“Is political advertising dead?” #QTWTAIN

QTWTAIN, for the uninitiated, is an acronym of ‘Questions To Which The Answer Is No’ that was originated by journalist John Rentoul.

It refers to the age-old tactic used by commentators to create a sensational story out of nothing by writing “headlines in the form of questions to which the author or publisher implies that the answer is yes when anyone with any sense knows it is no“.

This weekend, the front page of the Financial Times Life & Arts supplement was adorned with a blatant QTWTAIN.

s article has been forwarded on to me by pretty much everyone I’ve ever met with a comment along the lines of “ooooo sounds like the death knell for your boring blog MATE; you will have to find something even more niche to write about now (if such a topic even exists)”.

To save myself the hassle of coming up with a suitably hilarious, whilst seemingly-well-informed, response to each of them, I thought I would pen a short retort here.

Garrahan raises some valid points and concerns that I agree with:

  • There is certainly a big consumer trend towards ad-blocking & ad-avoidance that is challenging the ad industry as a whole (though this doesn’t impact political advertising any more than it does those seeking to promote soap powder).
  • There hasn’t been a standout political ad of the 2016 US Presidential campaign (though this is a subjective observation and may be contradicted by response and tracking data).
  • The Remain campaign’s roster of ad agencies didn’t manage to land a piece of creative that captured the imaginations of the nation in the same way as we have sometimes seen in previous elections (though this says more about the difficulty of the brief & political context than it does about political advertising as a discipline).

The only comments made that really irked me were those of the Vote Leave campaign chiefs.

Paul Stephenson, Communications Director for Vote Leave, was reported to have said that “billboards are relics from another era”.  This couldn’t be more wrong.  In a world of ad-blocking and ad-free subscription services billboards are one of the few-remaining channels where you can guarantee reach and impact and you can buy them in the areas of the country where they’re most needed.  Indeed, the latest data from the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising shows that outdoor advertising is the second most effective media channel (TV being the first).

And I was surprised by Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s Campaign Director, comments that his “advice to people who want to improve communications is hire physicists, not communications people“.  His tune seems to have changed dramatically since he told Campaign Magazine in February that he was looking to hire a “small, hungry and edgy agency that is not afraid to take risks and upset the government“.

So, to summarise, a quick skim of Garrahan’s article might lead people to think that political advertising is in trouble, however those who finish the article will see that the author – correctly in my view – concludes that whilst the tools being used have changed, the discipline remains very much intact and “campaigns have not stopped selling to voters”.  

Creatives against Trump

Donald Trump has provoked the creative community across the world to do their bit to get Hillary Clinton elected.  Below is a selection of the best I’ve found across the internet.

UncleGrey in Copenhagen show that you can’t throw Trump under a bus, but you can accuse him of being unhinged on the side of one


Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore run a food truck serving baloney sandwiches
Skate the hate away with Hateboards by Dalatando Almeida,  Ben Buswell and Liam Buswell in London, UK
Trump running for president has made life “become stranger than fiction”
The campaign ran in New York and is by Alex Reinoso, Alessandro Echevarria & Nick Elliott


Two weeks until polls close – Trump launches last minute ad-blitz

It’s two weeks to go until polls open in the US and I’ve written an article for Campaign about how Trump is trying to close the gap with a last minute ad blitz.

You can read the piece here, which includes a reel of his latest adverts and an analysis as to why it might be effective.

Political logos and candidate branding

Today I appeared on BB2’s Daily Politics, presented by Jo Coburn, to discuss political logos with former Conservative Culture Secretary Maria Miller and  Labour’s former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle.

You can watch the clip from 54mins 36 seconds on this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b080cmk5/daily-politics-17102016

I explained that getting your logo right isn’t going to win you the election, but it’s a useful thing to get right.

It’s a consciously developed identity that will exist across all the materials that are being designed to help your candidate win office.

It’s a useful visual short cut for the values and persona of the candidate that is comprised of colours, strap lines and design features.

When well-designed and implemented they create a consistent identity that helps build familiarity with an electorate which facilitates feelings of trust and loyalty.

A good logo is concise, differentiating from the competition and authentic to the candidate.

Prior to appearing on the show, I was asked to design a logo for prospective leadership bids for both Angela Eagle and Maria Miller.  Both efforts are below.  It’s fair to say that both went down pretty badly!

Politicians are famously tricky clients, so this shouldn’t really have come as surprise…

The soaring eagle is designed to convey strength, leadership and optimism.  The inclusion of the Labour Party rose logo in the beak of the bird was used to imply that she was a unity candidate.
Maria Miller’s strap line uses a take on the classic challenger candidate positioning of ‘time for a change’.

Vote Rump

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, the original purveyors of posh burgers in the UK, have released a very amusing new poster promoting their ‘thickest burger ever’: The Rump.

Not quite content with just mocking the Republican Presidential nominee with the formulation of their product, they’ve also given it an amusing brand positioning “it’s a bit of an arse”.

Very good. Credit to You Agency for putting it together and thanks to @ggranted for sending.

Agencies leak Remain ads that never ran

Throughout the EU referendum the Stronger In campaign had a number of ad agencies working for them.

The reason for this was that the organisation was made up of a cross-party group, each of whom had previous relationships with agencies.

Adam & Eve DDB helped build the Stronger In brand, M&C Saatchi were brought on board in May and CHI & Partners, Saatchi & Saatchi and perhaps even BMB (all of whom have had relationships with Labour) seem to have chipped in ideas.

It’s easy to say now that it’s a classic example of too many cooks, but given the vast majority of contributions would have come free of charge I can completely understand why Stronger In entertained them.

Campaign Magazine has an article with comments from many of the leaders of those agencies http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/agencies-anger-failure-stronger-campaign/1400533

And they’ve also run an article which includes ads from the agencies that never ran (which is where I’ve pinched all the adverts above) http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/remain-campaign-ads-away/1400625

I’m not going to comment on the ads as it feels like it’s cheating to do so with the benefit of hindsight.

I’m still digesting the result and considering what lessons we can learn for future elections. Analysis to follow at some point soon (no doubt when you’ve all long since moved on!).