Category Archives: political advertising

Who regulates political advertising?

The official General Election 2015 ‘long campaign’ only began in late December and we have already had the first instance of public outcry about the fact that political parties are not governed by the usual rules that ensure that advertising is tasteful and decent, honest and legal.

In short: political parties can say and depict whatever they like in their advertising and the only reprimand they need to fear is negative publicity and many voters find that lack of regulation unpalatable.

It was not always the case that political advertising was completely unregulated.  Until 1999 political advertising was covered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for matters of ‘taste and decency’ and ‘the privacy of individuals’, but not ‘honesty’ and ‘truthful presentation’.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the body that writes the Advertising Code – decided that this ‘half-way-house’ arrangement wasn’t working, as partial regulation was leading to public confusion and was discrediting the standards held by commercial advertisers.

CAP felt that either political advertising should conform to all of the ASA’s normal advertising standards or none.  A 2003 Electoral Commission report into the issue opted for ‘none’.

The ASA has a justifiable concern about ruling on political ads; as an undemocratic body it would face a legitimacy deficit when intervening in elections.  A previous ASA Director was quoted in The Independent in 1997 saying:

“Can you imagine the situation if during the course of an election we are asked to adjudicate on an advertisement on a matter of truthfulness. Say it takes a week for us to judge on it and in the meantime the party making the false claim wins the election. Are we then to rule that they lied their way into power?”

These concerns about the ASA regulating political ads haven’t gone away, but the fact that politicians can make deliberately misleading advertisements without fear of recrimination is ridiculous and the Electoral Commission and CAP should revisit the issue after the General Election.

Political Marketing in the USA

political marketing in the united states jennifer lees marshment

political marketing matrix jennifer lees marshment

A new book on political marketing, with a focus on the USA, edited by Jennifer Lees-Marshment, Brian Conley and Kenneth Cosgrave has been released.  It’s available to purchase here

The book first underlines the importance of marketing to almost every facet of politics before providing in depth analysis of practically every aspect, including: voter targeting, database management, social media practice, celebrity endorsement, fundraising, branding and advertising.

As well as codifying a vocabulary for discussing the discipline, the authors have also created a particularly useful matrix (featured above) which outlines all the political marketing activity that a campaign can and should undertake.

Many successful political operators have a good natural instinct for political marketing activity or through experience have picked up that many of the methods are crucial to success.  But I wonder how many political campaigns have a singular marketing chief who has these tasks written into their job description.

If I was running a political campaign, the authors’ political marketing matrix would be the ongoing basis for my ‘to do’ list and the blueprint for structuring my organisation.

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 http://www.asa.org.uk

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.