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
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’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
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
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
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” 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 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.