues.

And what does it tell us?

Well, we’ve noticed a big surge in leaflet experiences. In the week of the first leaders’ debates, 6% of all floating voters’ experiences were with leaflets, compared with 11% this last week. We’re getting more texts for posters too (up from 8% to 10%). TV news and the leaders’ debates – still influential touchpoints – have slipped from 26% to 23% and 18% to 13% respectively. Following the excitement of Nick Clegg’s first TV debate performance on 15 April, politics has this week gone local.

But are the leaflets actually persuading anyone?

Actually, they are. 16% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading people to vote for them. But 32% of Labour leaflet experiences are persuading our floating voters NOT to vote for them (a net persuasiveness of -16%). Over half of all leaflet experiences (53%) are making no difference to people’s likelihood to vote Labour. On the other hand, Liberal Democrats are doing much better with their leaflets (net persuasiveness of +25%) and the Conservative are faring a bit better this week than last with theirs (+17% v +8% net persuasiveness).

What’s pushing people in one direction or the other?

Actually, their opponents’ negative campaigning in itself isn’t having the worst effect for Labour. It’s Labour’s actual record which has been negative over the last few years. Seeing a Labour leaflet is reminding our floating voters of what they’ve done wrong. One participant commented “Mr Brown has got the country into a bloody mess and I feel very negative about Labour”.

But this has been Labour’s problem right from the beginning. Negative campaigning does compound the issue, and can often rebound on the party putting out the knocking copy as one floating voter comments.

“It did annoy me as it pointed out that the Conservatives wouldn’t match the Labour Party with their two week targets for any suspected cancer patients to be seen. As most people know someone who suffers from cancer, I feel it is a cheap shot at trying to almost blackmail voters.”

In stark contrast, the positive delivery of Lib Dem leaflets was seen to positively persuade our voters, particularly at the local level.

“This was a leaflet featuring Clive Sneddon. In it he talked about increasing the tax threshold to £10k, no tuition fees for children, investing in public transport, renewable energy and energy efficient homes, and also talked about giving people the right to sack corrupt MPs. Made me feel very positive and was very no nonsense.”

The Conservatives did lots of leafleting early on but it was overkill for many. Their heavyweight poster campaign also backfired in terms of tone. Many floating voters thought putting Brown’s face on a poster with a negative line was cheap and off-putting. One participant, with a poster right outside their house, commented “the poster campaign for the Conservative party opposite my house looks positively Orwellian.” It’s important to remember context.

Traditionally, negative campaigning is used to depress the vote amongst an opponent’s weak supporters. It works less well, if at all, with floating voters.

In the UK 2010 General Election, negative campaigning isn’t working. People are looking for simple believable policies. This explains why the Liberal Democrat experiences are coming through so strongly. What remains to be seen is what all these experiences add up to.

We’ll continue to collect floating voters’ intentions each week and we’ll find out how they actually vote on 6 May. That’s when we’ll be able to correlate negative experiences to votes.

On the question of whether negative messages win votes, we’ll see. But in an end of era election like this is panning out to be, somehow we doubt it. After all, the Tory demon eyes campaign didn’t keep Blair out, did it?

Fiona Blades is Founder and CEO, MESH Planning and formerly Planning Director at Claydon Heeley.

Dr. Paul Baines is Reader in Marketing at Cranfield School of Management and Co-author (With Sir Robert Worcester and Roger Mortimore) of ‘Explaining Labour’s Landslip’ (Politico’s 2005).