Our ad agency isn’t working, but will negative campaigning?

The tooing and froing in the advertising world this week as the Tories drafted in M&C Saatchi to nudge nudge “work alongside” Euro RSCG has been fun to watch.

In the official version of events broken by Campaign “Euro RSCG retains its lead agency status”, but the unofficial version is that the Tories are said to have hired M&C Saatchi weeks ago.

They did it after the amusing David Cameron airbrush debacle broke. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer agency (did you read David Jones’s comment referring to the “Brown regime” – who talks like that?).

As the spoofing gathered pace online spread virally with the help of blogs, Twitter and communities like Mumsnet Euro RSCG’s goose was cooked highlighted nicely by this spoof poster produced by Beau Bo D’Or.

According to chatter in the blogosphere Andy Coulson, the Tories director of communications & planning and telecoms expert did not think the Euro ads had enough bite. Let’s be fair, it was all pretty bland. It neither had bite nor did it inspire.

Having failed with Euro’s the Tories are clearly after something a little different and I don’t think there is much doubt about what they want from M&C Saatchi. The lure of negative campaigning is very strong. The founders of M&C gave us the benchmark for this kind of political advertising with ‘Labour isn’t working’ in 1979 and struck again in 1997 with New Labour New Danger.

There are few who do not know of these powerful campaigns. What is clearest of all right now is that whatever M&C Saatchi and the Tory communications team do they need to do it fast.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that the Tories are trailing Labour in marginal seats they need to win. It said that in “constituencies set to determine the outcome of the election, Labour leads the Tories by four points among those certain to vote”.

All of this points to negative campaigning and that is a dangerous road to travel in an age where your work can be turned on its head in no time flat.

In the Evening Standard today Clifford Singer makes a valid point, he says that what was fascinating about the spoof posters was their ability to subvert not just the Tories’ more positive messages, but also the negative ones.

“Within hours of the graveyard image appearing, Twitter users had rebranded it “MyToryTombstone”. This ability to turn even a negative campaign back on itself suggests the Saatchi glory days of the 1979 ‘Labour isn’t working’ and 1992 ‘Labour’s tax bombshell’ posters may be over”.

I’d love to see M&C Saatchi put that to the test the results could be very entertaining.

  • Tories not working. Not just a campaign more a way of life.

  • Surely it’s the Tory party’s director of strategy that isn’t working. According to The Times, it was he who put together the Cameron poster on his laptop. Another amateur with a computer who thinks he’s an art director/copywriter.

  • re_present

    Good point. But if digital continues to rely on metrics and shares as criteria for success, we’re heading for trouble there too. We can’t keep confusing data mining with creativity ( or confidence) and getting away with it either.

  • KEVIN GORDON

    Hi Steve, I look on Digital as the Underground. Millions of people travel across Moscow City every day and we don’t see them because they’re all underground. I don’t need to know how to drive an underground train to get from A to B, but I do need a ticket to travel. Overground all the ads have disappeared, which to me says “Everything’s up for grabs”. Moscow used to be rife with billboards for “Switching Smokers” and they were very very effective, but how much do brands win or lose from the inability to switch now? Do we know? I don’t criticise Digital, I accept that’s the way it is, it just seems that one channel is ideal for retaining customers and consolidating the share of market while the other (new business, or growth) seems to be largely ignored on the surface…or is that too simplistic a view? Either way, at the end of the day success still depends on The Big Idea.