Why the Conservatives lost their majority

Last week Steve Parker, Strategy Partner at M&C Saatchi, gave a presentation to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising about his perspective on the Conservative Party’s 2017 general election campaign.

Steve worked on the Conservative Party account at M&C Saatchi in the build up to and during the 2015 general election campaign, but the agency didn’t work on the 2017 campaign.

His point of view on the differences between the 2015 & 2017 campaigns is fascinating and he gives a well-informed opinion as to why May lost her majority.


General election 2017: the factors that mattered most

This is a film of a presentation I gave last week, 3 days after the results of general election 2017, to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising – the UK’s advertising industry trade body – about the things that I felt had a disproportionate impact on the outcome.

I argued that 5 factors mattered more than any other:

  1. Labour’s campaign was run by a tight team that acted nimbly and the Tories weren’t and so didn’t.
  2. Labour had an army of advocates, the Tories had none.
  3. Paid media is now a hygiene factor and the advantage the Conservatives had in this field in 2015 has been negated.
  4. Earned media was of fundamental importance, but its nature is changing and Labour benefited from it.
  5. Labour’s campaign narrative spoke more consistently to those voters who felt the country is heading in the wrong direction; Theresa May only started off trying to connect with them before allowing herself to be blown off course.

You can download a pdf of the presentation here.

Two things to note: i) apologies for the slightly dodgy microphone ii) this was done prior to any reliable exit poll data being published.



A view from inside the Labour campaign

This week I saw Matt Watts, Planning Director at Krow, Labour’s advertising agency, speak about their work for the party and the changing nature of the role ad agencies play in election campaigns.

The amazing video above was put together by Krow.

It’s a brilliant summary of the cultural movement that Corbyn led and the agency helped facilitate.

Below is a summary of the presentation Matt gave:

“In the future agencies need to help parties curate a cultural campaign, not just create an ad campaign.

Ads are easy to dismiss. People don’t generally want to spend time with ads, they’re more likely react to things they’re passionate about or find entertaining or thought-provoking.

So we need to help create causes that inspire action, rather than limiting ourselves to ads that reiterate a position. And execute them in a way, and place, that resonates beyond the newsnight audience.

The film hopefully shows that we got people to view an election campaign in a new light, that we thought beyond just ads, and we curated cultural moments.

The Labour campaign enabled 3 types of campaign content:

1. Official Party content collaborators – executing the key Party messages: Krow, Labour’s in-house team & Ken Loach etc…

2. Non-party campaign groups: Unite the Union, Momentum, Labour Future etc… authentic voices who champion the cause, and cherry pick their messages.

3. Unofficial Party collaborators (with no official connection) who just champion the cause in their own way: Grime4Corbyn, RantsNBants, Corbyn Facebook groups, JOE, individual activists etc…

Given the sheer number of views these content creators can deliver, we have to start considering them in the planning of the campaign.

As the Tories right wing press, continues to slowly die, you have a new generation of content creators, with mass reach at your disposal. As long as the cause is right.”

The “strong and stable leadership” narrative wasn’t the problem

I’ve seen a few articles saying that the Tory campaign fail can be attributed to Crosby’s insistence on message discipline or M&C Saatchi-style ‘brutal simplicity’.

The argument runs: repeating “strong and stable leadership” was a dumb thing to do and the constant reiteration of that phrase got annoying.  They then contend that in a fragmented media landscape you need a multifaceted approach and suggest that a Crosby-style single-minded campaign is for a previous age.

I disagree.

Having a single, simple and compelling narrative is a fundamental aspect of a good election campaign.

What went wrong in the Conservative campaign was that Theresa May simply parroted the strapline, rather than telling the story.  May’s pitch was rigid, badly presented and done in turgid environments which bored the press pack travelling with her and everyone who had to read or watch the coverage.

The Conservative narrative that was very well-constructed in the build-up to the election was as follows: Theresa May will defy the vested interests to bring about change for those just about managing.

It’s that narrative that gave May her 20 point poll lead at the start of the campaign.

“Strong and stable leadership” was intended to be a mental shortcut for a Conservative Party that would stand up to the EU and negotiate a good deal for Britain; for an economy that delivered for ordinary people; for a party that understood the way lots of people felt about immigration; for a Prime Minister unafraid of taking on big corporations such as energy companies; for a leader who could defend the country against internal and external threats.

If you look at the messaging that the Conservatives were deploying on social media advertising – a selection below – you will see that is the story that Lynton Crosby and agency Edmonds Elder were trying to tell.

But Theresa May lacked the flexibility and craft to be able to tell these individual stories in interesting and motivating ways, using “strong and stable leadership” as a unifying theme, without sounding like a robot.

Given that earned media coverage – which at election time is largely generated by a party leader – is disproportionately important on the end result, this was a major barrier to success.

If you think about the successful Vote Leave campaign which took place last year, they had a brilliantly consistent message: take back control.  But the people and organisations that were delivering it did it with flare, passion and energy.

The problem wasn’t the message, it was the messenger.

7 reasons for Labour’s relative success at general election 2017

1. A viable strategy: retain Labour’s 2015 vote and add disaffected Labour supporters and young people who didn’t vote in ’15 or who voted for Green or UKIP as a protest.

2. A simple narrative: we’re willing to make radical decisions to improve the lot of normal people.

3. An authentic leader: consistently on the side of the marginalised.

4. Motivating policy offer: more money for the NHS, schools and pensioners, scrap university fees, create a national investment bank and, crucially, remain in the European single market.

5. A clear enemy: high earners and multinational corporations.

6. Kept journalists busy: public events, relevant celebrity endorsements, bold statements (foreign policy speech post-Manchester), gave clear answers to questions and attended the debate.

7. A humble approach to battlegrounds: left Labour candidates in marginal seats alone to try and win over wavering voters whilst visiting strongholds to generate a sense of momentum in national news coverage.

UPDATE: I’ve since written a long-hand version of this for The Drum, which you can read here.

Last days of general election 2017

Yesterday I discussed the final days of the general election campaign with Sam Delaney, author of seminal political advertising book ‘Mad Men and Bad men: What Happened When British Politics Met Advertising’, on his drive-time show on TalkRadio.

Amongst other things, we talked about how Corbyn reacted to the most recent terror attacks in London, the importance of earned media share in predicting elections and our mutual shock at how little mention has been made of the economy.