Category Archives: political advertising

Hamish Pringle on celebrities and politics

Hamish pringle celebrity sells

At around 1pm today the listeners to BBC Radio Ulster’s programme ‘Talkback’ were graced by the special guest appearance of Hamish Pringle.

Hamish Pringle is the former Director General of The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, an advertising legend, author of popular business book ‘Celebrity Sells’ and Father to the author of this humble blog.

Following David Bowie’s “Scotland, stay with us” comment on last night’s Brit Awards, Pringle was invited on to the show to discuss the influence of celebrities on the outcomes of elections, public policy and referendum polls.

When asked whether it will have any impact on Scottish voters, Pringle was sceptical, commenting: “Sir Alex Ferguson is a veteran and very public Labour Party supporter, but I am not sure Manchester United fans take any notice of that fact when they go to the polls”.

Pringle went on to highlight that some celebrity endorsements seem to have the opposite effect, citing “The Curse of Eddie Izzard”: Izzard has publicly endorsed Britain joining the Euro, Ken Livingstone against Boris Johnson, Gordon Brown in 2010 and the ‘Yes’ vote in the 2011 AV Referendum, all of which have failed miserably.

Pringle stated that there were two important ways in which celebrities can be used to the benefit of political causes:

  1. Fundraising; he pointed to the extraordinary funds raised by Oprah Winfrey for Barrack Obama.
  2. Amplifying a core idea; he referenced Sarah Silverman’s involvement in ‘The Great Schlep’ where she helped deliver an idea rather than being the idea herself.

Sounds very sensible indeed.  He must read this blog more than he lets on.

Hamish is currently Strategic Advisor to agency 23 Red and is on the Council of the Advertising Standards Authority

Mad Men and Bad Men: the history of advertising and British politics

mad men and bad men sam delaney

Writer and broadcaster Sam Delaney has recently signed an agreement with publisher Faber to release a book on the history of advertising and British politics called Mad Men and Bad Men.

Love that title.

The book will examine some of the most famous political ads, along with the stories and characters behind the work, that has run during elections from the early ’70s up to the modern day.

He is interviewing all of the key players in political advertising and marketing from the last few decades.  Giants of the political advertising game that will be included are: Chris Powell, Maurice Saatchi, Neil Kinnock, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, Trevor Beattie, Lord Bell and many, many more.

Delaney has previously written Get Smashed – The Men Who Made the Ads that Changed our Lives and is a regular contributor to The Guardian, The Observer, The Telegraph and The Big Issue and is a presenter for BBC London and talkSPORT.

It’s due out in spring 2015.  No doubt there will be some lovely gossipy stories from days passed that will inspire (and comfort) the war rooms of the party headquarters battling out for general election victory.

Interview with Brendan Bruce

Brendan Bruce _Origin_of_Spin_Cover 1

I’ve recently had the pleasure of email correspondence with Brendan Bruce and he kindly agreed to an interview for this site.  Just to give you a bit of background about Brendan:

Brendan has solid private sector communications experience having advised consumer goods giants including P&G, Mars and General Foods.  In 1988 he ran a government campaign to popularise the Single European Market, now acknowledged as one of the most successful government campaigns of all time.  And in 1989 Margaret Thatcher appointed him as Director of Communications for the Conservative Party, in that role he worked closely with her and successive Party Chairman on projecting the Party’s image.

He is now a private consultant and author of two books – Images of Power and On the Origin of Spin, both seminal studies on political marketing.

What was the main thing you learnt from being Director of Communications for the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher?

The power of authenticity. When a politician has the moral courage to be themselves, to say and do what they truly believe in, they turn into leaders. This sort of politician is rare, but the public knows genuine conviction when they see it.

If you were advising The Labour Party for the 2015 election on their communications, what would you prioritise as the three main messages?

I think that comes under the heading of  ‘giving aid and comfort to the enemy.’ Ask Ali Campbell, he’s still the only spin doctor Labour have worth a damn.

If you could give one piece of advice on political communication, what would it be?

I don’t think political communications obey different laws from any other form. Good communications depend on intellectual clarity, creative impact and repetition. The client should supply the clarity, the agency will supply the creativity if they are any good (and the client trusts them) and the money supplies the repetition.

The best practical piece of advice I can give is to be very clear in your mind about the desired outcome or response. When drafting a political line to take, concentrate on the HVL, the Headline, Visual  and the Lead para that you want to see journalists produce.

What’s your favourite piece of political advertising and why?

My favourite is still the ‘Hands Up’ poster in the 1987 General Election (when the Cold War was still very chilly and ordinary people still lived in fear that World War III would be nuclear).

During a TV interview  David Frost said to  the Labour leader Neil Kinnock  “If you haven’t got nuclear weapons, the choice in that situation would be to subject your forces to an unfair battle.”

Kinnock answered in his inimitably confusing way “Yes, what you’re suggesting is that the alternatives are between the gesture, the threat, or the use of nuclear weapons, and surrender. In these circumstances the choice is posed, and this is a classical choice, between exterminating everything you stand for and the flower of your youth, or using all the resources you have to make any occupation totally untenable.”

Saatchi immediately saw the opportunity to make any floating voter extremely uneasy about supporting a party that was saying that they would unilaterally give up the use of nuclear weapons if they formed a government and rely on some sort of Dad’s Army guerilla resistance if the Soviets invaded. The poster Saatchi produced and put up on the hoardings within hours, showed a British soldier  with his hands up in surrender with the line ‘Labour’s policy on arms.’  It was clear, striking, memorable, witty in a sarcastic sort of way; and deadly.

Is political advertising legal on TV in Britain?

Media law experts Lewis Silkin have written an amusing and informative summary of the European Court of Human Rights’ recent judgement to uphold the UK’s ban on the TV broadcast of political advertising.  Animal Defenders International unsuccessfully challenged the Communications Act 2003, arguing that it contravened Article 10 (free speech) of the Human Rights Act.

Is political advertising legal on tv in britain

Copyright and usage in political advertising: Bridget Riley example

During the local council elections in the UK last month a few campaign managers got in contact with questions about the clearances they need to get before including photographs and imagery in campaign material.

Ever the obedient client servant, I thought I would post a short note on the subject.

The Institute of Practitioners of Advertising give this definition of copyright:

“An original copyright work is one that is the result of independent, creative effort. It will not be classed as original if it has been copied from something that already exists. Before giving a work protection, the court will check to see that the work is “the author’s own intellectual creation”, an original expression of the creative freedom of the author. As copyright protects the expression of an idea, rather than the idea itself, it only exists if the work has been fixed or recorded in a permanent form.”

So if you find an image online that you think would really bring your leaflet to life, you need to be careful to make sure that it isn’t a piece of original, independent art work.  Copyright protection in the UK is automatic, no official registration is required, so the fact that it is available freely online doesn’t mean that you’re allowed to use it as you please; indeed the fact that it is online means that it is a permanent ‘expression of an idea’ and you should immediately be wary of using it.

For example, the artwork of Bridget Riley – a famous British painter – can be found all over Google images under various search terms.  However, finding it on Google image search doesn’t mean that it’s free for you to use.  If you decided to include the Bridget Riley image in your poster you would be liable to a legal challenge as it is a breach of intellectual property; indeed Bridget Riley doesn’t allow her artistic works to be used in any form of advertising so you really would be in deep trouble.

So, in short, you can only use an image or a photograph if you are the originator or you have permission from the originator to use it, if you use an image for which neither applies, you are at risk of a legal challenge; the only exception is if the originator has been dead for over 70 years.

Every single election period someone is caught out falling foul of this law.  As soon as you distribute a piece of political communication one of the first things your opponents will do is check that you have paid for the right to use everything in the ad.  Any positive impact that your communication may be having will immediately be curtailed if the opposing campaign can show that you have created it without permission.

ASA’s refusal to rule on political advertising creates controversy for media owners and a democratic deficit


UKIP are currently running a poster in Manchester featuring the headline ‘Stop Open Door EU Immigration’.

The poster has caused controversy in the area and led to the local community lobbying the media owner – Clear Channel – to remove the poster.  There was a brief hiatus over the past few days whilst the media owner decided their position.

Thankfully, for the sake of freedom of speech, Clear Channel have decided to allow the poster to remain.  

This is not the first time that media owners have been put in a compromising situation with regards to running controversial political advertising and it will not be the last; the reason for this is that the Advertising Standards Authority refuses to rule on political advertising.

Political advertising in the UK is a free-for-all.  Parties, pressure groups and trade unions can say whatever they like in their advertising without fear of recrimination.  They can – and do – promise the world and have no obligation to deliver against it.

This is completely contrary to the rules for all other advertisers, who have to comply with rigorous self-regulatory standards.  It is quite literally one rule for the people and one rule for the politicians.

There are many problems with this approach from a democratic perspective, but the one which this UKIP case has revealed is that media owners are getting landed in hot water with the public by having to decide whether or not to run advertising that may be controversial.  If the media owners refuse to run advertising there is a serious risk of infringing on the right of political parties to freedom of speech and landing themselves in a law suit.

By changing the self-regulatory system to force the ASA to include political advertising in its regulation of what is legal, decent, honest and truthful advertising  (and what isn’t) it removes the possibility of political parties having their freedom of speech infringed upon and prevents landing media owners in controversy.

Does negative political advertising work?

According to these seasoned campaigners, the answer is: yes, stupid.

In short, attack ads work better than positive messages because:

1. People remember them better.

2. People believe them more.

3. As a result of (1) and (2) their impact is more immediate.

I found these three great quotations about negative political advertising in a book called Crowded Airwaves: Campaign Advertising in Elections, that whilst a little old still provides some really interesting insights into the subject.

Political advertising media spend in the UK under threat

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has recommended a 15% cut in the amount that a political party can spend in an election campaign.  Their report also suggested that campaign spending over a parliament  should be limited to £25.4m per party.

The inquiry stated: “We have received evidence to suggest that political parties could and should reduce their campaign spending, particularly on billboard advertising or direct mailing, both of which are unpopular with many voters.”

Why don’t they just spit in my face?  I joke.  I’m all too aware that political advertising is the dirtiest bit of the dirtiest business and that my stomach must be incredibly strong to perpetuate this hobby of mine.

At last year’s election, the Conservatives spent £7.5 million on advertising, but lack of money forced both Labour (£785,000) and the Liberal Democrats (£230,000) to cut their ad budgets sharply.

Total spending on ads fell from £15.6 million at the 2005 election to £9.1 million last year.  I was wondering why my political advertising consultancy never quite took off…

Posters and Politics – 10 Things We Know

Chris Burgess, a fellow political advertising enthusiast and academic at The University of Nottingham, has accomplished the staggering task of putting on an exhibition of historic political posters.  If you’re anywhere near Manchester before June 2012, get down to the People’s History Museum for a gander.

Chris is also writing a PhD on the topic, but has kindly summarised 10 things that he has learnt from his analysis of political posters through the ages thus far:.

1. British politics is as much about what we see as about what we hear.

2. There is ‘language’ of posters. Poster designers rely on the voter to understand a number of symbols and words. These symbols – like the pipe –  drop in and out of favour. Some like the sun remain.

3. Poster design changes, but there is no systematic development. As a result, some posters look older than they actually are, and some relatively ancient examples have the look of something produced yesterday.

4. Political posters are ephemeral and transient. They aim to speak to a particular electorate from a specific election.Most are forgotten as quickly as they are produced.

5. If the job of Prime Minister’s is becoming increasingly ‘presidential’, it is because the diminishing power of Cabinet and Parliamentary scrutiny, not because leaders are promoted differently. The ‘presidential’ Prime Minister began in 1929 when Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberals promoted their leaders above their parties. Even before this point, parties understood the electoral benefit of a popular leader.

6. The vitriolic attacks on Asquith, Chamberlain and the House of Lords before 1914 show that politics has long been ‘personal’.

7. Even after they won the vote on equal terms as men in 1928 the parties appealed to them not as individuals but as mothers and as holders of the domestic budget. I have only found two posters which appeal to female voters as workers.

8. Despite feminism, parties remain convinced that women should be appealed to in ‘special’ ways.

9. Posters can be the place where art and politics meet, although not always.

10. Posters aren’t static transmitters of information. They form a vibrant public politics of the street and, since 2010, the web. If posters are a throwback to the 19th century, they are the continued hurrah of Victorian politics: they remain vital to how the parties try to communicate with the people.