A new report has been published on the extensive involvement of outside groups on influencing elections in the USA, many of which are funded by “dark money” (non-disclosure of donors).
The report by USA-based academics Erika Franklin Fowler and Travis Ridout points out that in many of the most competitive Senate races advertising funded by outside groups surpassed the parties—and sometimes even the candidates—as the primary sponsors of political advertising.
The document outlines the fairly extreme lengths groups go to in order to avoid having to give detail about who their financiers are; for example, concentrating their spending outside the windows where legislation would require detailed reporting.
Across House, Senate and Gubernatorial races in 2014, 35.4 percent of ad spending came from groups that do not disclose revenue sources and another 6.4 percent of spending then came from groups that only partially disclose their funders.
There are fairly raises serious question marks around the democratic legitimacy of such groups and there’s no suggestion that their influence is going to decrease.
Can you imagine how excited I would have been when I heard that a book on the strange relationship between British politics and advertising was to be published? To put it lightly, I was fairly cheery about the whole thing.
I managed to persuade the author Sam Delaney to have a beer with me whilst he was writing it and what became clear was that he had managed to secure interviews with every major player in the recent history of British political advertising; from Jeremy Sinclair and Lord Bell to Chris Powell and Trevor Beattie. My sense of anticipation about the book’s launch was duly increased even further.
So when I finally got my hands on a copy of the book, it’s safe to say my expectations were fairly high and I’m delighted to confirm that they were duly met and surpassed.
The book strikes the perfect balance between a fun, gossipy, behind-the-scenes account of the last 8 General Election campaigns and deep thinking on how elections are won and the role of political advertising in it. There’s revealing anecdotes, bitchy asides and insightful commentary on how to market political parties and win elections.
It’s definitely the most interesting and easy to read account on the subject of political advertising that I’ve ever read.
If you need further convincing, you can read much more erudite reviews of the book in places like the New Statesmen, Telegraph and Financial Times, but I can promise you that if you’ve ever remotely enjoyed this blog, you will find Sam’s book an intensely enjoyable and interesting read.
You can buy the book here.
Me getting defensive on the BBC Daily Politics
I was kindly invited on to the BBC’s Daily Politics Show today to discuss negative political advertising and debate whether or not Labour are doing the right thing in deciding not to feature David Cameron in their campaign posters.
Here’s a link to the feature: http://bbc.in/1CS9eC1
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.
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.
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:
- Fundraising; he pointed to the extraordinary funds raised by Oprah Winfrey for Barrack Obama.
- 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
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.