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The nasty party’s back and this time it’s personal

So the gloves are off and the Conservatives have ditched the sunshine rhetoric to reconnect with their inner ‘nasty party’.

Yesterday they unveiled a set of sarcastic attack posters highlighting Labour’s supposed failings next to a grinning Gordon Brown saying: ‘Vote for me’.

This sort of highly personalised campaign, the first major work by M&C Saatchi, is probably their best line of fire. Voters don’t like Brown so it’s worth hammering home that a vote for Labour means five more years of Gord. Also, with no Obama-style hunger for David Cameron there’s less to be gained by sticking his mug on a billboard.

This latest campaign is simple (were Euro RSCG really unable to come up with this sort of thing?), but will it be effective? In this post-expenses scandal era, politicians are such a turn-off that people may not even bother to read the copy and get the joke.

But then again it does provide people who don’t like Brown with some much-needed spoofing fodder. They were never going to get this from Labour – such is the unpopularity of the PM that using his image in a massive above-the-line campaign would be counter-productive. Hence Labour’s yawn-fest stuff around ‘A future fair for all’, which now has its own logo. Maybe things will get a bit more exciting when we see the result of its user-generated ads.

One last point on yesterday’s campaign, isn’t the Brown pic the Tories used far too flattering? Where have the bags under his eyes and the dark shadows gone?

Perhaps they’ve been at it with the airbrush again…

Reaching undecided voters online

There can be little doubt that the role of the internet in the 2010 election will be significantly different to what we saw in 2005. The 3 parties haven’t all just changed their leaders – their overall approach to a medium that played (at best) a bit-part at the last General Election has also changed completely.

Through blogs and Twitter, we’ve seen a revolution in the way political parties communicate internally – with sites like ConservativeHome becoming must-reads for party members messaging each other about the political events of the day.

But the big question at this election is how best to use the internet to reach out beyond the people who will already vote for you to the huge number of undecided voters. We know they’re unlikely to be reading the political blogs or following even their local MP on Twitter – so how do you reach them?

Well, we know they’re definitely searching on Google, connecting with friends on Facebook and quite often starting any web browsing session on a portal like MSN or Yahoo to find out what’s going in the world today.

That’s why search plays such a big part in our online strategy. For example, when we relaunched in 2008, we ensured that the site was properly optimised for search so users could find key policy information easily using Google. And that work paid off, as proven by recent research by the natural search conversion agency Tamar.

And Google Adwords, which allow us to strategically place messages according to users’ search terms, are important too. For example, on Wednesday anyone searching on Budget-related terms from “Alistair Darling” through to “car scrappage scheme” would be presented with an advert for George Osborne’s video response on YouTube.

Research by Diffusion found that our strategy on Facebook has also paid off, with innovations like our “donate your status” campaign during last year’s European elections helping to send our key messages from our supporters on to thousands of undecided voters. PR Week concluded that the Conservative Party “dominates” Facebook, with more supporters on the platform than the other two parties combined.

We’ve also recognised that it’s important to engage with people on the sites they already visit rather than expecting them to come to us. MSN (which reaches an astonishing 50% of the UK online audience) recently played host to an interactive webcast with David Cameron, and we have worked with Mumsnet, LinkedIn, the Army Rumour Service, Money Saving Expert and SAGA in the past few months alone.

Mark Hanson (writing on this very blog) is right to say that it’s important to keep your own supporters informed, and to give them the tools they need to fight a successful election campaign, both offline and online. That’s why we launched, which allows our supporters to fundraise and campaign for the candidates they support and the issues they care about.

It’s also why we’ve invested so much in e-mail, which remains by far the best way to get in touch with large groups of supporters. ReturnPath research found we scored a “landslide” victory over the other parties when it comes to e-mail, with Labour going a full 58 days without sending a message to their subscribers.

So, with the election campaign proper just around the corner, it’s going to be an exciting few weeks and I’m looking forward to keeping you up to date on this blog.

Craig Elder (@craigelder)

Online Communities Editor, The Conservative Party

Our ad agency isn’t working, but will negative campaigning?

The tooing and froing in the advertising world this week as the Tories drafted in M&C Saatchi to nudge nudge “work alongside” Euro RSCG has been fun to watch.

In the official version of events broken by Campaign “Euro RSCG retains its lead agency status”, but the unofficial version is that the Tories are said to have hired M&C Saatchi weeks ago.

They did it after the amusing David Cameron airbrush debacle broke. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer agency (did you read David Jones’s comment referring to the “Brown regime” – who talks like that?).

As the spoofing gathered pace online spread virally with the help of blogs, Twitter and communities like Mumsnet Euro RSCG’s goose was cooked highlighted nicely by this spoof poster produced by Beau Bo D’Or.

According to chatter in the blogosphere Andy Coulson, the Tories director of communications & planning and telecoms expert did not think the Euro ads had enough bite. Let’s be fair, it was all pretty bland. It neither had bite nor did it inspire.

Having failed with Euro’s the Tories are clearly after something a little different and I don’t think there is much doubt about what they want from M&C Saatchi. The lure of negative campaigning is very strong. The founders of M&C gave us the benchmark for this kind of political advertising with ‘Labour isn’t working’ in 1979 and struck again in 1997 with New Labour New Danger.

There are few who do not know of these powerful campaigns. What is clearest of all right now is that whatever M&C Saatchi and the Tory communications team do they need to do it fast.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that the Tories are trailing Labour in marginal seats they need to win. It said that in “constituencies set to determine the outcome of the election, Labour leads the Tories by four points among those certain to vote”.

All of this points to negative campaigning and that is a dangerous road to travel in an age where your work can be turned on its head in no time flat.

In the Evening Standard today Clifford Singer makes a valid point, he says that what was fascinating about the spoof posters was their ability to subvert not just the Tories’ more positive messages, but also the negative ones.

“Within hours of the graveyard image appearing, Twitter users had rebranded it “MyToryTombstone”. This ability to turn even a negative campaign back on itself suggests the Saatchi glory days of the 1979 ‘Labour isn’t working’ and 1992 ‘Labour’s tax bombshell’ posters may be over”.

I’d love to see M&C Saatchi put that to the test the results could be very entertaining.

Tories go on the attack

The shock news this week is that Euro RSCG has been ‘joined’ by M&C Saatchi on the Conservative Party’s ad roster.

I say ‘shock’ but given that Euro’s most memorable work was the infamous airbrushed Cameron ad which spawned a 1000 spoofs, maybe the shock is that this didn’t happen sooner.

Will M&C be able to summon up the ghosts of creativity past and produce another ‘Labour’s not working’? Yesterday the Evening Standard said M&C Saatchi’s brief was to ‘tear lumps out of Gordon Brown’. Can’t wait to see the work.

Online has been an unhappy place for the opposition party of late – this week they were forced to pull a website just days after its launch. For those of you who didn’t follow this saga, the Tories launched the site at the start of the week laying into the union Unite and its political director and former Brown aide Charlie Whelan, displaying tweets using the hashtag #cashgordon.

The trouble started when some technical scamps figured out it was unmoderated and using wizardry I don’t quite understand managed to post up tweets in 48 point saying some extremely rude things about Cameron as well as spoof images. Also the page was accepting code that allowed it to be redirected. A new and improved version has gone back up but not before a whole heap of mocking by Labour bloggers.

And this in the month that Wired magazine hit the shelves praising the Conservatives’ digital marketing team. Oh dear.

P.S – Marmite is getting in on the election fever and next week will roll out an advertising and Facebook campaign aimed at mobilising lovers and haters of the brown salty spread. Brandrepublic will reveal the full story on Monday.

Bring it on

So finally we appear to have a date.

For years now we have had to put up with Gordon Brown’s
dithering over when to call the election. But with time now almost up he
has run out of options. To the Palace he now must go.

We here in Liberal Democrats HQ have been ready and
waiting for this moment. Everything is in place.

Two weeks ago, while the party decamped en masse to Birmingham for
our spring conference, furniture removers were dispatched to transform
our grand old HQ in Cowley
Street. The desk sizes have shrunk but there
are now plenty more of them, and many eager new recruits filling them

As you will have no doubt noticed, the Liberal Democrats
are everywhere at the moment. Talk of a hung parliament (we prefer the
term, balanced) has seen war-gaming of our intentions played out all
over the media.

It’s guesswork, of course – and some of it wild
guesswork – but this is all to be encouraged. Every time we get Nick
Clegg or Vince Cable into the news, our poll ratings shoot up.

Not that we pay too much attention to the polls – apart
from to delight in the Tories self-combustion as they stagger from one
PR disaster to another. How that party thinks it is ready to govern when
it can’t even get right a website launch, or even a poster campaign, is
beyond ridicule. Frankly, it would be funny if it wasn’t slightly

Labour is of course congratulating itself on its
reversal of fortunes, ignoring the fact it has only recovered a little
and from a particularly low base. Maybe it is doing better because its
almost-daily travails – strikes, lobbying scandals, attempted coups,
civil wars etc etc – are doing a fine job of keeping the nation
entertained. Everyone loves a soap opera. Just not the cast of said-soap
opera running the government.

And so on to us. The Liberal Democrats. Noble name,
noble vision. Two of them, actually, defined in just two words: change,
and fairness.

Since scaling up our operations at the turn of the year,
we have taken every opportunity to hammer home our core message: with
Labour you get failure; with the Tories you get fakery; with us you get

That fairness will see the tax system overhauled, with
the lowest-paid 3.6m taken out of income tax; £2.5bn extra spent on
improving education; new jobs created to green our infrastructure; and
cleaning up our battered, discredited political system.

This is, you will agree, change that works for you.
Hence why we’ve branded our campaign with that slogan (Change that works
for you: Building a fairer Britain) – decking it out in
our resplendent new colour scheme. Less orange, more aqua. It’s very
now. There’s even a campaign song. It’s very catchy.

So now we’re just waiting for Mr Brown to call that
election. Any day now, we hope. The government’s gone stale and in Cowley Street,
things are getting stuffy. Time to let us loose.

Tom Smithard is the Liberal
Democrats’ parliamentary campaigns and intelligence analyst

It’s the audience, stupid!

There’s a definite meme that’s powerful amongst the political and media class about this being the internet election. I’m asked the question a lot by mainstream media and you can see why the combination of an easy label and shiny gadgets combine to produce a seductive narrative that enables journalists to tell audiences why this election is different to all the others.

To an extent the web will make this campaign different but it’s not technology, it’s the audience, stupid! We’ve got a less deferent audience, who don’t trust traditional authority figures to the same extent, they expect to talk-back and be involved in a two-way conversation, not be talked down to. They also have extremely diverse interests, which they expect to be addressed. This is true of Party members and activists just as much as the ordinary voter.

It’s just that technology has enabled people to organise for themselves, find people who share their interests, talk-back and find new authority figures. A successful campaign by any political party needs to recognise this. Labour started all the heavy-lifting on this back in the summer of 2008 by first understanding that not all the clever people work in HQ, the Party needs to act as a part of a network.

This involves creating an infrastructure to engage in a two-way information flow. Whether that’s set-piece initiatives such as regular blogger briefings with the politicians or party staffers, campaigners webchats for key doorstep activists to feedback to campaign strategists at HQ or introducing a new media campaign spokesperson aka ‘Twitter Tsar’ to constantly respond on social networks.

New kit is obviously needed as an enabler. We’ve seen the virtual phonebank imported from the Obama campaign, which means people can make calls when and where they choose rather than pitching up at a local office at a nominated time and a high-spec system that ensures a human contacts you within minutes of signing up to join the party and asks how the party can be useful to you.

This is great but in a campaign where stakes are high and resources are stretched right to the limit everything needs to have an ROI. All these things produce a more motivated activist base – 100,000 face-to-face contacts per week, double what we had in 2005; 40,000 calls via the virtual phonebank and 30,000 members using our social network site, Membersnet, to organise and swap ideas.

All of this leads to our message getting to the voter in a sharper more sophisticated way. The internet election? Not sure. The people election? Hope so.

Mark Hanson

Labour new media strategist and Deputy MD of social media consultancy Wolfstar

If Parliament hangs, so will the ad men

The next 6-8 weeks could provide the closest run election in more than a decade. If that wasn’t tantalising enough, yesterday’s announcement that the Tories had turned to their old sparring partner M&C Saatchi and pitched them against Labour’s incumbent Saatchi & Saatchi brings adland’s interest sharply into focus, adding an intriguing sideshow to the fun and games ahead.

Not that we needed an extra reason to be interested. From TV and radio, to outdoor, digital and DM, the unending stream of sloganeering, positioning, repositioning and, with a bit luck, attack-dog marketing is the kind of thing that can’t help but get the blood flowing, red, blue or otherwise.

It would be nice to think policy and ideology will ultimately decide the result, but whether it’s a ‘will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights’ Sun front page, a ‘Labour isn’t working’ billboard or a misplaced aside caught on camera and immortalised on YouTube, rightly or wrongly, advertising, marketing, media and PR will help shape whether we ‘vote for change’, have ‘a future fair for all’, or, choose, deep breath, ‘change that works for you – building a fairer Britain’.

Which is where this blog comes in. We’ve lined up contributors from all the main parties to help explain the strategies and creative work they hope will deliver the votes required alongside industry experts and our own correspondents to pass comment on whether the job they’re doing is hitting the mark.

We’ll be featuring the campaigns as they happen and debating the effectiveness of key moments – please add your comments and ignite the conversation.

If you have an article you’d like to post that you feel is relevant to the Red, yellow and blue blog, email me at

Rich Sutcliffe

Editor, Brand Republic