Vote Leave Campaign Launches

Vote Leave EU logo

A very significant anti-European campaign group launched last week.  It has cross party support, including Labour, Conservative, Green and UKIP politicians.

The group, headed by Matthew Elliott who ran the successful No2AV campaign against electoral reform, is competing to be crowned the official “Out” campaign by the Electoral Commission.  Such recognition comes with public grants and expenditure allowances.

The Vote Leave brand is in stark contrast to, the group against which they’re competing for the prize.  Whilst – supported by Nigel Farage and mainstream UKippers – gives the impression that it’s filled with angry, stuff, reactionary old men, Vote Leave seems relatively contemporary and accessible.

Positioning leaving the EU as ‘taking control’ is smart.  No doubt polling shows that the majority of people feel like we live in very uncertain times – currency doubts, immigration, deflation, Russian aggression etc… Vote Leave will want persuade people that by leaving the EU, Britain can take matters into its own hands and not be at the mercy of other countries.

Women’s Equality Party #WeAreWe #WEPnesday selfie campaign

The Women’s Equality Party have today launched a very clever campaign which encourages members to attach a sticker (which supporters seem to have been sent in advance) to their smart phone and take and share a selfie.

Using the back of a smart phone as a media space is a smart tactic that I’ve not come across before.

It’s a quick and simple way to enable supporters to share a consistent campaign message in a personal and creative way.

The campaign launched hours ago and is already trending nationally on Twitter.

You can get more information on the new feminist political party here:

Liz Kendall evokes Clement Attlee

Liz Kendall Fresh Start Clement Attlee

Liz Kendall’s campaign for Labour’s leadership have produced a very good graphic on the eve of members receiving their ballot papers.

The advert neatly encapsulates the main point of her campaign: that the real test of our Labour values isn’t just good intentions in opposition – it’s what can be delivered in government after you’ve won a general election.

There’s been relatively few examples of creativity in the the Labour Leadership 2015 campaign, so this is a real breath of FRESH air.

Invite Ivan

Conservative Party London Mayoral hopeful Ivan Massow has released a video in which he asks viewers if he can spend the night with them.

It’s slightly less tawdry than it sounds.

Massow is keen to learn about the lives of ordinary Londoners and plans to use the overnight experience to help shape his policies.

Once viewers click through on the video they are asked to tell Ivan’s campaign about where they live and why Ivan should visit.

On the one hand, asking to the electorate if you can stay over is quite clever; it’s such an unusual request that it’s the sort of thing that is going to gain earned media coverage.

On the other hand, it’s a fairly freaky ‘ask’.  Why would anyone want to invite a stranger – particularly one who has positively promised to bore on about politics – over to stay on their sofa?

As the likely ambition behind the film is to increase Ivan’s profile and boost the chances of the Conservative Party selection panel including him on their mayoral short-list, the positives probably outweigh the negatives.

The video is a follow-up to one he released in May which tried to portray Ivan as a political outsider.

Scott Walker: Instagram teaser campaign for logo release

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has decided to unveil his presidential campaign logo piece by piece over the course of nine days on his Instagram account.

It has certainly created some noise around his candidacy, which is fairly impressive given 12 Republicans have already declared that they’re seeking the nomination.

The campaign deciding to make a big deal out of their logo might seem like a big and unnecessary risk, as design and branding is famously subjective and ripe for ridicule.

However, the real risk is that his candidacy announcement is completely ignored. By taking a risk he’s made sure that people are at least talking about him. Very smart.

Political branding: the Labour Party leadership logos 2015

Liz Kendall logo

Andy Burnham logo v1
Andy Burnham v1
Andy Burnham logo
Andy Burnham v2

Yvette Cooper logo

Jeremy Corbyn logo

The candidates for the Labour Party leadership campaign are now locked down and final.

As ever, I’m interested in the most seemingly trivial part of the battle: what their logos look like.

Getting your logo right isn’t going to win you the election, but it’s a useful thing to get right.  It’s a consciously developed identity that will exist across all the materials that are being designed to help your candidate win office.  It’s a useful visual short cut for the values and persona of the candidate that is comprised of colours, strap lines and design features.

When well-designed and implemented they create a consistent identity that helps build familiarity with an electorate which facilitates feelings of trust and loyalty.

A good logo is concise, differentiating from the competition and authentic to the candidate.

The first question that all the campaigns would have asked themselves is ‘what colours should we use in our logo?’  Or, more precisely, ‘which shade of red best encapsulates our candidate?’.  It may sound banal, but there’s a huge range of reds one can choose from and it’s very well accepted that peoples emotional responses to different colours varies hugely.

If your red is too bold it might seem aggressive; too light and it could feel weak; too dark and it could be perceived to be old-fashioned.  Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of a relatively gloomy red isn’t a good one.  His campaign’s main concern should be about being positioned as yesterday’s man: a stern left-wing candidate from a previous era.  His choice of red does nothing to prevent having such values ascribed to him.

The second question that the campaigns would have asked themselves is ‘do we want a strap-line with our logo?’.  A strap-line should summarise the candidate’s positioning in a few words.  Conveying that your candidate is ‘the outsider’, ‘the self-made man / woman’ or ‘the unifying choice’ in a concise phrase which doesn’t sound trite is very tricky.

A good way to start is to write a series of “why people should vote for me” statements, then delete any that other candidates could legitimately claim.  From there you will likely have a fairly short list which you can begin to craft into a few choice, motivating words.

I would say Yvette Cooper has slightly failed in this regard: which candidate wouldn’t sign up to “proud of our values, the strength to win”.

The third question that campaigns would have asked themselves is ‘do we want to try and fit an idea in the logo’?  When I say ‘idea in a logo’ I mean things like the ‘A to Z’ in the Amazon logo or the arrow formed in the negative space between the ‘E’ and the ‘x’ in the FedEx logo.  A piece of art direction that’s built into the logo which conveys something about the brand.  When done well, these logos are brilliant.  When done badly they are naff, vulgar and ridiculous.

Andy Burnham’s campaign’s first effort is an example of a logo which includes an idea.  Noting that the word ‘Labour’ has the letters ‘ab’ in the centre, the campaign tried to contrive a whole brand positioning around Andy being the ‘heart of Labour’.  Strategically, positioning Andy as the heart of Labour – when he’s faced accusations of being a bit of a ball of emotion on the NHS – didn’t seem like the smartest idea.  And on top that, the logo was a design disaster.  On the day of its launch the logo was lampooned on Twitter with many saying it looked like it was done on early version of MS paint.

To the campaign’s credit, they have quietly decommissioned the travesty of a logo and replaced it with one that’s almost identical to Liz Kendall’s.

How did political parties use advertising in the 2015 general election campaign?

Below is an article that I wrote for Market Leader; the strategic marketing journal for business leaders.  I’m reproducing the unedited version with permission of Market Leader.  To subscribe to their publication visit © Copyright Warc and The Marketing Society.

Marketing commentators who scorn political advertising don’t understand how it really works, writes Benedict Pringle.

The marketing industry love to pour scorn on political advertising and this general election has been no different.  There have been countless articles in the trade press doing down the promotional efforts of the political parties, all featuring a version of the headline “political advertising isn’t working”.

The argument begins “you hardly see any billboards anywhere anymore”.  This is shortly followed by “and when you do they’re not half as good as they used to be”.  And then it concludes “but anyway, there’s so much political coverage everywhere – the adverts don’t make a blind bit of difference.”

Perhaps it’s our way of rebelling against our political masters: a retort for the endless regulatory missiles aimed at our sector.  Such behaviour is understandable.  However the arguments proffered betray a lack of understanding about why and how political parties use advertising.

Political advertising does not begin and end with the billboard – though they are great fun – and the primary objective is very often not ‘influence undecided voters in target seats’.  There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that it is not “not working” and political advertising in fact made a crucial difference in the result of the 2015 UK general election.

Political advertising was employed in the general election in five ways: (1) As PR stunts to steer the media narrative around the election; (2) As a tool to motivate activists; (3) A device to demotivate opposition supporters; (4) A way to interfere with the competitors’ strategies; (5) A mechanism for influencing undecided voters.

Political advertising that controlled the media narrative

The media narrative around an election – the ‘air war’ – is widely regarded to be the most significant factor in the result of the election as it colours the information that the electorate use to decide which way to vote.

You win the air war by bombarding newsrooms with ideas for stories, films and photos.  When journalists are scratching their heads deciding what to put on the evening news, or are lacking ideas for tomorrow morning’s headlines, a new advertisement from one of the parties is a gift.

Political parties therefore use political advertisements to try and build their election narrative through the media.

The Conservative Party very successfully used political advertisements to influence the media, particularly around the prospect of  a Labour / SNP Coalition; something that wasn’t a significant topic of media discussion until the Conservatives began their advertising on the subject.  Indeed M&C Saatchi ran an advertisement in Campaign Magazine the week after polling day which demonstrated the impact on news headlines of their ‘Miliband in Salmond’s pocket’ poster.

M&C Saatchi proof pocket miliband salmond media coverage

Political advertising as a tool to motivate activists

Have you ever been canvassing for a party or cause?  I have.  I can tell you it is, by and large, a pretty thankless task.  Knocking on strangers’ doors and trying to talk to strike a reasonable, polite and hopefully persuasive conversation about politics is fairly tiresome.

However political parties, particularly those with less cash to spend, are very reliant on activists to deliver their message to constituents and encourage people to head to the polls.

So political parties use email, social media and their websites to distribute political advertising to their supporter base to try and inspire them to volunteer their time and energy.  The Liberal Democrats, through tweeting images like the one below, weren’t hoping to win votes directly, they were hoping to get their activists to turn up to the next canvassing session.

Lib Dems stability decency unity

Political advertising as a device to demotivate opposition supporters

Political parties also try and encourage the supporters of their opponents to stay at home rather than go out campaign.  One way of doing that is to disseminate advertising that depresses the life out of would-be activists.

The Conservatives were certainly employing this tactic when they began their attacks on a possible SNP / Labour coalition.  The Conservatives were very aware that for most of 2014 Scottish Labour supporters spent every free moment out campaigning against those trying to break up the United Kingdom.  The Tories anticipated that Labour activists in Scotland would deeply be unimpressed that their enemies in the referendum campaign were going to be offered a seat around the Cabinet table by their own side.

When the Conservatives were banging the drum about a possible pact Scottish Labour activist stocks depleted at the same time as the number of SNP supporters – buoyed by the possible prospect of government – increased dramatically.

Salmond Miliband Call The Tune poster

Political advertising as a way to interfere with the competitor’s strategies

Every day of the campaign that you can divert your opponents away from their scheduled ‘grid’ is a good day and advertising is a useful tool to knock your opposition off track.

That was certainly the Labour Party’s ambition with their VAT related attack.  The Conservatives had made no mention of any intention to raise that tax, but the Labour Party wanted to prevent the Tories from pursuing their SNP-related agenda and so released this poster at a press conference.


Political advertising as a mechanism for influencing undecided voters

The way in which most political advertising is judged is the direct impact that it has on the people who decide elections: floating voters in marginal seats.

The main channel through which political advertising is delivered to this audience is via direct mail.  Direct mail rarely gets a mention in coverage of political campaigns, but it is the area in which the parties spend the most money.  During the 2010 election, for example, the Conservatives spent £5.83million – over a third of their whole campaign budget – on direct mail.

This inverse relationship between the actual importance of an election campaign technique and the amount of media coverage devoted to it is known as ‘Cowley’s Law of Campaigning’ (named after political scientist Philip Cowley who first observed the phenomenon).

The Conservatives very cleverly varied the content of the direct mail depending on the seat they were targeting.  For example, in villages around West Yorkshire the party led with a “Save the Greenbelt” message but in areas where UKIP was strong they focused on the choice between Miliband and Cameron to try and dissuade protests votes.

The Conservatives also used YouTube pre-roll and Facebook advertising to deliver video content designed to appeal to carefully chosen demographics in the key marginal seats; this was a ‘first’ for a UK general election and is a tactic that will no doubt grow in volume and sophistication in the future.

But it wasn’t just direct mail and digital video that parties used, there was also some good old fashioned posters.

The Conservatives spent significant sums of money on outdoor media in the 80 marginal seats that they targeted in their “40:40” strategy which involved attacking 40 seats (particularly those held by the Lib Dems) while defending a further 40 marginals, mostly against Labour.


The majority of these posters were on the subject of a possible SNP / Labour Coalition and it seems they had the desired effect; the Labour Party’s internal pollster said in his post-election analysis that the posters proved very successful at “catalyzing pre-existing doubts about Labour”.

And there’s evidence to suggest that it was the Conservatives campaign tactics and spending muscle in the marginal seats that made the difference in the result; Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 % overall but was down by 0.7% in the most important battleground seats where the Conservatives concentrated their communications activity.  Political advertising is alive and working well.