Pocket Rocket: the poster that transformed the media narrative around general election 2015

M&C Saatchi proof pocket miliband salmond media coverage

M&C Saatchi, the creative agency behind the Conservative Party’s “Miliband in Salmond’s Pocket” poster, today ran a house advertisement in the advertising trade magazine Campaign.

Good. On. Them.

I have argued – and will continue to argue – that not only is it the most memorable political poster for years, it must also rank as one of the most effective posters of all time.  The poster – and subsequent coverage relating to its contents – significantly altered the minds of millions of voters and changed the course of British election history.  Not many posters – of any genre – can claim to impacting our society in such a massive and lasting way.

The advert shows how the British media’s coverage of a possible SNP / Labour Coalition deal increased dramatically the day the ‘pocket’ poster was released and continued to grow.

The analysis of newspaper headlines in this advert replicates almost exactly the analysis of google search data that I carried out earlier this week.

As I said when it was launched, this poster will without doubt be the most iconic image of general election 2015 (followed closely by Miiband hubristically revealing #EdStone).  It is the most memorable poster (of any genre) for years.  And given the fact that the poster was the catalyst for popular debate around the possibility of a Labour / SNP Coalition – an issue that is widely accepted to be a significant factor in the Conservatives victory – it must go down as one of the most effective posters (of any genre) of all time.

How the Conservative Party built an election narrative around the SNP using political advertising

How the Conservative Party used advertising to build an election narrative around the SNP

What is becoming clear in the post-election analysis of the results is that the Conservative Party very successfully created a climate of fear in English marginal seats about the prospect of a Labour / SNP coalition.

Yesterday Labour’s official pollster wrote in an article for the New Statesman that their “focus groups showed the SNP attacks landing” and the SNP-related campaign catalysed  “pre-existing doubts about Labour”.

I decided to look for further evidence that the SNP were a significant factor in how people voted and so turned to Google Trends; a free tool that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume.

As you can see in the chart above, the volumes of traffic relating to the SNP were very significant and grew dramatically the closer we got to the election.

This is a brilliant example of how political advertising can be used to drive an election narrative.

As evidenced above, before the ‘Miliband in Salmond’s pocket’ poster launch, the possibility of a Labour / SNP coalition was a very minor aspect of media coverage (and subsequently search traffic) on the election.

However, after the launch of the provocative poster – and by sustaining it as an issue by releasing a new poster roughly every fortnight – the Conservative Party successfully built it into an issue that ended up being a deciding factor in the election.

General Election 2015: review of the political posters

The 2015 general election race has been electric.  As neither of the main parties has managed to capture the majority of the public’s imagination, both Labour and the Conservatives have been unrelenting in their battle to take the lead.  And as there is a high likelihood that of one of the less significant parties  will end up winning a place in government, the Lib Dems, Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru have all had something to play for right up until the close of polls.

The political parties have used political advertising in all its forms to try and steer the media’s election narrative, fire-up their own supporters, interfere with the oppositions’ strategies and influence undecided voters.

The digital campaigns – largely email-led – have increased in sophistication and effectivess.  And for the first time we have seen political parties, particularly the Conservatives, spending decent sums of money on promoting Facebook videos and buying YouTube pre-roll adverising.

However the most romantic and iconic form  of political advertising in Britain remains the poster.

Regardless of whether the posters are plastered across marginal consitutiences – as the Conservatives have done this time around – or whether they’re deployed as giant, full colour press-releases at campaign events, the media and the public can’t help but discuss them.

There’s no space for bluff and bluster in a poster.  The requirement for parties to distill and refine their message to fit in a 48-sheet means that a quick survey of any elections’ posters will tell you everything you need to know about the battle that has taken place.

Let’s see what they had to say this time around.

The SNP Boogeyman

Miliband in Salmond Pocket Conservative Party poster

In every election there are one or two truly iconic images that live long in our political memories.  I strongly suspect this poster, which shows the Labour Party leader Ed Miliband sitting in the top pocket of former SNP leader Alex Salmond, will be the one we’re talking about for years to come.

What makes the poster so impressive is that they have managed to bring to life the possibility that a vote for Labour could help usher the SNP into Downing St without even using a headline.

In one foul swoop it damned Miliband’s leadership credentials, excited the SNP activist base in Scotland and distracted Labour from their NHS-led campaign and forced them onto the back foot.

The Battle for the NHS

Labour poster - recruit more nurses

Labour’s advertising in 2015 centred squarely on the NHS; it was the 2nd most salient issue amongst the public (after immigration) and as Labour were seen as the most credible party to defend it the campaign chose itself.

This execution was the best of a bad bunch.

The image of thousands of nurse-style fob watches is fairly eye-catching and the sub-header announcing that applications for these new jobs will open the day after polling day is a clever piece of copywriting.

The strapline “It’s time to care. It’s time for a Labour government” also neatly encapsulates their wider pitch to the electorate.

Spot the difference

Green Party spot the difference end of page 3 sun newspaper

In late January 2015 The Sun Newspaper, in a slightly bizarre PR stunt, encouraged the nation to believe that they had decided to bring an end to featuring topless glamour models on its Page 3 (something which later turned out not to be the case).

The Green Party capitalised on the moment to highlight the fact that their party had been campaigning to end the sexist behaviour of the publisher for time by running this ‘spot the difference’ execution.

The advert shows the leaders of Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP all sycophantically lining up to take part in The Sun Newspapers launch of their coverage of the 2014 World Cup; it implies the leaders were de-facto endorsing the chauvinistic practice.

This is placed in stark contrast to Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, who is pictured wearing a t-shirt campaigning against the Sun’s daily publication of partially naked girls.

This activity, placing the Green Party as the anti-Westminster option and a champion of women, helped to stimulate a surge of new membership recruits and jump in the polls.

Backing our Boys

IMG_9480

UKIP’s audience are largely blue-collar, elderly, white and male voters.  UKIP have salience amongst groups who feel forgotten by modern Britain and worry about the nation’s reduced global status; this emotive poster outlining UKIP’s policy of improved provision for the military resonated strongly with such people.

The visual of a soldier begging for money using a helmet is very provocative and the quietly raging tone of the headline encapsulates the sentiment that UKIP’s disgruntled supporters feel towards the mainstream parties.

Stuck in the middle without a clue

Lib Dem Look left look right

The Liberal Democrats, having spent the last 5 years as the junior partner in a coalition with the Conservative Party, were in the deeply unenviable position of not being able to attack the record of the government or credibly lay claim to any of its successes.

Their only strategic option was to position themselves as a moderating force on both Labour and the Conservatives.  It’s a creatively baron proposition and the result has been some fairly dire advertising.

The Lib Dems have run a series of posters using the line: ‘look left, look right, then cross’; the above advert features Ed Balls and George Osborne, two giant and unpopular characters from Labour and the Conservatives respectively.

The “Ajockalypse”

SNP Let's lock the tories out of number 10

The “Ajockalypse” refers to the possible phenomenon of the SNP winning every single Westminster parliamentary seat in Scotland and this poster brilliantly summarises the pitch the SNP have been giving which makes it a very likely scenario.

Many people in Scotland felt badly affronted by the Conservative Party’s actions in the immediate aftermath of the independence referendum the previous year and the SNP have encouraged them to see the Westminster General Election as a chance to exact some revenge.  The transformation of the ‘0’ in No. 10 Downing St’s door into a lock is neat shortcut for that message.

Against All Austerity

Plaid Cymru will end austerity poster

Plaid Cymru have had the least impact of the 7 main political parties.  Their message didn’t permeate outside of Wales as the likelihood of the Welsh nationals influencing the final outcome was minimal.

Plaid Cymru used this illustrated style in the majority of its communications and whilst perfectly aesthetic, it’s not particularly arresting.  The edgy, blocky font and the handmade nature of the graphics gives the poster a nice sense of protest, but it’s not the sort of thing that’s going to make waves in Westminster.

Paddy Power: you’re getting sacked in the morning

Paddy Power Poster General Election You're Getting Sacked in the morning

Paddy Power reckon a total 75 per cent MPs will lose their seats tomorrow.  To mark the occasion, in typically Paddy Power style, they’ve driven a poster lorry with the slogan ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning’ (a common chant in UK football grounds) emblazoned across it through the streets of Westminster.

A very good press stunt which will nudge politicos towards placing their election bets with the bookmaker this evening.

You can find their general election betting markets here: http://www.paddypower.com/bet/politics/other-politics/uk-politics

Brands and election-themed gimmicks

Andrew Neil Benedict Pringle Daily Politics

Andrew Neil election gimmicks

Election themed cupcakes

Earlier today the BBC Daily Politics kindly invited me on to their show to discuss election-themed products and promotions.

You can watch here from 55.41, but the gist of what I said is as follows:

There’s 2 reasons why brands use election gimmicks.

The first is a tactic called Newsjacking and the second is a strategy around increasing relevance.

‘Newsjacking’ is about anticipating stories that journalists will already by writing and creating great content for them to use.

The Daily Politics programme I was on was a classic example.

The marketing departments and PR agencies of these companies knew media outlets would be running stories on the mad things brands are doing around election time and decided to try and earn their brand or product some coverage.

We were newsjacked.

The second reason brands do it is because there’s lots of research to suggest that ‘relevance’ is an important driver in people’s decision making.

It’s a slightly intangible thing and people don’t agree as to how it works exactly, but almost everyone agrees that it does work.

If your brand or product can seem ‘relevant’ to whatever else is going on in the consumer’s life, people seem to attach more value to you.

This is the reason why brands gather around big marquee moments in the year.  Whether it’s the World Cup, going Back to School, Christmas or Valentine’s Day.  The more relevant your brand can seem to an occasion the more likely it is people are going to choose you over the competition.

It gets consumers thinking “this product is for people like me”.

We see this a lot in politics.  A key driver in how people vote is how ‘relevant’ they think the party or candidate is to them.  It’s the reason why politicians put aside their expensive suits when they’re knocking on doors in their constituencies and instead don some dodgy chinos and Next Directory sweater.

Digital tactics in 2015 general election

FT article digital tactics in general election battle benedict pringle

Robert Cookson at The Financial Times has written a nice article on the digital aspect of the 2015 general election campaigns.

When I spoke to Robert I gave him my point of view that the scale of the paid-for digital campaigns in this election is unprecedented in the UK and that political parties – particularly the Conservatives – are getting around the ban on TV advertising by using YouTube and Facebook videos.

However, pre-roll isn’t in this instance the poor relation of TV.  Indeed, using paid-for online video is in many ways much better than TV as you can target internet users who display certain online behaviours or fit certain demographics. This allows parties to focus resources on the audiences and locations that are most likely to deliver them important votes.

As this is a political communication innovation I suspect there will be a gut instinct amongst some to try and contain or ban it.

This would be a mistake.

Advertising is an important way for political parties to communicate with voters.  Currently political parties have to overly rely on mass media outlets in order to disseminate their campaign messages which inevitably leads to distortion; the emergence of digital media has been an important shift in enabling politicians to communicate directly with the electorate and we should avoid any moves to curtail it.

However, as a quid pro quo, the political parties should agree to a new regulatory framework around all advertising in order to prevent the broadcasting of misleading or offensive information.  More detail on this can be found here.

Alternative election posters

Tories only care if you've got grey hair
Grey Vote, by Georgia Sutherland, BA graphic design, Camberwell College of Arts

The Guardian has asked art students to bring to life the ‘real’ 2015 general election by coming up with a new slogan for a political party or their own alternative political message.

The above poster by Georgia Sutherland was my favourite.  See the whole range here.