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What’s with Dave’s new poster?

The latest Tory ‘creative’ depicts David Cameron – reportage-style, shirtsleeves up and a definite lack of airbrushing – accompanied by the booming caption: ‘Let’s cut benefits for those who refuse to work.’ So much for the ‘Big Society’, showcased last week, it doesn’t even seem to be worth backing up with marketing spend.



We learn today that some Tories think the ‘Big Society’ idea is ‘bollocks’ and failing to work on the doorsteps. Harping on about benefit scroungers is said to give the grassroots something to get their juices going. Whatever you think about it, surely it was by far the most complete theme to come out of the three manifestos? But despite this, Cameron ditched it for Thursday’s TV debate and has lurched to the right with these new posters.





Attacks on Brown have been postponed too; earlier in the week the latest Tory election broadcast was changed at the last minute to a plea on avoiding a hung parliament.



It is all very confusing but then life must be increasing confusing for the Tories of late. Campaigning on a change platform only to be usurped on this by the Liberal Democrats has caused panic, you only have to look at all the bile coming out of the right-wing press about Nick Clegg to see that these people are seriously rattled.



All this flip-flopping simply means the Tories’ key message – if there is one – is weakened.



Meanwhile, Gordon Brown,who according to most polls is languishing in third place,is being urged to move away from his economic focus message, but at this late stage he would be wise to ignore this



Side issue but is this latest Tory poster campaign the work of ‘attack agency’ M&C Saatchi? If so I think it’s money for old rope, as I’m sure the bright young things at CCHQ could have knocked this up on their laptops.



But I suppose money’s not an issue thanks to Lord Cashcroft, sorry I mean Ashcroft.

Two horse race

According to a study by the Universite Pierre et Marie Curie, published just last week, the human brain is fundamentally unable to cope with three things at once; the maximum extent of our multi-tasking ability is to handle just two at a time. The study reports that the Medial Prefrontal Cortex (MPC) – the part of our brain that drives our behaviour based on the value of rewards – is where the restriction lies. In multiple choice situations the MPC divides itself in two, each half dealing with one choice. But it cannot divide into more than two, so any choice between three or more things needs to be simplified before it can be made.

It seems to me that theory is backed up by what we observe in the competitive world of brands. Coke vs. Pepsi. McDonalds vs. Burger King. PC vs. Mac. Even in those categories where there are clearly more than just two choices, do we not always whittle down to a shortlist of two before deciding? And are there any major product or service groups where the market allows the sustained presence of a choice between a definite three?

Except in our politics. Here (in England at least, and with no disrespect intended to the fringe parties) we are asked to choose from three. And our brains can’t cope with that.

So here’s what’s so smart about the Liberal Democrat strategy for this election: the problem they have astutely acknowledged is that being the third party in a three party choice will always discount them from true consideration in most people’s minds as they follow their neurological obligation to rationalise their choice to two. So the solution they have elegantly proposed is to force the rationalisation of the choice, on behalf of the electorate, in a bold and different way. What Nick Clegg achieved at the Leader’s Debate was to position Labour and The Conservatives not as a choice of two, but of one. He successfully made them feel the same. He didn’t challenge or criticise either one of them, he challenged and criticised them both. He referred to them as the “old” parties, grouping them together at every opportunity and laying blame for failure at their collective feet. After the Chancellor’s Debate a few weeks ago, there were some who felt that Vince Cable had taken a significant advantage from being stood in the middle of the other two. It had allowed him mediate and to balance, it was said. But in Nick Clegg’s case his position at the edge was his advantage. He deliberately stood apart from his competition and forced them closer together, alloying them into one. He turned the choice from the humanly unmanageable three parties, to a cortex-friendly two: the old one (Labservatives), or the new.

As the next phase of this election unfolds the Liberal Democrats would be wise to stand by this approach. And Labour and The Conservatives must beware: should they unite to attack this new threat? Or does that just play to the Lib Dems hand by making them appear even more the same?

Their medial prefrontal cortices must be hurting a bit right now.


Jim Prior is CEO of The Partners

http://www.the-partners.com

http://www.thecrossedcow.com

Follow @Jim_Prior on Twitter

Tory campaign "most inept… in living memory"

As the media attempts to canonise Nick Clegg, things are going from bad to worse for the Tories as Bell Pottinger chairman Peter Bingle calls the party’s election campaign the most inept in “living memory” in a leaked memo.

Can we stop a minute and take someone temperature? The Sunday Times went bonkers at the weekend (I mean literally) with its frothy front page headline “Nick Clegg nearly as popular as Winston Churchill”. One world war and one TV debate naturally being the exact same thing.

Worse than that it then confounded this piece of bad journalism by referring to this screamer again today saying that Clegg was in the “surprising position of having to talk down headlines that put his popularity on a par with Churchill” (without pointing out it was the culprit behind the headlines).

At the moment no one knows what the Lib Dem poll surge means. They today stand on 33% compared to the Tory’s 32% and Labour’s 26%, but the key question is will it last and translate to anything significant that will boost the party’s presence in the House of Commons much beyond its current 62 seats?

It appears likely that this figure will rise and it looks like it will hit the Tories hard. They are panicking and attacking Clegg (soft on crime/immigration et cetera) and warning that voting for the Lib Dems could keep Gordon Brown in power and the Tories out for a very long time.

Nick Clegg - time up for the Tories?

Maybe a permanent social democratic Lib Lab pact is our electoral future. How bad would that be to do a deal with Clegg? He was at one stage viewed described as a Cameron clone. They are both products of wealthy families, private education (Eton and Westminster) and Oxbridge. Clegg, however, caught a lucky break in that his public school education wasn’t as Dominic Lawson pointed out a “four-letter word”.

The rise of Clegg and the danger it represents to the Tories has led Peter Bingle the chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs and a lifelong Tory supporter, to write a withering memo attacking Tory campaign strategy and labelling the campaign inept, which has been reported by PR Week (although he didn’t mention their ad agency Euro RSCG’s role in all of this. Phew).

“This is the most inept Tory campaign in living memory. I know there have been some dud campaigns in the past. William Hague’s was pretty awful but in a way it didn’t really matter. Nobody believed he was going to win the election.”

Bingle claimed that the televised debates may well have cost the Conservative Party the election.

“The decision to agree to the televised debates may well have cost the Tory Party the election. It has elevated Nick Clegg from nowhere to equal footing with the PM and David Cameron. Whichever adviser or guru advised David Cameron to take part made a terrible mistake.”

The manifesto came off no better. He said there didn’t “appear to be any strategy” and that “the ‘big society’ idea has come and now disappeared”. At least there was all that stuff about sharing power…borrowed from Labour’s 1997 manifesto.

Bingle has form in this area. He previously sent an email that described the Tory election campaign as “shambolic”. That was last month, today’s memo goes much further and warns that if Cameron does not win the Tories could be permanently shutout of power.

“The stakes are now very high. If David Cameron does not become PM on 6/7th May the electoral system will be changed. The first past the post system will be abolished and there will not be a Tory government for a very long time if ever again. Perhaps John Major will go down in history as the last Tory PM.”

Here’s hoping his prediction comes true we are well passed the point where change to the way we are governed is needed.

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The Sun uses digital outdoor ahead of first leaders’ debate

Outdoor media owner JCDecaux is running a digital outdoor ad for the The
Sun in Manchester ahead of the first election debate on ITV this
evening.

The ad is being displayed on the Transvision screens at Manchester Piccadilly station and uses the tagline “May the best Manchester win”.

The Sun aligned itself with the Conservative Party on the day of Gordon Brown’s keynote speech at the Labour Conference last year and the copy shows Gordon Brown walking under a “Way out” sign.

Conversely, the Conservative leader is pictured with Westminster in the background.

Let the battle commence.

Will the TV leader debates change us?

Will it be historic? Will it be more than quips and point scoring? Millions are expected to tune in tonight and Twitter will light up as the three leaders prepare to debate on ITV in the first of the TV debates.

With audience predictions of between 12 and 20 million tonight could be a huge moment in British politics at a time when trust an enthusiasm for the process is at a low ebb.

The large audience could still turn it around for one party in what is the closest election for a generation. What is it going to mean for Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats? He is the unknown in here like Vince Cable in the debate of the chancellors.

David Cameron has been complaining about the strict rules imposed, which is as pointed out in The Guardian odd as his team helped draft them. He is after all our friend and wants to empower us all.

The Americans must wonder why we have waited so long to do this. They have had televised debates on air since 1976 ( a long gap between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960) giving us sound bites galore including the oft quoted riposte made by Lloyd Bentsen to Republican vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle.

The debate comes at a time in the campaign when the main political parties face what The Times called “a wall of public antipathy amid a tightening race”.

And it is a tight race. With every poll that comes the Tory lead appears to be slipping representing itself on the periodical table as an unstable political element that allows no concrete predictions.

Just a day after Cameron launched the Conservative party manifesto, full of his party’s big ideas, his lead slip again. That must be depressing. With one poll showing the Tory lead down to just 3% other polls also show a fall for the Tories putting them on an average of 37% and Labour on 31%. The Tories need a 10 to 11% lead to ensure a slim victory.

Maybe that has something to do with what Simon Heffer wrote in the Daily Telegraph yesterday. He had no kind words for Cameron and raised Tony Blair’s image to haunt the Tory leader.

Heffer said all Cameron’s talk of sharing power were things we had seen before in another party’s manifesto. Guess which? “The heir to Blair, in his long-winded speech at the launch yesterday to introduce his long-winded manifesto, confirmed that the shade of the last prime minister will hang over our country after May 6. All the talk of people power, cleaning up politics, bringing prosperity – it’s all in the 1997 manifesto: the Labour one.”

The Times said that its Populus poll revealed “deep disenchantment with the campaign” so far and high levels of “scepticism about manifesto pledges and the parties’ honesty”.

How will that translate onto television and beyond as many of us will not be watching alone. We will watch with friends and family from the couch and will interact across social media on Twitter and Facebook.

The Conservatives are organising parties following last month’s effort to watch David Cameron’s interview with ITV’s Trevor McDonald and this time using Twitter and Facebook on a more organised basis.

The level of tweeting is expected to be high and will likely far exceed the hour-long chancellors’ debate last month where more than 11,000 tweets were sent as two million tuned in.

Social media could influence and shape how we interpret what we see on the screen. The social elements of these debates make them as unpredictable as the polls themselves. ITV will display live sentiment tracking from a select sample of people and Facebook has invited its 23 million UK users to take part in a dial test with a simple like and dislike meter on its Democracy UK page and rate it minute-by-minute.

But no matter all the talk about social media this is more a media election in the UK (as it was in the US). The tweeting has been furious, virals and spoofs have been flowing, but I have a real sense that little of this Twitter permeates much beyond the political and media classes.

There hasn’t been that break through as there was in the US where it exploded with Barack Obama and that isn’t a failure of social media it is I think a reflection on the race. The candidate isn’t there.

Cameron Blair lite or not has failed to excite the public as the former Labour leader did as he stormed to a historic landslide victory in 1997 and again in 2001. Maybe the last time that election politics could excite the public before long wars and scandals jaded many.

It all points increasingly to hung parliament, which really wasn’t meant to happen for Cameron who at one stage looked like he would walk it. It doesn’t look like he will be walking anywhere including across the House to the government benches.

But that was before tonight. Maybe his fortunes will alter. The Times puts it likes this:”TV debate can put Cameron in No 10 or sink him – and he knows it”. Maybe he will fill in the economic blanks in the Tory manifestos. Maybe Brown will shine in front of the cameras buoyed by the leading economists who have today given them backing over Cameron. Either way a few minds might be made up in these coming debates.

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Social networking or toilet wall graffiti, which election marketing strategy generates more chat?

Does anyone
take any notice of the political ads other than the press? In a debate
several years ago Tim Bell was asked if political ads really made a
difference, his answer was more “no” than “yes”, citing the press as
the main influence.
But then the ads were smarter then, now they are just plain dumb.

Labour’s
recent poster, a Gene Hunt attack on Cameron has been slammed in the
press and seen as an own goal as it makes Cameron look good – less of a
toff and tough on crime. Labour have done something the Tories agency
haven’t managed to do – created an ad that makes you feel good about
Cameron if you didn’t before. By contrast, many of the dirty ads just
make you feel negative towards those attacking others, like nasty
little school kids.

This campaign has started off on
the level of toilet graffiti.
SOCIAL MEDIA OR SOCIAL SUICIDE?
Now of course we have a wider range of channels to use to get to the
floating voter than Thatcher or Blair had when he first ran. And even
if the average MP doesn’t live on the web they know it’s important to
be seen there. Of course many have been writing Twitters and blogs for
a while (well their aids and PR agencies have at least). At the moment
the big buzz word is ‘social networking’, the idea that you can
influence millions of voters via a Twitter, blog, email or a Facebook
site. No one can say politicians don’t have ambitious dreams.

Why
settle for a page in the Sun (read by over 3 million) when you can have
viral on YouTube watched by 100,000 sad and lonely people who spend
their evenings on their PC.
The Tories have just launched an email campaign (sorry online junk mail
campaign) inviting people to join the government of Britain. They say
the viral nature of email means it could hit millions of in-boxes
within days or millions, or the delete button in seconds. Sorry but
they are talking to the converted not those they need to convert. Of
course if you want to hit millions just go on Radio 4, BBC, ITV,
Channel 4 or 5 or get in the tabloids. Why use the world’s most hated
medium (spam emails) when you can use a medium people pay for and love
and actually listen to?

A
case of micro marketing vs mass marketing ?
I was reading the usual hype from a political PRO about the power of
the web to convey the party message, how you can target young and older
voters, how you can tailor your message to just a few people. Yep,
that’s true in theory, but there’s two problems. No one looks at the
ads on the web, hence the very low response rates (opps, we aren’t
suppose to say that in case clients read this stuff. Two, targeting is
just 10% of the effect, 90% lies in the execution and at the moment the
parties are just slagging each other off.

One speaker on the BBC commented on the fact the media are quick to
report new media ideas but have ignored the millions of pieces of
direct mail that are going out and may well have far more influence
upon normal householders than the web will. Direct mail as an ad medium
still out performs, in may cases, the web in response rates. And it
tends to hang around a lot longer.
As much as there are those claiming this election will be won or lost
on the web, there are those that question that. Obama may well have
embraced social media, but where did most Americans see it – on their
PC or the TV? Social media can be a great PR vehicle, make a funny
viral and you get on prime time TV news.

Given the fact that a report in AdAge claimed 4 out of
5 clients in the US think social media is not as an effective marketing
tool as it’s claimed (the bubble has burst) but a good PR add on, is
interesting. It’s a great tool if you can use it, but the trouble is
it’s usually most effective when used by consumers rather than brands.
Especially when they want to bring you down!
As politicians jump on the new media bandwagon many may well wish for
the good old days when the biggest worry was what the journalists say,
at least there were a limited number you could wine and dine.

Now
there’s an army of amateurs all armed with a voice, from bloggers,
Twitterers to those just those using other social networks to pass
comment, opinion and dirt. The idea of politicians writing a blog or
Twitter may seem cool and contemporary until they write something you
wished they hadn’t, as several have discovered. Stuart MacLennan, a
Scottish Labour candidate, came out with the classic description of
elderly voters as “coffin dodger”. Labour have now appointed Scottish
Secretary Jim Murphy as their Twitter czar. The fact is, we are more
interested in the gaffs than the gushing words about how great leader X
is. A nightmare for the public relations team. But long after the
election MacLennan’s rather humorous phrase will be on chat shows and
quoted on Question Time for decades to come.

FACE TO FACE ON FACEBOOK
Of course the three leaders have been forced to face each other on TV
and the radio as well as facing voters questions put forward on
Facebook and YouTube. Voters can select a category, Economy; Health
& Education; Law & Order; Foreign Policy; and Miscellaneous,
and post a question. These will be displayed and voted on, the best
being asked. The leaders can then reply by video, so allowing their
advisors to spin any answer they think fit. Hardly the spontaneous
answers you get when the public ask tough questions on Question Time or
Radio 4’s Any Answers. Despite Facebook’s Richard Allan claiming he was
changing the face of politics, it all sounds like it’ll be better for
PR rather than democracy.

The trouble with a lot of the political party’s attempt
to embrace social media is it feels a bit like having you dad at a
disco. Common sense would also tell you that the only person who is
going to bother reading a blog or Twitter by a politician has to be a
very loyal supporter, so is going to vote for you anyway. The Tories
recent email campaign only went to supporters.
WINNING OVER THE FIRST TIME VOTERS
My own two kids and their friends are all first time voters and still
remain undecided but I can tell you that none will be bothering to
follow any politician blogs or Twitters.

In
fact they are quick to comment that none of their friends follow
Twitter anymore, “it was a short lived fad, you have to be sad to
follow one.” Yes they spend time on Facebook, but not on brand’s fan
pages but talking to friends about almost anything but politics. Unless
they mess up.
This generation of first time voters may not be forming their opinions
from party political broadcasts, emails or social media sites but from
traditional media, the TV and newspapers. Yep, the main media still
swings the vote. They way to get kids talking is to get the story in
the press. That generates chat that spills over into world of word of
mouth. But be warned, it’s short lived, there’s always another more
fun, weird, celebrity story out there. They may well debate and discuss
relevant issues, but it seems the game is a PR one.

Like
so many successful virals, websites and the alike, PR is what has
really driven people to want to view.
But that is not to dismiss the web and social networking, it could have
a major influence upon the election in a nasty way. One slip, one gaff,
a careless word or look captured on a phone can circulate the web in a
few hours and discredit a politician. Never have politicians had to be
so careful, as MacLennan discovered.
Add to that, the ease with which false videos, quotes or stories can be
put about (with no way to regulate them) either for fun or malice, must
make it hard to sleep at night for many party press officers. ‘Web
Terrorism’ only requires a cheap laptop and Photoshop or a video
editing programme to cause havoc.

And
even a fun mash up can make people feel differently about a candidate.
Political ridicule through cartoons and shows like the old Spitting
Image has an effect.
So this time it may be less about the winning and more about the losing
of credibility.
PEOPLE OR POLICIES?
Politics is no longer polar, all parties are in the middle so as much
as the Tories are calling for change, how many of use think there’ll be
any serious change? As much as politicians think it’s all about
policies, how many of use will vote just the guy we trust?
This looks like another presidential style election, even more so than
Blair made it when he got in. This election, could just as well be won
on personality rather than policies.

Cameron
has already employed Obamas team of advisors, including Anita Dunn on
how to look, act, walk and even hold a podium, “place hands firmly on
its edges and look straight at the peopel like you mean business.”
From a marketing perspective, consumers are simple in their actions and
will buy on emotion above logic almost every time. The three biggest
things we spend on are emotional not rational purchases – homes, cars
and holidays. The messages from the parties are just making a lot of
noise and confusion, which consumers will avoid, leaving them to decide
emotionally which is why the TV debates could be so key. One of the big
mistakes too many clients make is to think selling is all about a
logical argument. Kissing babies and visiting small bakeries makes
people feel good about you – in a recent report about what makes
advertising effective, simply making people feel good was the number
one most effective strategy. In fact you can even remove the messaging
and it still works (think Cadbury Gorilla and Sony Balls).

When it comes to voting day consumers will not be
thinking logically, they be feeling instead. Crime, who do I feel I
trust to protect me? Economy, who do I feel I can trust to run it?
Immigration, who can I trust…It’s all about who you FEEL you trust. The
fact so many business leaders have got behind the Tories leaves you
with feeling that if they trust them you can. No need to read any
manifesto or debate the details. IF IN DOUBT…
Of course where the web may well be a winner for the undecided is Vote
Match ( http://www.votematch.org.uk ). It’s a simple to use site that
allows you to match your values and interests to the party who
represents them best. Just like a dating site. So now I know who to
vote for I can ignore all those emails, door drops, broadcasts and
Facebook debates. And if it’s all those live debates are too boring
then try the Slapometer and slap a politician (created by Albion)
(www.slapometer.com ) Brilliant!

Forget the new media election, to take power you need to go direct

The televised leader debates, social media, the ‘e-election’ and the war being fought via attack-dog 96-sheets may have the PR machine working overtime, but this election will be won and lost by a much more significant, if less sexy, marketing strategy.

Direct Mail is the crucial element in every party’s campaigning arsenal. Whether it’s the endless rounds of door knocking required of the party faithful or highly-targeted missives sent to bought lists of key demographics via the postal system, print paraphernalia dropping through people’s doors is vital and all the parties know it.

It’s too early to get numbers for media spend during the election but the latest figures from the Nielsen Company show that during the 12 months to the end of January 2010 the bulk of media spend from each of the three major parties was on either direct mail or door drops.

The Conservative Party (defined by Nielsen as Conservative & Unionist Central Office) spent £5.5m in the 12 months to the end of January 2010, 73% of which was on either direct mail or door drops.

As might have been expected, Labour and the Lib Dems spent rather less.

The Labour Party spent £1.6m on media in the 12 months to 31 January 2010, 99.1% of which was on direct mail and door drops, and the Liberal Democrats spent £1.7m; 99.6% on direct mail or door drops.

Since the General Election was called last Tuesday a number of leaflet campaigns have emerged. Alongside posted literature, the Conservative Party reportedly had two million leaflets ready to go, which it intends to distribute at key commuter sites in target marginal constituencies during the campaign. This is alongside those produced by local campaigners to charm swing voters.

The Labour Party has used targeted postcards to reach particular groups of voters in the past. Building on the Sure Start postcards sent to women around Mothers Day, Labour sent a further 250,000 postcards to a purchased list of women to make claims about Conservative policy on cancer treatment, having its fingers burned in the process when some of its recipients cried foul.

For a view from the frontline, a disclosure is necessary. I am not a member of any political party but I have been out campaigning for my prospective Labour parliamentarian and council candidates over the last six months, delivering both national and localised leaflets.

Though Bethnal Green and Bow is currently represented by George Galloway and the Respect party, it is a traditional Labour stronghold and the reception on the door step has been relatively positive.

As well as delivering the leaflets, talking to voters is key. Employing perhaps old school but incredibly valuable techniques, volunteers make careful notes on information shared by voters, which is used to inform subsequent campaigns.

This is labour (no pun intended) intensive work, relying on volunteers to put in the leg work. Purchasing lists for mailouts has its place, but there is no substitute for advocates delivering the message in person.

The leaflet, in all its simplistic glory, will be immediately binned, read with interest or scoffed at and burned, probably in equal parts, but catching the swing voter with a personal message, delivered to them by a member of their community with a smile and a counter-argument is when real campaign marketing takes place.

Finally, a word of warning. You would imagine putting a leaflet through a letter box would not cause too many problems for the average individual, but you’d surprised by the number of competitors’ leaflets left wedged into letter boxes, just waiting to be ‘accidentally’ replaced.

It’s a good job we’re honest (and law-abiding) enough not to pull them out. If you want someone to read your carefully composed leaflets at least make sure they hit the doormat.

A manifesto for design

I’ve been trying to imagine the conversations that took place with the designers of the Labour and Conservative manifestos.

Labour

Labour: We want it to look like Obama’s campaign
Designer: The Hope poster? Great, that’s an iconic piece of design.
Labour: Yes. Except the UK’s not like Amercia. We’d need it to be a teeny bit different.
Designer: Go on…
Labour: Well, don’t put Gordon in it to start. Use a young family instead – that way people will know we’re on their side. Then, make it more colourful. The Amercian one’s too drab. We want people to feel optimisitic so use loads of nice brights like yellow, orange, green, blue and lilac. Oh, and just so people know we’re in touch with Britain, put some rolling countryside in and some hedges and trees. It needs to look like a bright, optimistic landscape – you know the sort of thing I mean. And put the line “a future fair for all” right in the middle where everyone can see it, not stuck away at the bottom. And do that in red because that’s supposed to be our colour after all.
Designer: Right. Anything else?
Labour: You know the sun in Obama’s logo? We’d like one of those please. Only, can you make sure it looks like a sun and not a moon? Add some big rays to it.
Designer: Here you go.
Labour: Doesn’t look much like Obama’s.
Designer: No. I wonder why?

Conservative

Conservative: We don’t want this to look like it’s been designed by expensive designers.
Designer: Do it yourself then.
Conservative: OK.
Designer: Goodbye.

Jim Prior is CEO of The Partners

http://www.the-partners.com

http://www.thecrossedcow.com

Follow @Jim_Prior

‘Short-sited’ manifesto policies

As I revealed in today’s Marketing, Labour has mooted the launch of a website to help parents complain about sexualised products and aggressive marketing aimed at children in its manifesto.

If it sounds vaguely familiar that’s because Tory leader David Cameron unveiled a virtually identical policy in February which is repeated in his party’s manifesto today.

While my Tory contacts have been quick to cry ‘copy-cat’, I don’t have a huge problem with people setting tribalism aside and being big enough to adopt good ideas irrespective of their provenance.

But this is far from a good idea. In fact it stinks of opportunism and the sort of nonsense that parties do when pursuing the ‘Daily Mail’ vote.

Firstly, I feel I should point out that there’s this organisation called the Advertising Standards Authority. You may have heard of it, it’s the body responsible for ad regulation in the UK. It’s been doing this for around 50 years so it’s hardly as if there’s nowhere for these supposed legions of concerned parents to turn to if they see ads that offend. So that deals with the ad side.

Where sexualised children’s products are concerned, the parties may have a better case. I’m not entirely sure who I would complain to if I saw something on sale that I offended me.

But is this really such a huge issue deserving of manifesto attention? I can barely think of any examples. Furthermore when the odd weird product has slipped through the net the retailer concerned has quickly removed it from shelves to kill off the bad publicity.

But why pick on the marketing industry anyway if clamping down on the premature sexualisation of children is a real worry? What about, for example, music videos which routinely show scantily clad women bumping and grinding away at all hours of the day?

Perhaps attempting to tackle these wider issues would open up a whole new can of worms that neither party has the stomach for so they are being conveniently overlooked.

Given that both parties have endorsed this website, it would appear that it will become a reality. Oh dear.

Playground Politics

Commenting on the launch of the Labour manifesto yesterday, David Cameron criticised Labour’s campaign as being “all about attack, and trying to scare people” about the Tories. Fair criticism perhaps, but rendered somewhat hypocritical, some might say, by today’s launch of the Conservatives’ latest round of advertising executions which continue their theme of being “all about attack, and trying to scare people” (my quotes) about Gordon Brown.

And so it is, in this General Election so far. The strategy of the main political parties is not to build their own brands but to undermine that of their opponent. So far this is not an election being fought on policies, ideas and constructive debate but on criticism, name-calling and destruction of trust. Like little kids at the beach they have concluded that the victor in the sandcastle competition isn’t required to be the best builder but the one who stamps hardest on everyone else’s work. It’s silly and it’s childish – and, hey, it’s great fun. But guys, it just isn’t right.

Rarely, if ever, is such an approach witnessed in the commercial world. Okay, so budget airlines take a pop at each others’ credibility every now and again but as marketers the world over know, the way to build a brand, drive loyalty and action in your favour, is to focus on your proposition and the unique value to audiences that it brings. Fail to position yourself, and someone else will do it (to your disadvantage) for you. The truth is that the main political parties are living in the dark ages of branding and, in my opinion, are underestimating the intelligence of the electorate with whom they need to connect.

Politicians are quick enough to tell businesses about their obligations to advertise responsibly. They’ve publicly flogged the banks for their flippancy. They talk about the need for austerity and stoicism in the face of our economic woes. Then, in a giddy rush to gain power, they start behaving like little children. Come on guys, grow up. This is a serious election. Help us to make a serious choice.

Jim Prior is CEO of The Partners

www.the-partners.com

www.thecrossedcow.com

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