Independent Analysis

It’s as if those kind people down at the Independent on Sunday felt like giving me a late Christmas present.  The Independent on Sunday asked 6 advertising agencies to produce posters for a prospective 2009 General Election.  Here are all 10, with analysis, starting with the worst and ending with the best:

0 / 10
0 / 10

This advertisement is so unoriginal I almost didn’t bother including it.  What a complete rip off.  And, not only is it a rip off (which is possibly forgiveable), but it is also irrelevant.

The reason why the orginal advertisement worked was that in the public’s mind whenever they saw William Hague they saw an over-enthusiastic ‘tory boy’ who still hankered for a Thatcher-stlye of government.  No one wanted someone who gave a rousing speech to Conservative Party Conference as a 15 year-old, during a Thatcher government, to be their next Prime Minister.  That’s why the original was clever, funny, poignant and relevant.  Trying to link David Cameron with Margaret Thatcher, politically or historically, is a terrible, terrible strategy.  And yet, this creative execution somehow manages to do a disservice to it.

As well as all that, if you’re a political party that has been in government for 11 years and you’re putting out advertising with copy that reads “things could be far worse”, the public aren’t exactly going to thank you for it.

1 / 10
1 / 10

If you were trying to sell a Mars chocolate bar, would you put as the headline on your poster “Cadbury’s Dairy Milk chocolate tastes fantastic!”?  No, you wouldn’t.  Even if you had left plenty of space on the poster to then include a series of hilarious and incisive counter-arguments against the title statement, you would still sell less chocolate bars than if you had simply said, in big, bold letters: “Mars chocolate bars taste fantastic!”.

The same is true with ‘attack’ political advertisements. People spend a fraction of time reading a poster, and even less if the subject matter is politics.  To dedicate that brief moment of interaction to telling them: “David Cameron’s got the X-factor” – with a big, full colour photo of David Cameron beneath it – is not going to leave them with a gritty determination to go out and vote Labour.

2 / 10
2 / 10

The main problem with this advertisement is that it quite clearly doesn’t answer the brief.  A criminal error in adland.  The brief was essentially ‘make a political advertisement for a general election in 2009’.  Unless the election is held in December 2009, this is an absolute turkey. There are numerous other things wrong with this, but none that quite so bad as giving the client something they can’t possibly use.

3 / 10
3 / 10

Let me have a guess at how this execution got devised…”So…the Labour government has borrowed lots of money… and there was also a fairly average film a few years ago called ‘The Borrowers’… so why don’t we replace the faces of the characters from the film ‘The Borrowers’ with the faces of leading figures from the Labour Government!”

Not many people saw,  remember or liked the film ‘The Borrowers’.  And certainly not enough people to justify using it as the spearhead of a political strategy to get a party elected who have never governed this country before.

4 / 10
4 / 10

This poster tries to liken Gordon Brown to a benefit thief.  It’s not very obvious why he’s like a benefit thief; I suppose the substantiation is that  “Gordon Brown’s [percieved] various failures have unfairly taken from the public purse – like that of a benefit thief”.  Not exactly the easiest cognitive leap.  ‘Difficult’ advertising – like that of The Economist – can be very powerful if the message is worth the intellectual ‘get’.  In this case it’s not.

The advertisement also relies on people having seen, ‘got’ and remembered a previous advertising campaign for a different cause.  Like a bad dinner party guest, this poster asks for a lot and gives very little in return.

6 / 10
6 / 10

This poster makes two points.  1) We’re in a recession. 2) It’s Labour’s fault.

The image of Canary Wharf with the lights out is a powerful one.  It resonates strongly with people’s fears that the UK economy is in a very bad way.  The title copy ‘Recession. Proof.’ cleverly makes a mockery of claims that Gordon Brown made, not so long ago, about ending boom and bust economics.

The copy at the base of the poster is overly long-winded.  Something shorter and snappier like ‘Labour’s turned the lights off on the British economy’ (deliberate reference to THAT Sun headline) would be more commanding.

6 / 10
6 / 10

Alastair Darling’s eyebrow/hair colour combination is very funny.  Putting it on a massive poster and taking the piss out of it would certainly win you some votes.   I think this poster would be helped with a bit of substantiation, mainly as I’ve never listened to Alastair Darling for long enough to know what he’s promised us in the past…  not that I think it would match up with what the economy’s doing now… it would just make the poster that much more powerful.

7 / 10
7 / 10

This is another amusing piece of mickey-taking.  It likens Brown and Darling to the accident-prone comedy duo Laurel and Hardy.  Brilliantly simple copy writing and the image encourages a gentle, albeit morbid, chuckle.  A nice simple way to link in people’s minds the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as a couple of hapless jokers who you wouldn’t want running your country.

8 / 10
8 / 10

A simple idea, executed very cleanly. It definitely couldn’t be a poster but would be very powerful as a newspaper insertion.

It  communicates to people that tax cuts don’t come for nothing, particularly in our current economic circumstance.  The reducing size of the text also highlights the relatively minor amount of VAT that has been removed.  The fact that the ‘we will tax you for it in the future’ is in the smallest print reinforces the message that the government might try and recoup losses using much publicised ‘stealth taxes’.

9 / 10
9 / 10

Brutally simple.  For a change the Conservative Party are harnessing the intense, raging properties of the Labour red to help hammer home their message that the blame for the recession resides with the Labour Party.  This poster encapsulates a lot of the anger some of the population will be feeling towards the government and it gives the impression that the Conservative Party understand such sentiments and are on their side. A fantastic poster.

Disrupting Expectations

To continue on my recent theme of emotive political advertising… Faris Yakob has written a brilliant piece that  investigates one method of affecting people.

The lesson, at it’s most basic, is that one can trigger an emotional response from an audience by showing / telling them something that they are familiar with – in order to build up an expectation – and then suddenly deviating from it, which creates a punchline or ‘message’.  The above clip is a great example of such a technique in action. 

We learn such emotive techniques from a young age with ‘knock-knock’  or ‘why did the chicken cross the road’ jokes.  We subconsciously learn that by using a familiar opening remark we can create humour by suddenly changing away from the expected conclusion.

Another example: if you consider successful comedy sketch shows such as ‘Harry Endfield and Chums’ or ‘Little Britain’ (amongst others), they have a set of characters with a relatively tight set of comic traits.  These would eventually stop being funny if they simply executed them in the same way over and over again.  The way in which they are kept fresh is by constantly inventing new ways of disrupting the expected narrative of a scene.  The ultimate (if only political) example of this was Catherine Tait and Tony Blair’s sketch for Comic Relief.

The Budweiser / Obama spot did this fantastically, as did The Conservative Party’s Christmas themed ‘tax bombshell’ .  Using this creative tension of expectation and punch line can provide a devastating political blow, as well as some interesting advertising!

The dominance of the irrational

Political campaign guru Evan Tracey has compiled a playlist of videos and analysis from throughout the Obama vs McCain campaign that is well worth a look at.

The above video came from Tracey’s playlist and is an example of the sort of emotive advertising, that I mentioned earlier in the week, was badly needed in UK political communication. Brian Donahue just a wrote a very interesting piece on political advertising and emotion that is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in this stuff, the crux of this thoughts are that:

“Emotional appeals almost always trump rational appeals when attempting to gain political support or create negative views about an opponent. Voters are more apt to create positive or negative feelings about an issue or candidate through emotions and sentiments rather than rational or logical arguments”

Irrational Electorate



This script was written by influential Labour blogger Hopi Sen.


This route has been tried before (and largely failed) with the ‘Dave the Chameleon’ ppb of 2006.  The reason it failed is that people might accept that David Cameron has changed his mind, but that does not mean they are willing to distrust him.  People are irrational in this sense.


The aim of the ‘Dave the Chameleon’ advert and the above script is to get people to agree with the following two statements:


(1)”I think David Cameron has changed his position on various issues”

(2) “I don’t trust David Cameron”


Both the above script and ‘Dave the Chameleon’ would no doubt increase the number of people agreeing with statement (1) but I fear they would not lead to agreeing with statement (2). 


The reason, is that statement (1) is a factual statement.  Statement (2) is an emotional statement.  To get people to change their mind on something factual  is relatively simple: you show them compelling evidence.  To get someone to change the way they feel emotionally about something, is much more difficult.


I’ll give you an example to explain this more clearly:


In the 1980’s Pepsi commissioned some blind taste-testing of Coca-Cola vs Pepsi.  The results came in that Americans preferred the taste of Pepsi to Coca Cola when they were unaware of the brand.  Pepsi ran a load of adverts to tell the USA that people preferred Pepsi.  This was a very rational way to approach changing people’s minds from choosing Coke to choosing Pepsi.  Whilst Pepsi ran adverts trying to ‘prove’ a ‘fact’ about their drink, Coca Cola made ads like this:



The problem with the above script is that the public don’t seem to distrust David Cameron and I fear to get them to do so would lead to ‘New Labour, New Danger’ territory.  Gordon Brown needs to build his emotional appeal with the public on his own terms and that is what Labour’s communication should be trying to do.  I’m not saying that having the public distrust the opposition is a bad tactic, it just seems that this tactic was tried – quite rightly – early doors but has been proven to be lacking.





Time for a [legislative] change?

There have been two very interesting legal decisions surrounding political advertising in the last week that means the UK could experience 3rd party political advertising on TV similar to the above commercial screened in the USA this week (yes, i have used a cool ad to get you to read my thoughts on slightly dry EU law…).

Firstly, Channel S have been fined for advertising two Liberal Democrat candidates during this years London Mayoral and GLA elections. 

This ruling in itself is not massively interesting, until one considers that the European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that Norway’s ban on political advertising on television was in breach of peoples’ right to freedom of expression – Article 10 of the Human Rights Act  (for more legal detail see Ofcomwatch and Lex Feranda, both interesting blogs surrounding media and the law).  I assume that such a ruling means that the UK will have to revisit legislation that bans political advertising on TV (I’m not a lawyer…)? 

Even if it has no binding effect, perhaps it’s time to relax the rules anyway.   The current legislation is designed to prevent wealthy organisations being able to buy public opinion on political issues / elections – an accusation which is levied at the USA which is relatively unregulated with regards to political advertising.  Whilst I broadly agree with this principle, as online media consumption increases such legislation will become more and more irrelevant; that’s not to say that money = online success, but it certainly helps.

I will be very interested to see how this legal issue unfolds…

Shane the Builder

The press has covered in detail the absolute howler that the Conservative Party made in their most recent party political broadcast so I won’t go over it again. The ‘real life people with real problems’ angle on political advertising is one of the classics, but as we saw with the infamous ‘Jennifer’s Ear’ incident in 1992, if you’re going to do it you’ve got to be one million per cent sure that your case study is water tight and gaff proof.

Other than this monumental balls up, the broadcast is simply incredibly dull.  It’s my passion to spend time over-analysing political communication and I nearly switched over after about a minute.  Politicians are constantly dumbfounded by why they’re percieved by the public as dry and tedious – one of the (many) reasons is because during one of the few times they are given a chance of direct, untainted communication with nation on TV, they bore the knickers off them.

[Apologies that this is a time after the broadcast, I’ve been on holiday.  It was lovely, thanks.]

Putting Communication First

in a tight race every piece of communication counts
in a tight race every piece of communication counts

The above is a truly terrible piece of political communication for the following reasons: You can’t clearly see who the person in the photo is; you can’t read the message on the banner; the banner is poorly made / hung; the location of where the banner is hung looks run-down and unappealing. 

I was turned off by the campaign even before I could be bothered to read into what it was trying to achieve.  This is the sort of communication that constituency level politicians subject on their electorate all too often.  It’s no wonder people at worst, don’t trust and at best, are disengaged with local politics when this is the level of engagement.

Now to give some context that will further damage the communication.  The campaign, being orchestrated by Andy Slaughter MP (pictured), is raising concerns with the newly opened Westfield Shopping centre which resides within Andy’s constituency (Ealing, Acton, Shepherds Bush).  Below is what his campaign is up against…


Andy Slaughter will soon be fighting for a very marginal seat in the next general election where communicating effectively will be essential to victory.  This is just one example of how a local politician has let himself down with a poorly executed campaign.  I know Andy is a hardworking MP and genuinly cares about the issues surround this campaign, but this looks lazy and complacent.  When brands / politicians get lazy and complacent, they get overtaken.